Saturday, 30 November 2013

C & H

Calvin and Hobbes

Now That’s What I Call Trivia

Thirty things for the thirtieth year of this cop out.

1. The name of the series came from a poster Virgin boss Richard Branson found in a bric-a-brac shop on Portobello Road, depicting a singing chicken and a pig exclaiming ‘Now that’s what I call music!’.
2. Branson went on to marry the owner of the shop.
3. Robbie Williams is the most-featured artist in the compilation series, with 28 singles.
4. Rihanna, Kylie and Girls Aloud make up the top four, with 25, 23 and 20 singles respectively.
The rise of Girls Aloud was charted by the albums
5. Girls Aloud have clocked up the highest number of consecutive appearances – with a track in every album from Now! 54 to 66.
6. The first ever Now! compilation sold 1.1 million copies.
7. The best-selling compilation to date was 1999’s Now That’s What I Call Music! 44, which shifted 2.3 million copies.
8. This makes it the UK’s most popular compilation album ever, and the country's 46th best-selling album of all time (sandwiched between Coldplay’s Parachutes and R.E.M’s Automatic for the People).
9. So far the series has featured 511 number 1 hits by more than 650 artists.
10. A further 2,468 top 10 singles have been included.
11. And a total of 3,394 tracks have been used to create Now! 1-86.
12. Combined, the UK sales of the albums exceed 85 million.
13. Calvin Harris has made the most appearances on one album, with three singles on Now! 80.
Calvin Harris has the record for most singles on one compilation album
14. There are Now! titles in 26 other countries.
15. The Czech version of the compilation is called Now Hity while the Arab world has Now That’s What I Call Arabia.
16. The American version began in 1998 and is currently in its 48th incarnation.
17. Within the UK the Now! series has spawned a number of spin-offs, including Now That’s What I Call Reggae, Now That’s What I Call Running, Now That’s What I Call Britain and Now That’s What I Call Disney Princess.
18. Madonna has never allowed one of her tracks to appear on a Now! playlist – until now. Her song Into The Groove features on the series’ 30th anniversary edition.
Madonna: never appeared until now
19. Michael Jackson has only appeared once in the series, with Farewell My Summer Love in 1984.
20. A copy of Now! 4, the first of the albums to appear on CD, can today reach between £400 and £500 on eBay in good condition.
21. Radio DJ Mark Goodier has voiced every Now! TV ad since 1992.
22. Before that David 'Kid' Jensen, Brian Glover and Tracey Ullman had the honour.
23. The youngest artist to appear on a compilation was Willow Smith, then aged nine, on Now! 78 with Whip My Hair.
24. Now! compilations have spent 515 weeks - the equivalent of almost 10 years - at number 1.
25. Last year there were rumours the series would come to end with then-owner EMI's takeover by Universal Records.
26. But the compilations are still going strong - November's offering became the second fastest-selling album of 2013, behind only Now! 85, released earlier in the year.
27. Oasis’s Songbird was the shortest song to make the Now! grade, at 2.04 minutes.
28. The longest was Don McLean’s American Pie at 8.34 minutes.
29. The first song to feature on a Now! album was Phil Collins’ You Can’t Hurry Love.
30. The latest, on Now! 86, is The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) by Norwegian comedy band Ylvis.

TTel

DYK?

The Eiffel Tower shrinks 6 inches in winter.

"Cheap" Tablets

Tesco Hudl: £119 (less with Clubcard vouchers)

tesco hudl
Following in Amazon's footsteps, Tesco surprised a few people when it launched its seven-inch tablet (it's pronounced huddle) – and it's fair to say it has wowed a sceptical press that probably hoped it wouldn't be very good.
For £119 this can't be beaten. The screen is sharp and offers good TV/film watching. It's well made and feels as though it will probably take a bash or two and carry on working. It has the tried and tested Androidoperating system, and a fast-ish processor that allows users to whizz around pretty smoothly.
This tester actually thought the keyboard was better than the one on our iPad 2, and the voice recognition system works surprisingly well given its price.
It comes with a standard memory of 16GB, which will be more than enough for most. But it has the major advantage that this can be increased by adding a micro SD card (to be bought separately). Other more expensive tablets, including Apple, don't offer this.
If you want to connect it to your TV to watch films bought from Tesco's LoveFilm equivalent, Blinkbox, you can do so via its micro-HDMI slot, although again you'll need to buy an extra lead.
Tesco, which can't be making much money (if any) on the price, pre-loads the Hudl with Clubcard points and its shopping channels, but these can be removed.
The only real downside we could find was its weight, at 370 grams. It feels pretty heavy in the hand – substantially heavier than its expensive rivals. This might be a problem if you plan to use it a lot as an e-reader.
Battery life is fine – some have said it is slow to recharge but, given most people do this overnight, we don't see it as a problem. The built-in camera isn't amazing but it is good enough.
The processor occasionally struggled to keep up, the built-in speakers could be better, and the screen could be brighter, but this is nitpicking.
If you want a simple tablet to browse the net, read the occasional book on the go, or for younger kids to use, it is a great choice that beats the others at this price.
Money score: 8/10

