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Foo Fighters Milton Keynes review

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It was a long time since I’d been to a rock concert, but we spotted this one back several months ago as a great treat for my son’s 13th birthday, as he’d never been to a rock concert before. I think this may have caused him to peak too early in his concert-going career, as a two and a half hour set complete with guest appearances by Roger Taylor and Alice Cooper will take some beating.

Rather than face a 2-3 hour drive each way we had gone for the coach option from Bristol which worked out well although traffic leaving the event was absolutely terrible, with seemingly little in the way of marshals or police directing traffic. It was 4am before we were in bed.

The venue itself was quite good for music, a grassy bowl which made for good viewing of the big screens around the stage, although the performers were mere specks on the stage in the distance. The sound was very good, very loud – almost too much for some of the songs but that’s rock and roll. Plenty of mobile catering establishments around the perimeter, and the inevitable merchandise stalls too. Aren’t gig t-shirts expensive?!

There was a wide range of ages in attendance, kids of about 8 upwards to ladies and gents in their 50s-plus. Many rock band and other humorous t-shirts being worn. Slightly disconcerting was the throwing forward in the crowd of plastic bottles containing dregs of cider, lager, and occasionally something worse (well it was a long way to the loo if you were in the middle of the crowd).

As for the on-stage action, although gates had opened at 2pm the first band on, Tame Impala, started at 4.30, then Death Cab for Cutie at 5.30, followed by Biffy Clyro at 6.45 for an hour with the Foo Fighters on stage prompt at 8.15 through to 10.45. The timekeeping was very good throughout and none of the Guns’ N Roses nonsense of them starting very late.

The Foo Fighters themselves were absolutely brilliant and are clearly some of the best songwriters and performers out there at the moment. Their songs are cleverly crafted and often take off in unexpected directions or include interesting chord sequences and lyrics. Dave Grohl does like a good shout and a scream in many of the songs but if you can get past that, their back catalogue of albums released since 1995 is well worth a look, and the concert set list included a few songs I had not heard before. Dave is also a great front man for the band and the performances were punctuated by little jokey cameos and conversations with the audience. The final song was completed with a serious firework display above the stage to cap a very memorable night!

Here is the set list:

And some video highlights captured by others at the event with better recording equipment than me. A bit of effing and blinding on these, watch out:

Learn to Fly:

Roger Taylor on drums for Cold Day in the Sun:

Let it Die:

Schools Out with Alice Cooper:


Written by martinkay

July 5th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

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Competition Twitterers

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This weekend I stumbled across the world of the Twitter users who use Twitter for the purpose of winning prizes in competitions. The Sun newspaper started a “please retweet and follow to win a Scalextric set” campaign on Saturday, and as a result my Twitter search that normally pulls up a couple of dozen “Scalextric” tweets a day, is suddenly finding hundreds. Until the campaign has ended, my search is pretty useless because I want to connect with people who are looking at buying Scalextric or need help with a technical problem, but they are lost in the noise of The Sun’s promotion.

Some people are retweeting The Sun’s message multiple times. And some of the people retweeting The Sun’s message have over 1000 followers, which I find remarkable. I’ve reviewed several of the Twitter streams of these users and sending competition tweets is the vast majority of all the tweets they send, very little in the way of their own material. Tweeting to win anything from an iPad to DVDs, to clothes, vouchers – all sorts. I presume the large number of followers they have, are down to connections made through the companies doing the promotion. But who would follow someone whose timeline is just a stream of promotional retweets? I have followed about a dozen of the users with most followers who are doing the retweeting, to create awareness of my store’s Twitter feed, but thus far they haven’t followed back in any great number.

All I have got is an endless stream of “RT and follow to win” messages for various brands and promotions. I don’t think they are interested in Scalextric at all, but in these economic times, the chance of a free prize which you can then flog on Ebay for cash must be tempting for many. I’m really not sure that this is the sort of purpose for which Twitter is best used, and in my case the flood of promotional tweets means I can’t easily find the kinds of people I can usually connect with and assist, through Twitter.  What do others think?

Written by martinkay

June 20th, 2011 at 4:12 pm

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Songkick review

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It’s not often I feel the urge to write a review of an iPhone app but this week I discovered Songkick, which is a great little tool for finding when bands and musicians you like are playing live near you. It’s the sort of app that makes you go “why didn’t I think of that?” although initially I was sceptical about what its cover would be like outside of the USA. So many of the social apps that hit the headlines are only focused on the American market and often are not available in the UK App Store.

However I needn’t have worried. The first thing Songkick does after installation is build a list of artists from your iTunes library. To give it more to work with, you can also hook it up to – my account scrobbles everything played on my iPod, iPad, iPhone and PC so this is a much greater dataset for it to work with.

