Friday, June 27, 2008

Sightseeing by Satellite

So I’m messing around on Google Maps recently. It turns out that the more you look for, the more amazing things you find.

I initially started out browsing places I had been. Searching for a big shopping centre in Los Angeles, I came across an airliner seemingly parked in the car park.

Of course it’s actually several thousand feet up, most likely going in to our out of John Wayne airport, but it got my interest going.

Next up was a quick flick at Frankfurt, where a scan of the airport revealed an even more bizzare photographic anomaly – a 747 caught climbing out of the airport, snapped three times in succession by the satellite. Not that I’m that much of a geek, but I guess that this would give you the frame rate of the satellites that Google uses if you could be bothered to do the maths.

Having found that, it just became a general sightseeing mission. First up, Murrayfield (the Scottish Rugby ground), captured in pretty impressive high resolution:
From Edinburgh, on to some of the Middle East’s finest sights – the great Pyramids at Giza:

And the Ka’bah at Mecca, Saudi Arabia:

The nutsoid Burj Al Arab hotel on the coast of Dubai (the one that looks like a sail):

And some European highlights, including Venice:

And down the coast of Italy, the near perfect volcanic cone of Vesuvius:

The Eiffel Tower, in Paris

And on the European historic tip, the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. If you open the link and zoom in, you can clearly see the line of bricks paved in the semi-circular road that mark the actual line of the removed Berlin Wall.

I hereby release myself from all claims should you become addicted to zooming in and out of places that you have or haven’t been!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Walter Payton – “Never Die Easy”

This is a book that I would recommend to everyone.

Payton was arguably one of the best (if not the best) American Football player to have ever lived. Read this book by written by Payton with Don Yeager and you will discover not only why he was a great football player, but also why he was an incredible human being.

Written in the last weeks of Payton’s life, this is probably the best book I have ever read, about anything. I found it impossible not to become inspired, emotional, and just plain awed by his greatness, his humility, and the perspective he brought to his own life and the way he related to those around him.

Without any intention to infringe copyright (or spoil the book), here are some selected sections, which without even coming close to telling the whole story will give you a flavour.


The most prolific running back in the history of the National Football League started his storied career not with a bang but with a bust. Eight carries for zero yards as the Bears lost 35-7 to the Baltimore Colts. After the game he cried. “Zero yards, but it was like I’d just watched someone gain 150,” said teammate Mike Adamle that day. “He made a couple of moves in the backfield after he was stopped for losses, just to get back to the line of scrimmage, and I said, “This guy’s great.” And he got zero yards”

But while the numbers weren’t there [in his initial season] as he played for the hapless Bears, the skills and determination that would lead him to the Hall of Fame were clearly on display. Payton was his normal self, scrapping for every yard no matter how far in the backfield he was initially hit, no matter how many opposing linebackers were leaping on top of the pile, no matter how far behind in the game the Bears were. He fought for extra yards on late-game third-and-longs during blowout losses as if it were first-and-goal in the Super Bowl.


On a team that consistently struggled, Walter was the guiding light. By year two… he began hitting his stride, rushing for 1,390 yards and thirteen touchdowns, finishing just behind O.J. Simpson for the league rushing title. In his third season, at age twenty-four, Payton was named the League’s Most Valuable Player, the youngest player ever to receive the honour. He earned it, scampering for 1,852 yards and fourteen touchdowns… including a 40-carry, 275-yard game against the Minnesota Vikings, still an NFL record for yards gained in a single game. He did it all that day despite suffering from the flu.


His complete, all-out style of play made him a fan favourite not only in Chicago but throughout the league. In 1981, the struggling Bears played a powerful Dallas squad on Thanksgiving in Texas and lost 10-9. Payton was never better, running like a man possessed, determined to win one on national television despite playing for a team lacking talent. He finished with 179 yards on thirty-eight carries, and as he left the field, head down in defeat, he received a rousing standing ovation from Cowboys fans awed by his effort.

It became a weekly occurrence, Walter receiving huge ovations from opposing fans who appreciated his abilities and style. He became one of the league’s most popular players despite toiling for a losing team. The ultimate sign of respect came in Green Bay – home to the Bears’ ancient and despised rivals – where, as his career wore on, he began receiving standing ovations from the Lambeau faithful during the pregame introductions. It was the first time a Bear has ever been cheered in Green Bay. And the last.


On his first trip away as a Bear, he sat in the first window seat on the left side of the plane in the coach [economy] section. At the time, the veteran players, particularly the stars, took the first-class seats and the rest of the team sat in coach. Walter sat in that same seat for every flight for his entire career. Long after he could have moved to first class and stretched out, he stuck with the rank and file of the team and flew coach class.


Mike Singletary: “Walter never gave us a lot of speeches about what it took to be a professional. He never took rookies aside and discussed it with them. He led by example. It is the best way to teach people. Little things are always caught by people. Even my own kids catch things. That’s something I have to remember myself, to lead by example. It’s a lot easier to talk, but man, I tell you what, walking that talk is very, very difficult. And Walter walked the walk every single day and the rest of us watched in awe.”


Kim Tucker: “I remember a woman who volunteers quite a bit at the foundation, and she was telling me that when she was a teenager that the Boys and Girls Club had held an event at a real nice hotel, and it was in a really nice suite at the hotel. It was a fund-raiser, so everybody was there, they were all people that had money and were all dressed very nice. These two teenagers were there and they were kind of just alone, nobody came up to greet them or anything.

She’ll never forget that when the elevator opened and Walter Payton walked out of the elevator, he looked around the room, and spotted them, and everybody’s running over to greet him, and he’s smiling at everybody and waving and telling them, putting his finger up, saying, “I’ll be right back,” ran right over to them and grabbed and hugged them, and said, “It’s great that you’re here, I’m so excited to be able to come and be part of this.” She said that when Walter came over, then everybody else wanted to come and meet them too. It was then okay to go up and hug these kids.”