Kindle Fire: HD £119, HDX £199

kindle fire
When Amazon launched the originalKindle Fire tablet there wasn't a lot of competition, but there is now. The latest version uses a slightly different operating system to other Android tablets, and our impression is that, unlike the others, it has been designed primarily to access the media bought from Amazon – films, music etc. It feels nice to hold, the screen is good, and the speakers better than the Hudl's.
Amazon shoppers will enjoy the fact that everything they have bought is stored and easily accessible. Shopping is a doddle. However, the cheaper Kindle Fire HD only gets an 8GB memory – the 16GB version costs £139 – and you can't extend it. On the downside, Amazon's Appstore still lacks many of those on Google Play. For us, the fact there is no camera is a major omission.
If you're happy to be limited to using Amazon's services for apps, games, books, music and videos, then you won't be disappointed.
The previous model is now just £99, but for everyone else it probably makes more sense to opt for the Hudl.
The same is largely true of the more expensive Kindle Fire HDX. For the extra £80 you get a significantly lighter tablet. The processor is faster and the screen and sound are great. There is only a front-facing camera, which means taking anything other than a "selfie" is tricky.
The major advantage it offers is the "Mayday" button, which you may have seen advertised. It's aimed at those who struggle with technology and can be dialled day or night. Amazingly, it works well.
Overall, the HDX is outdone by the Google Nexus, which is cheaper.
Another option to consider is the larger Kindle Fire HD with the 8.9-inch screen. It normally costs £229, but is currently £179 – a great price for the bigger screened version.
Money score: Fire HD 7/10, Fire HDX 8/10

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3: £139

samsung
If you crave the iPad look and feel, but can't afford Apple prices, the Samsung comes the closest – in looks, at least. It's a similar design and the way it is set out has an Appley feel – superficially, at least.
The trouble is that it all feels a tad slow and clunky in comparison to the other tablets tested. It is difficult to type quickly or accurately if you have anything bigger than a child's fingers. That said, it does the job and has a classier feel than, say, the cheaper Hudl. It has sold in big numbers.
When looking at websites, the screen feels smaller than it should be as the taskbar is quite big.
Gareth Beavis at TechRadar.com says that while Samsung produces fantastic smartphones, its tablet range is "too expensive for what they are, and there are better ones out there".
Money score: 6/10

Google Nexus 7: 2012 model £119, 2013 model £180-£200+

google nexus
The Nexus 7 was one of the best last year, offering buyers at the time a great tablet for £159. This is now available for £119, and is still great value, despite being eclipsed by the Hudl. However, the 2013 model, which is also built by Asus for Google, is our top pick.
It now starts at £180 (at Amazon) for the 16GB version – the 32GB costs over £200. Out of the box it has a quality feel akin to the iPad. It's slimmer and lighter than last year's model, and now comes with two cameras – the front is 1.2 megapixel while the rear camera is 5. It's fast to use and the screen is brilliant. Watching BBC iPlayer this week, the programmes looked amazing. The battery has a long life and it is light enough to use as an e-reader.
The only downsides are that there isn't a micro SD card slot to allow you to expand the memory, and the speakers aren't as good as the Kindle Fire HDX.
Gareth Beavis says that, pound-for-pound, there isn't a better tablet out there. Having played with the main contenders this week, it's hard to disagree. The iPads certainly have more fans, but this tablet, in our view, offers incredible value for money.
Money score: 7.5/10 for last year's, and 9/10 for 2013 model
TG

