Abstraction

I have recently noticed that with many of my interests that I am becoming less interested in specific situations and more frequently I am wondering about the system surrounding it. This probably explains why I enjoy maths.

Currently the paralympics are on and one thing that I am finding more interesting than who wins gold or what records are broken is how the games work. Some sports like running are simply a case of being in the paralympics because those with one or both legs amputated can’t compete in the same way as someone with both legs. But some sports need to have fundamentally different rules like wheelchair basketball, since both hands are needed for movement, there needs to be a time limit on how long you can travel with the ball before bouncing it.

A sport that I am trying to follow over the time is the blind football. This initially seems like a bit of a stupid game but they have all sorts of caveats to make the game vaguely competitive and a decent spectator sport. I managed to catch the second half of the men’s Morocco vs Iran game (finished 0-2) and it’s a brilliant game. They have 1.2m walls at the side of the pitch to stop the ball rolling out of play too often, the ball has a rattle in so the players have a rough idea of where to head. There are many other rules to make play possible and safe, as they don’t want there to be too many instances of players wiping out someone’s legs.

The outcome of the game was rather trivial as I have no connections to either country, but I was absolutely fascinated in how they had tweaked my favourite sport to make it accessible for blind players. I’ll admit that some of the miskicks were hilarious, but I’d struggle to do better and I have no visual impairment. The game is a lot more exciting as balls are practically required to be played along the ground, you never get defenders just passing it between them then lobbing it up to their speedy striker, as their striker would be totally guessing where the ball goes.

I hope that all 2 of you potentially reading this go and watch some of the paralympic sports and instead of just cheering on your country look at how they have tweaked the rules to make the sport interesting and accessible for whatever the disability of the players is.

 

Abstraction

Making Improvements

Disclaimer: I am writing this at around 12pm Monday 2nd May 2016, so as it stands from my time Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur are both potential winners of the Premier League.

If you are ever concerned that you have gained a reputation, that you are no good, that you will never succeed in life then I need to tell you a story about a little football team from Leicester.

At the end of the 2013/2014 season Leicester City Football Club were promoted as champions of the Championship (which is not the best league in English football for reasons unknown to mankind) to the Premier League. They then had an absolutely abysmal season, winning just four games from their first twenty-nine matches; they were write offs, they were all but mathematically certain of being relegated to the Championship. Then something incredible happened, Nigel Pearson (the then manager) somehow managed to get the team to start winning games, going on to win seven out of the last nine; they finished in 14th (out of 20) gaining more points in their last nine games than in the previous twenty-nine. They would be safely be playing in the Premier League next season.

Over the summer Leicester decided to change managers, outing Nigel Pearson bringing in Claudio Ranieri, a man who previously lost to the Faroe Islands while in charge of Greece. Even ex-Leicester player Gary Lineker voiced his criticism. Then something truly magical happened Leicester managed to win their first game of the season, which little did they know was the start of an incredible season. After game ten, Leicester were fifth, only three points behind leaders Manchester City, having only lost one game which was against Arsenal.

Fast forward to Christmas time. It is 14th December 2015 and Leicester are playing last season’s champions Chelsea at Chelsea’s home ground. You can probably already guess what I’m about to say, but they go and win the match. This leaves Gary Lineker to make possibly the most regrettable tweet of his life. A popular tool with which one can guess the premier league winners is by seeing who tops the table at Christmas and this season it looked like it was going to be either Leicester or Arsenal to be the star on the tree, and yep you guessed it Leicester went top.

Arsenal, as expected, bottled it and tumbled away from the title race leaving their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur to battle it out with Leicester. At this point I would like to point out that if Tottenham were title contenders with anyone else I would be cheering them on, having last one a top flight title in 1961. However Leicester are the true underdogs and so the whole country is supporting them including managers and teams who have no chance of winning the league. So now we come to present day, West Bromich Albion drew with Tottenham on Monday 25th April. Tottenham are eight points behind Leicester with three games remaining, so Leicester just need two points from their two games to guarantee the title. Tottenham need to win all three games to have a possible chance of winning the title and even then this is only be possible if Leicester fail to pick up two points from two games.