Initially it will give you a listing of what major gigs are coming up in the area in which you are currently located, but since I am out in the middle of nowhere, and it came up with precisely nothing, I used the options to add other towns and cities I would be happy to make the journey to. As a result I have found a number of bands in my library (some who I didn’t even know were still touring!) playing near me.

As and when I have funds, I can use the links in the app to buy tickets to the gigs I want to attend, and Songkick will even make an iCal listing for you to add to your Google Calendar or Outlook, to remind you when the gig dates are approaching.

Of course it doesn’t know about all the smallest venues and smallest bands, but you can add new events to it if you find something missing. Overall a great package pulling together your music collection, location, and a database of upcoming gigs, and if you like live music it’s well worth downloading. Best of all, it’s free!

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June 10th, 2011 at 10:00 am

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Eurovision musings 2011

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So another year passes without me seeing the Eurovision Song Contest winner coming. I had thought that Ell/Nikki might stand a chance of a reasonable result but it didn’t sound like a winner to me. The promo video was a bit sickly too and the song didn’t seem to have any notable features. Indeed someone on Twitter posted that it sounded like a rip-off of an Atomic Kitten track. I was following Twitter throughout the event and it was good to see all the trending topics being ESC-related. One wag posted that this was payback for all the American #superbowl-tagged tweets from earlier in the year.

My own favourites had been the acapella Belgian entry, which I thought was really different, and Netherlands, whose entrant 3Js were somewhere on a line between U2 and Del Amitri which is very much my ballpark. Both were eliminated in the semi-finals. Another I thought would do well was Nina for Serbia, a really catchy tune and on stage last-but-one in the final was a good slot – but no. I also thought Lena would have a good shot at the double for Germany and the chance to come back for a hat trick next year – wrong again. Anyway all my favourites are on my iPod and if you follow my profile doubtless you will see them popping up there from time to time as they are pulled out in a random playlist next time I’m driving somewhere.

I put a few quid on Blue to win, more in hope than anything else,  but boyband songs full of stutters and “woahs” are not really my cup of tea. The new voting announcement algorithm, which delivered an early lead for the UK meant we should have foreseen a mediocre performance very early on. The later-announced results were more clustered around the universally-approved countries like Sweden, Italy, Ukraine and of course Azerbaijan. If they stick with this algorithm that hopes to string out the suspense for as long as possible, then unless you do an Alexander Rybak and score top points from virtually everyone, an early lead in the voting most likely means you are toast.

I was disappointed to see the novelty acts of Ireland and Moldova doing so well, after all this is supposed to be a SONG contest and the singers’ ability in jumping or riding about the stage shouldn’t be a factor. The Australian unofficial televote had Jedward as winners, in fact, and Ell/Nikki came last. Indeed the lead singer for Denmark runs almost to the halfway line of the football stadium and back during their song, and seems rather out of breath afterwards as he completes the performance. Then again, good songs sung well, and standing still, such as Lithuania, Austria and Hungary didn’t fare any better.

But something else I noticed after the event was the demise of what might be termed traditional Eurovision-fare songs. Those with choruses containing significant amounts of la-la-la (Switzerland), da-da-dam (Finland), wo-wo-wo (Spain), boom boom (Armenia) and ding dong (Israel) were shown the door. So maybe there is hope for the future of the contest, and properly crafted songs with sensible lyrics will become the order of the day?

So, Baku in 2012 then. I remember studying that area in O level geography in relation to its oil reserves, and apparently their relative wealth means Azeris are keen to host and not fazed by the cost of staging the event. It will throw up an interesting challenge regarding the timing of the event, because Azerbaijan is three hours ahead of Europe and four ahead of the UK. Since I can remember, Eurovision has always started at 8pm on a Saturday in Britain, but to do this in 2012 that would mean a midnight start for the Azeris. Seems a 4pm UK / 5pm Europe start would be more likely, so that will play havoc with that Saturday’s evening TV schedules. A fun scheduling job for someone at the BBC!

Written by martinkay

May 16th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

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Buying an iPad 2

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So on Friday 25th I finally decided to take the plunge and head off to Bristol to see if I could bag myself an iPad 2 before they all sold out. This was my first experience of queuing for the first release of an Apple gizmo, I was very late to the iPod party, my phone provider was one of the last to have iPhones for use on its network, and I decided to give the iPad 1 a miss last year to give the product time to mature and let all the early adopters iron out all the bugs. But my 12 year old laptop is now struggling to apply new updates and won’t run modern high-power applications so I have finally decided it’s time to pension it off and get a replacement solution for mobile working.