No Chance, Not Even Bob*

Footballers are a superstitious bunch and, as those at Tottenham Hotspurpondered the shattering 6-0 defeat at Manchester City last Sunday, the significance of who would be up next in the Premier League was not lost on them.
Manchester United at White Hart Lane is not a fixture that has brought them much cheer in recent years. The last time Tottenham beat Sunday's opponents at home was in May 2001 when Willem Korsten inspired a 3-1 win. Since then United have recorded eight victories, most memorably when they roared back from 3-0 down at half-time to win 5-3 in September 2001. Juan Sebastián Verón scored the important fourth goal.
Too often for Tottenham's liking United's performances have been marked by comfort but this has to be the time the north London side knock them from their stride. The pressure on both teams is tremendous, as they do not want to fall further behind the leaders, Arsenal, but it is arguably more pronounced at Tottenham, given the City debacle and the scrutiny under which the manager, André Villas-Boas, has found himself.
His problems have merely been magnified by events at the Etihad Stadium, where the team started sloppily and slid to their equal-heaviest Premier League defeat. Gary Neville, the Sky TV pundit, slated Tottenham for the manner in which they conceded the first goal to Jesús Navas after 13 seconds, saying that some of the defensive players were "tying their laces and playing with their socks at the kick-off".
There was irony to the thumping scoreline as Tottenham had travelled to Manchester with one of the meanest defences in the country. Villas-Boas's issue has been at the other end as his team labour to open up opponents.
He has pointed to the club's blemish-free record in the Europa League, which continued in Norway on Thursday night with the 2-0 win over Tromso that ensured they would advance as seeds to the last 32 of the tournament. But the board want achievement, first and foremost, in the league and they have been troubled by the team's style in the competition that matters most.
Nine goals in 12 matches (three of them penalties) is the headline statistic that illustrates the difficulties but others show how they are relying on shots from long range and struggling to get numbers forward and in behind. Roberto Soldado has regularly cut an isolated figure in the lone striker role and there has been frustration, as sometimes articulated by the White Hart Lane crowd, at the lack of offensive cohesion and ideas.
It has been hard to integrate the seven summer signings, although Paulinho and, in briefer bursts, Vlad Chiriches have done well and Villas-Boas will give serious thought to recalling Jermain Defoe up front against United.
Defoe was rested for Tromso, possibly as he has a history of getting injuries on synthetic surfaces – the Norwegians play on a 4G artificial pitch – but Soldado made the trip and the £26m purchase from Valencia completed the 90 minutes. It was his first appearance for the club in the group phase of the tournament and he did not enjoy himself. On a sub-zero night he got little service and his touch was erratic.
Tottenham's mentality faces the acid test but, after the post-City soul-searching, the hunt for positives and omens has started. The 3-2 win at Old Trafford early last season has been seized on and the defender Jan Vertonghen recalled how the club had recovered from their black November last time out.
"We did not do well in this period last year, with losses against Wigan, City and Arsenal," he said. "But we had an incredible run after that and that is what we are aiming for now. We can be back easily because the top half of the table is so strong that everybody can win. You cannot write us off.
"The mentality is easy because we are so motivated to do well on Sunday, especially after the City game. I am very confident because the supporters will be behind us and we will be so motivated to do well after such a loss."
Villas-Boas continues to be the author of his own destiny and, in spite of the misgivings and his prickly behaviour over the past couple of months, he knows that a good result against United could help to turn things round. He would then eye next week's away matches against Fulham and Sunderland as opportunities to rebuild momentum.
"We need to bounce back after last Sunday," said the midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson. "We talked a lot about what happened and it was not good enough. We need to put on a performance that is more like us and we need to play attacking football, create chances and score goals. Our target is still to finish in the top four. We are four points off second place so there is no need to worry yet, even though we need to score more goals."
United have struggled for consistency under David Moyes but it is more than their Indian sign at White Hart Lane that makes them dangerous.
"They never start the season too strong but during the business time of the season, they are always very strong," Sigurdsson said. "They have some world-class players and they are the team that everyone wants to beat."
TG

*Hope

DYK?

Massachusetts colonists drank an estimated average of 35 gallons of cider per person during the year 1767.