You likely haven’t made it here without being a football fan, but let me get back on message. Nobody thought that Leicester could achieve this incredible feat, in fact even if they do lose all their remaining games, the worst they can finish is second. At the start of the season bookmakers had odds of 5000/1 on Leicester winning the title, which in case you’re not a betting person means that if someone put £1 on Leicester to win, they’d get back £5000 (plus the £1 you put on) which isn’t a bad investment.  Don’t allow people to tell you that you can’t do something because you’re not good enough. Jamie Vardy (Leicester striker) scored in eleven consecutive games at the start of the season, breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record. This is the same man who played for non-league Fleetwood town, just four years prior.

To take away from this, you don’t need others to tell you how great you are all you need is a small amount of self belief and hard work. In fact Leicester’s preferred starting line up cost just £22 million, less than half of what Manchester City paid for Raheem Stirling. In fact Riyad Mahrez cost just £400,000 and has just won PFA player of the year, a prestigious award. Proof that all you need sometimes is just hard work and determination.

 

Making Improvements

Oh the humanities!

I have frequently mentioned that I am a maths student, the closest thing I do to essay writing is writing out a long proof; despite the jokes I may make about humanities and arts students I believe that they are doing something truly incredible. Mathematics and sciences have objective answers which can be proved, or demonstrated with experiments, however any truth in the interpretation of a novel will be only in the readers mind.

A proof in mathematics is rarely the only proof for any given theorem, you can derive the addition sine and cosine formulae from a specially created rectangle or through manipulation of the exponential function, but at the end of the day the result is true, was true and always will be true. In studying English however the interpretation of a certain passage will have an important connection to the scholar and will likely be unique as it may resonate with past experiences that they have had. At this point I would like to point out that the last time I studied anything humanities or arts based was back when I did GCSEs, three years ago now so I understand that my world-view is limited.

History to me is monumentally important as a field of study for example. It teaches us of cultures from before our time and learn from its mistakes; we can’t hope to understand race relations in the world today without understanding where the initial conflicts were. From this we can help to build a better society, there is currently a debate around Oxford University as to whether we should remove a statue of notable colonialist and all-around bad guy Cecil Rhodes as many people view it as glorifying a man who put measures in place for apartheid. The argument against removing the statue is that it is censoring history to remove a statue of someone so prominent (albeit for the wrong reasons), and that by removing the statue you allow people to forget the history. The base argument here is the same – we should not forget history be it good or bad. This is why the study of history is so important as it causes people to think about how we got to be here and how that affects the way that people behave

As the science will always hold, societies rarely hold science as the heart of its culture; it is not unique to any group of people. Science is highly important to society, without it we’d all still be living without electricity or wifi or running water and most people would argue that these are improvements. However the arts are tremendously important, we are a society surrounded by blockbuster movies and novels and TV shows that go massively under appreciated in terms of their contribution to society. Works of media and art are reflections of how a group of people act and think.

Whatever the chosen art form it helps us to look at society, potentially in a new way. There’s a reason when people invade other countries they try to destroy the old civilization’s art; art cannot be truly replaced. I hear of funding cuts to the arts subjects but I hope that those in favour realise that just because something may not provide direct economic benefit such as computing that they are therefore inherently useless. Naturally, there is economic benefit as people buy theatre tickets and music so provided that the companies involve actually pay a bit of tax *cough* google, amazon, starbucks *cough*, but the cultural value of art is far more important than the economic value.

Art can inspire people in ways that you cannot even conceive and to me that is the true beauty of it, I can appreciate a good painting if I go to a museum but the real value is the thoughts and actions it can inspire. If you cut funding to the arts I hope you only watch films by amateurs and listen to music recorded on some teenager’s laptop microphone because that’s all they knew how to use. Whether you study chemistry, politics, history, art or music, it is phenomenally important to have your subject funded as they are all integral to the human experience.

Oh the humanities!

Limits

As a maths student I have dealt with my fair share of limits. I have proved that if f(x) tends to b as x tends to a then g(f(x)) tends to g(b) as x tends to a. I’m 100% serious as well, this is the result of an (awful in my opinion) area of mathematics called analysis, but most of you won’t care at all about my opinions on analysis.

At university you are always pushed to find your limits, by pushing hard you can find what you are actually capable. One thing I have noticed at Oxford is that I feel constantly like I am being pushed to (or over) my limits. During the intense eight weeks terms I often think that I don’t really like working on the very edge of my abilities as it usually results in a lot of stressful hours in the library. However just as quickly as I  talk about my dislike for it I realise that I am actually very grateful for this way of working.