Mike Lanigan: I called him on his mobile and acted like I was not aware of what he was going to tell me.

I said “Walter, how are you doing?”
He said, “Well, Mikey, I got some good news and I got bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?”
I said, “What do you mean, Walter?”
He says, “What do you want to hear first?”
“Tell me the bad news.”
He says, “Mikey, I’m not going to be around very much longer.”
I say, “Oh, don’t tell me that, Walter…. What’s the good news?”
“I’m alive today.”

Think about that. That was his attitude from then on.


Mike Singletary: Walter taught me to smile and he taught me to be courageous. And the other thing he taught me was to be a professional and how to handle myself. There were some games that we played, there were times that he played against some great athletes. I don’t care who they were, sometimes he would get the crap knocked out of him, bounce right back up. Bounce right back up. Wouldn’t say a word, he would turn and give the ball back to the referee, straighten up his helmet, and go back to the huddle. You knew at that moment he was saying, I’m coming back. Get ready, I’m coming back, and I’m coming with all I got. To me, that’s what he exemplified. When I looked at him, no matter what I felt like before a game – when I saw him run with such courage and authority – I don’t care who you were, he was going to dish it. He was gonna hand it out, he was gonna do the punishing, he was going to set the tempo.


Walter Payton: That’s the way everyone should really want to be remembered, that whatever they did, they did it as best they possibly could. That’s all anyone should want in our life. It’s not being the best, it’s not winning this or not holding this record… but for people to say, while he was on the football field he gave all he had, and then when he was off the football field he was just that much of a person that you could relate to, that you could talk to, that he had feelings. That’s what you want to be remembered as. Because football is a business. Walter Payton is a human being. If all I’m remembered for is a bunch of yards and a lot of touchdowns, I’ve failed. That was just my work. I want to be remembered as a guy who raised two pretty special kids and who taught them to be great people. Please have them write that about me.


Buy “Never Die Easy” by Walter Payton with Don Yeager (Random House publishing), wherever you can find it.

Contribute to the Walter and Connie Payton foundation here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Laura Clapp - “Leaving Nashvegas”

Laura Clapp has a new CD out, and I’d highly recommend it to all.

Recorded (almost entirely live) in Nashville, it’s a fantastic collection of tracks. With stunning and direct songwriting, hooky choruses, great arrangements, and really well recorded and mixed, it’s a CD you could listen to over and over again.

It's also accompanied by one of the best constructed artist photographs I've seen - which somehow manages to combine music and artistry, a dichotomy between strength and a hint of crucifixion, wedding rings, and even matching coloured nails and watch face. I have no idea if that was all planned, but it's an amazing photograph either way.

Some of the really good tracks include the gorgeous acoustic guitar led “Back to Us”, “Beautiful Limbo” (which to my ears is dying to be catapulted into the charts in a fully blown studio recording), the haunting drawl of “Something about you”, and the devastatingly underdone “Not for Me”, which rounds off the collection.

You can get the CD from Laura’s website here – so get one, and if you are quick you can say you knew about her before she was huge.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Ireland must vote No to the Lisbon Treaty

In one week’s time, Ireland will vote on whether to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

The last time something like this came around was in 2005, when the electorate of France and the Netherlands both voted “No” to the EU Constitution. Since then, European politicians have been tinkering with the formula, trying to preserve as much of the failed EU Constitution as possible, without calling it a constitution. Giuliano Amato (the vice-chair of the convention responsible for drafting the EU Constitution) stated “The good thing about not calling it a Constitution is that no one can ask for a referendum on it”.

Ireland is in a unique position, as due to the constitution of Ireland, a referendum is absolutely required. The Irish electorate will be the only non-politicians to be asked to approve this treaty, across 27 European countries!

The treaty is impossible to read, which is a good reason to be very suspicious.

There are many bad parts of this treaty, but the main part to be worried about is that part of signing up means that you agree the treaty can be changed after the fact, without your further approval. In that sense it is a blank cheque – and changes might be made that could be pushed through without a referendum at a later stage. In other words, this would be the last time that the politicians had to worry about the Irish public actually being able to make a meaningful decision. It’s clear that after the disaster of the Netherlands and France expressing their democratic right to decide (and deciding the way the politicians do not want), they will do everything to avoid having to ask the public for our opinion.

This treaty obliges Ireland to increase military spending. It provides a means for the EU to promote Nuclear Energy. It undermines workers rights (and if you are a normal person working for money, you are a worker). It passes 105 powers to the EU from Ireland (including International Relations, Security, Trade and Economic Policy), and more than 60 of these power-transfers may see Ireland unable to stop law changes that are not in the interest of Ireland.

There is nothing un-European about voting no to Lisbon. I am pro-Europe, and the way to make Europe more like it should be, is to protect our right to decide who speaks for us. Millions of electors across Europe are relying on us and our right of referendum (enshrined in the Irish constitution – at the moment) to vote no on their behalf.

It’s always possible to agree to changes to Europe at a later date. A no vote is not a step backwards - Europe is functioning quite well as it is, the world will not cave in. The politicians are entitled to redraw their proposals again, and bring them back to us.

But from a ‘Yes’ vote in Ireland, there is no way back. We will not be asked again, and the politicians can decide what you said ‘yes’ to after you have committed.

One final point - this treaty is unreadable, and can be changed after you agree to it in principle.

Would you sign a contract that was so complicated it was impossible to read, and that could be changed after you signed it by the other party?

Do the right thing for Ireland, the right thing for people across Europe who don’t have the privilege of a referendum, the right thing for you - vote no.