Wrapped Up

The BBC offer some tips on what to get your travel pals (hint, hint) for Christmas- and we've even got the backlog:

Gifts by traveller type
Gifts by item
2012 gift guides
2011 gift guides
2010 gift guides

Keep Practising

Funny Ecards

Leave it to China

A Chinese city's plan for a "baby box" where parents can anonymously leave their unwanted infants is proving controversial, it's reported.
Shenzhen has apparently applied to the Guangdong provincial authorities to pilot such a facility next year. Some social media users have warned that the box will encourage "irresponsible parents" to give away their unwanted children, the People's Daily newspaper says.
But the head of Shenzhen's social welfare centre, Tang Rongsheng, points out that nearly 100 abandoned infants have been handed over to his centre this year. "The shelter embodies the idea of prioritising the interest of the child," he says.
Shenzhen is not the only Chinese city to consider such a system. Shijiazhuang apparently launched one in 2011 and has since received 170 infants. Other cities are expected to follow suit, the Jiangsu Province web portal reports. Baby boxes, common in medieval Europe, are making a comeback in countries such as Germany. But the boxes have been criticised by the UN for violating the rights of children.
My Photo
Once more we have the UN sticking its beak in.  I wonder what rights the child will have if abandoned as unwanted and left to fend for itself?  Why can't an unwanted/unplanned child bring another childless couple happiness, if they are unable to conceive?

It's got nowt to do with the UN and they should butt out.

BBC

Worse Than Spurs


Right On

Councillors in Berlin have voted to launch the country's first cannabis cafe in their district. But some hurdles remain, it's reported.

A large majority in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg council have backed the move as part of efforts to curb local drug dealing, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily reports. District Mayor Monika Herrmann says the "prohibition policy" of the past few decades has failed: "We now have to think about offbeat solutions."

German law prohibits the public sale of narcotics, but exceptions are possible "for scientific or other purposes in the public interest". The Berlin district apparently wants to rely on this clause when it applies for permission to the federal authorities. But the Sueddeutsche Zeitung warns that other legal issues will have to be clarified, such as who is to run the cafe and how the cannabis should be sourced.

The neighbouring Netherlands already has hundreds of so-called coffee shops where the sale of limited amounts of cannabis is tolerated.

BBC

DYK?

On eBay, there are an average of $680 worth of transactions each second.

Black Magic

Many football fans will be scratching their heads to see Switzerland among the top seeds at next year's World Cup finals, while thoroughbreds like the Netherlands and Italy are not. The truth is that it could be down to the choices made by football administrators, not players.
The eyes of millions of football fans will be focused on Costa do Sauipe in the Brazilian state of Bahia next week, for the 2014 World Cup draw.
A path to glory for the 32 teams that have qualified will be determined when eight pools are created - each containing four teams that will play each other in the group stages.
Eight of the teams are seeds. They are the seven highest-ranked teams in Fifa's world rankings plus the host nation, which is Brazil. Being a seeded team has one big advantage - it means you don't have to play one of the other seeds in the group stages.
The top seven rankings when the seedings were determined in October were Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay and Switzerland. Brazil, ranked 11th at the time, joined them.

Fifa rankings (Oct 2013)

RankingCountryRanking points
1
Spain
1513
2
Germany
1311
3
Argentina
1266
4
Colombia
1178
5
Belgium
1175
6
Uruguay
1164
7
Switzerland
1138
8
Netherlands
1136
9
Italy
1136
10
England
1080
Seeing Spain, Germany, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay among the seeds shouldn't come as a surprise given their form or footballing history - between them they've won 13 of the 19 World Cups.
How did the Swiss get seeded while the likes of the Netherlands, Italy and England missed out?
Switzerland have had a very good run of results, dominating a weak qualifying group and beating Brazil. But to understand why the Netherlands and the Italians finished just below the Swiss, you need to understand the mysteries of Fifa's ranking system.
It's based on how a team has performed in the last four years, with most of the emphasis on the most recent year. If a country wins or draws a game, it earns points but if a team loses a game, it gets nothing.
Fifa is trying to compare all the national teams and some play many more games than others so to make it fair, the rankings are based on the average number of points earned in each game.
These points are based on who the game is against, whether it is a friendly or a qualifying game and which continent the opposing teams come from, because Fifa gives more points to matches against European and South American teams.
The number of points that can be earned for winning a match can vary hugely.
For example, the Dutch victory over Brazil in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup earned the maximum number of points possible from one match. That is because the Netherlands beat the number one team in the world at the finals of the World Cup.
In Fifa ranking points that's three points for a win multiplied by 200 points for beating the world's best team multiplied by four because it was at the finals, giving a total of 2,400 points.