I had checked Twitter prior to setting off and found that short overnight queues had built up at Cabot Circus Apple Store, and by lunchtime a queue of 40 was reported to have formed at the one in Cribbs Causeway. Cribbs seemed the better bet though, as PC World and also John Lewis were saying they would have them at 5pm, so more options available there it seemed.

Arriving at 2.15pm the Apple Store queue was up to around 100 so I wandered into John Lewis’s tech department where a queue of precisely four people had started up. This seemed like a no-brainer. A couple of hours sitting reading a book and chatting with other queuers soon flew by, and the department manager came round with a clipboard taking orders about half an hour ahead of release time, to make sure nobody was queuing in vain for an iPad version not in their more limited stock list. A trolley of free bottled drinks and snacks also made it down the line which was by now snaking round the furniture department.

At 5pm the iPads were wheeled out in the company of a couple of beefy bouncers, money was taken promptly and goods handed over – I was back on the M5 by 5.20. All in all not too bad an experience and certainly John Lewis was the best option, as the Apple Store queue was still winding around the walkways of the Upper Mall. Now all I have to do is start playing with my new gadget and understanding how I can use it best.

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March 27th, 2011 at 3:29 pm

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Twitter, the diary you never kept

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I was thinking the other day about an old girlfriend of mine who was an ardent diary-keeper. Every day’s activities were filled out in some detail in an A5 day-to-page diary, sometimes with drawings as well. She remembered to do it most days but even when she missed a few she would be able to go back and fill in the blanks with remarkable abilities of recall. Some years I tried to do the same, I think the furthest I ever got was about April before something happened and I missed too many days to remember the details accurately enough. Which is a shame because I often think back about what year or month we took that holiday or visited that relative. Not that wading back through 20+ years of unindexed manuscript would have been a very productive way of finding out exactly when I last visited Aunt Agnes.

So aside from the ability to make contacts with other people with shared interests and related business ventures, I have certainly found that Twitter can perform this diary role much more conveniently for someone like me. Even when I was keeping a written diary, I never wrote a great deal on any day. Maybe only a few lines, or perhaps the equivalent of a few daily tweets. If you use the service you will be able to keyword-search through your tweet history for names and places you want to recall and it will all be there, date and timestamped.

If you want to create a private Diary of Tweets then simply protect your tweets in the Twitter profile settings, so everything you post will truly be a “Dear Diary”, because nobody else will see it or be able to follow you unless you give them permission. For me that’s a step too far but if I am involved in some general activity that I think I might want to remember the timeframe of later on, I just drop a regular tweet about it into my Twitter stream. Much easier than keeping and storing years of paper diaries!

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February 14th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

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I know what I like (in my Twitter timeline)

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With apologies to Gabriel, Collins et al, I have been using Twitter for a couple of years now and have pretty much come to understand how I can best use it to benefit me. Initially I followed people that Twitter recommended (usually USA-based celebrities) and others I discovered elsewhere who were on Twitter and who I thought might have some interesting to say, but have recently had to become very selective on who to follow to avoid information overload. I find Twitter works best as a news feed about the topics and people who interest me, and perhaps for more detailed stuff or inside information than I could discover from news RSS feeds or individuals’ blogs. But there is a real art in paring down the number of tweets that scroll past you to make sure most if not all are interesting nuggets and not just waffle.

First of all, follow close friends and family you want to communicate with using the Twitter framework. For example it is a good way of my wife and I sharing general information throughout the day while we’re at our separate work places. But you really don’t want to know if we remembered to put the bins out or feed the cats, so we don’t tweet about that sort of stuff, or if we do, it’s as a DM. So make sure you follow all the important people in your personal life and direct-message the everyday humdrum tweets.

Then, there are 10 different problems I see with other people’s tweets, that generally cause me to not follow someone or stop following them once I’ve tried them out for a while:

1. Avoid people who use bad language in their tweets. Since I have my timeline scrolling past on my screen during the day, f words and capital-letter-rants are distracting. Also sometimes my kids watch what is going past so it’s not good to show them how quickly some grown-ups run out of words. Yes you can filter these out using Tweetdeck but maintaining a comprehensive swear-word filter can be a pain. Very occasionally I’ll allow the odd one through if the tweeter is otherwise exemplary, or is appropriately quoting or retweeting someone else, but otherwise it’s two strikes and you’re out and I would have to independently “re-find” the person on Twitter through some other link or reason at a later date to try them out again and see if their potty mouth has improved.