I don’t think that Oxford’s way of working suits everyone and I think that Oxford is very good at selecting students who will work very well in their high jam-packed terms. I do believe that this method of working is what helps you in the long run to become significantly better at your chosen subject. By knowing nothing about what is ahead of you, at least in my heavily biased opinions, helps to create better thinkers; if you know nothing about where you should go it makes you think more about what you have already covered to a deeper level.

This is what the interviews at Oxford (and Cambridge) are all about, they don’t care what you already know about your subject (within reason) but more about how you respond to coming across something you don’t know. You can’t simply give up every time you reach the limit of your knowledge because if you did that you’d just be a considerably larger baby who can’t walk or talk. Failure is a natural part of all this. You can’t just expect to go for the correct route every single time.

In all your aspects of life where you want to improve you need to find your limits but then expand them, if you’re staying comfortably within your limits you can’t expect to exceed expectations, all you’re doing is ensuring that you’re doing well at something you already knew you were doing well. A football striker who can pass expertly but can’t shoot will never be a better striker by practising more on passing, they will spend more time at training on shooting.

 

Limits

Fifth Week Blues

As you can probably guess I am a student at Oxford University, and at Oxford one thing that is very weird is that we have almost a whole language just to communicate with other Oxford students. We have very regimented 8 week terms with everything being laid out according to this system “deadline is Tuesday of fourth week”, “tutorials will be on even Mondays at 3pm” which makes life very easy to navigate; I haven’t needed to know the date since I got back here.
One thing that does worryingly strike me is that we have the phrase “fifth week blues”. This refers to the fact that everyone gets considerably sadder in fifth week, this is probably partly due to the fact that Oxford does not do reading weeks. Other universities will have a reading week around about five weeks into the term at least for some subjects allowing students to catch up on work/reading or visit friends and family.
I worry about a university in which the students have a term for when everyone gets sadder as I think that it highlights an issue in Oxford’s care for students. However I think that everybody is able to get through it through a mixture of reluctance to admit failure, and the incredible welfare system that we have available. I think the system can vary from college to college but on the whole most students have welfare officers, college parents, peer supporters and subject mentors. These people are invaluable and their efforts make lives feel so much better.

As much as we often complain about fifth week, it has become something that inevitably helps you to work harder, as you try to stay on top amidst the essay crises. Although, I doubt that I’ll miss it when I’ve left uni.

Fifth Week Blues

Football fans

Across my life my opinions of football fans has changed. I used to believe that football fans used to think of themselves as a large family who may support different teams but ultimately they’re all a large part of some weirdly dysfunctional family. Today as I write this it is valentine’s day and so far Liverpool have rather humiliated Aston Villa and Arsenal have pulled themselves back into the title race, which they will inevitably throw away over the coming months.

I am a prolific twitter user over at @DBizzle97 and I saw the Match of the day twitter account ask for some Valentine’s themed replies and so I returned

Roses are red,
Violets are purple,
My love will never die,
For You Mesut Özil.

I felt very honoured when @BBCMOTD retweeted it within seconds as I expected it to be lost amidst a sea of considerably better jokes and roses are red-style poems. Initially I was overjoyed with this tweet doing very successfully apparently being viewed on over 80,000 people’s timelines which for a boy with 118 followers, most of who may not even use twitter any longer, was utterly baffling.

However this joy was short lived, as very quickly people wanted to let their voice be heard. I tweeted at 10:29am and so was retweeted at the latest at 10:30am by @BBCMOTD and by 10:33 I had my first (of five) tweets calling me a “nonce”; for those of you not au fait with British slang nonce is a slang term for a paedophile. This to me symbolises everything that is wrong with the football community because as a bisexual football fan I like to think that football is a more accepting community.

One was especially ridiculous as they likened me to the (now former) Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson who recently pleaded guilty to one count of sexual activity including kissing with a fifteen year old girl. This is very worrying as people still see the LGBT+ community as inherently predatory.

One very famous statistic is that there has never been an openly LGBT+ footballer in the premier league and with rumours of two possible players coming out the way that supporters talk about these issues will inevitably shape the entirety of LGBT people within sports. I used to believe that if and when footballers came out that the main source of controversy would be from other players in the dressing rooms rather than from supporters but I managed to have homophobic abuse tweeted at me for just making what I thought was just a harmless little joke.

I hope that as time moves on these people will become more tolerant, but they are most importantly becoming a minority they just shout a lot louder than those that accept people. But if you’re closeted whether a football fan or not you are not predatory you are absolutely fine just as you are whether you know what you are or not, you are always valid.

 

Football fans