Ranking points earned = M x I x T x C

  • M: Result of the match - win (3), draw (1) defeat (0)
  • I: Importance of the match - friendly (1), World Cup qualifier or confederation-level qualifier (2.5), Confederation level or Confederations Cup match (3) and FIFA World Cup match (4)
  • T: Strength of opposition - No 1 ranked team (200) down on sliding scale to 150th ranked team (50) and all teams below also 50
  • C: Strength of confederation of opposition - Europe/South America (1), North and Central America, Caribbean (0.88), Asia/Africa (0.86) and Oceania (0.85)
A more typical example would be a game against an average European team like Finland or the Republic of Ireland. If the Netherlands beat such a team in a World Cup qualifier they get around 1,000 points. If they do it in a friendly, they get 400 points.
But it is possible to get a much smaller number of points for a win. If the Netherlands were to play one of the teams outside the Fifa top 150 in a friendly match, like Indonesia, they would get only a tiny amount of points - just 139.5 for a win.
Of course it makes no sense for the Netherlands to play a game against a team like Indonesia, as whatever happens it will bring down their average number of Fifa points per game. You would have to be completely mad to do something like that in World Cup year, when the points have the most value.
Unfortunately for the orange hordes of Dutch fans, that is exactly what their team did in June 2013. If they hadn't played that game they would be one of the top seeds, not Switzerland, who played fewer friendlies than most teams in the final 12 months that counted towards World Cup qualifying ranking points.
But the Netherlands are not the only team to make this mistake - on 31 May, Italy played a friendly against San Marino, a team that has only won one game in its history. It earned Italy a paltry 150 Fifa points and of course it brought down their average number of points per game, possibly costing them a top seeding.
If you reassess Fifa's October rankings without using the points gained from friendly matches, then Netherlands leap from eighth to fifth and Italy from ninth to seventh, while Switzerland would fall from seventh to ninth and Uruguay from sixth to 10th.

A world without friendly matches

Oct 2013 rankingsPointsWithout friendliesPointsChange
1
Spain
Spain
1,513
Spain
Spain
2,127
2
Germany
Germany
1,311
Brazil
Brazil
2,012
up
3
Argentina
Argentina
1,266
Germany
Germany
1,902
down
4
Colombia
Colombia
1,178
Argentina
Argentina
1,727
down
5
Belgium
Belgium
1,175
Netherlands
Netherlands
1,652
up
6
Uruguay
Uruguay
1,164
Italy
Italy
1,641
up
7
Switzerland
Switzerland
1,138
Belgium
Belgium
1,590
down
8
Netherlands
Netherlands
1,136
Chile
Chile
1,577
up
9
Italy
Italy
1,136
Switzerland
Switzerland
1,471
down
10
England
England
1,080
Uruguay
Uruguay
1,433
down
The San Marino and Indonesia games illustrate the way Fifa rankings systems evaluate friendly matches. If you want to be one of the top seeds at the World Cup it is only worth playing teams in the top 20 - although these matches are harder to win.
If England had followed this rule, while others carried on playing friendlies that carried fewer ranking points, Roy Hodgson's team might now be among the top seeds.
In the last 12 months, England have lost to Sweden (ranked 27th), drawn with the Republic of Ireland (67th) and beaten Scotland (33rd), but even the win against Scotland brought their average points total down.
Eduard Ranghiuc, who runs a football rankings website, has taken a keen interest in the subject. In April, the Romanian computer programmer wrote to the English FA and advised them to cancel their upcoming friendly games - or try to make these matches "unofficial" by making too many substitutes.
"It was on April 26th, I still have the email. I saw the fixtures they [the English FA] announced against Brazil and the Republic of Ireland and I realised that they were making a mistake with regards to the seeding for the World Cup. I wrote to the FA and I told them that they needed to do something about it. I said treat the friendlies very, very seriously or consider breaching one of the rules… basically making more than six substitutions."
Of course, friendly games can have an important function. They provide commercial benefits to football associations through ticket sales and TV revenue. They also provide a manager with an opportunity to experiment with fringe players and try different formations.
But football associations spend huge amounts of time and money to give their national teams the best chances of success - the top medical treatment, hotels to stay in, and the best nutrition while travelling in style.
Perhaps in future they will pay someone to crunch the numbers and consider whether the cons actually outweigh the benefits when it comes to playing friendly games.
How important is to be one of the top seeds? In recent years, there has only been one team that has managed to lift the trophy without being a top seed.
That team was Argentina in 1986 and they had Diego Maradona. So England, Italy and the Netherlands shouldn't give up - they just need the best player in the world and the hand of God.
BBC