2. Avoid Americans and other people tweeting a lot, from way outside my timezone. If someone sends a great batch of tweets only during the hours I’m asleep, they just won’t get read, they will have scrolled well out of view by the time I am back at my desk, so not much point in following them in the first place.

3. Avoid people whose tweets are peppered with bad spelling. Again the kids don’t need to pick up bad habits when they are reading over my shoulder, and I personally find it distracting, as I have a particularly low tolerance for bad spelling and grammar. Especially from journalists who one would assume have acquired their jobs through having more than a basic understanding of the English Language. I will excuse the odd typo and shortened words to fit in to the 140 character limit; but part of the fun of writing a tweet is working out how to reword what you want to say, using all the correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, without going over 140. There is usually no need to resort to text-speak – use an ellipsis and go on to a second tweet, or use a service such as

4. Avoid people whose tweets-with-links don’t give enough information in the text to know whether it’s worth clicking on the link. Is the end goal a Youtube video, a game, or is a PDF file going to open for example – I need to know before I click. Sometimes I already have a lot of stuff open on the desktop and if it’s anything more than just another web page it can hold up my computer while another app that I didn’t really want open, loads up. And opening a video link on my mobile can take ages. If your tweets don’t sufficiently well signpost the content I won’t click on them.

5. Avoid marketers. People whose tweets are manually or automatically sent with the sole purpose in mind of taking you to a web page where you can buy their products. These are Twitter’s equivalent of direct telesales calls and I don’t like those either.

6. Avoid people who tweet excessively about their everyday activities, such as going to the gym, being stuck on a train, or doing the ironing. For those people with the urge to do this kind of thing, I think services such as Facebook / Foursquare / Google Buzz are better places to share your small daily personal actions – they are better geared for the personal and local network of people likely to be interested. In the same vein, some people have their Facebook posts linked to their Twitter account so this also generates lots of banal tittle-tattle that’s best avoided.

7. Related to the previous point, avoid following people who send lots of tweets that relate to something they are watching on TV (for example) that contain no other information than their personal view on what they are seeing. Tweets such as “What is that guy wearing? #xfactor” for example. In fact anybody who tweets about X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, Eastenders, Corrie or any other populist TV show gets a big thumbs down from me. I am surprised at how many people who I thought were sensible enough not to get drawn into sitting watching TV and sending out these “TV running commentary tweets” have fallen at this hurdle. They are only likely to be of interest to me if I am also watching the programme in real time, and that’s pretty unlikely. If you want to tweet about a TV programme, one or two summary tweets at an appropriate juncture or after it’s finished, are better.

8. Avoid following people who are already followed by thousands and thousands of other people. I don’t need to follow Stephen Fry to find out if he has anything important to say, because if he does, so many other people will re-tweet it it will eventually come up on my timeline re-tweeted from someone else. And if he doesn’t have anything “quite interesting” to say, then I’m not interested.

9. Avoid media and theatre “luvvies” who use Twitter to bounce conversation back and forth between themselves, their friends, partners and so on. I really don’t care if celebrity A was in the audience at celebrity B’s show last night. Also some such people in priveleged positions will use Twitter as a way of underlining the fact they are meeting some global superstar, or have VIP seats at some performance or other; whether intentionally or not this comes across as showing off and can be somewhat distasteful.

10. Avoid the verbose. Many people who provide interesting links and useful tips fall foul of this one because they swamp my timeline with a tweet every hour or more at all times of day and night (particularly automated retweeting services and providers of useful social networking tips and wrinkles) – fortunately the very best of these get retweeted so I pick them up elsewhere, such as through a service like @TM_1000.

So that lot helps me prune my following list, maybe it will help you too. Incidentally if you are just starting with Twitter and would like to read a short quick start guide, I wrote one for my clients which is available here.

Written by martinkay

January 28th, 2011 at 5:31 pm

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SNMP monitoring for a home-office network

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Today I have been trying to work out the devices on our home/office network that are consuming the most bandwidth. We are getting close to our limit with the ISP and I want to find out where the main usage is. You would think it was pretty straightforward, but not a bit of it.

I am not a networking person so my understanding of protocols is somewhat limited. However after some rummaging on the internet the tool of choice seems to be PRTG Network Monitor. Having installed this it turns out that I need to enable SNMP (network monitoring) on my Netgear 834G router which requires accessing a hidden SNMP screen. Next it turns out that this router prefers to block SNMP traffic and its default setting is to turn it off. To turn it on you have to Telnet into the router and issue a line command to turn SNMP on (all of this uncovered through a single post way down a forum page back in 2006). If the connection drops or the router re-sets, you have to do the Telnet thing again. My computer didn’t have Telnet on it so I downloaded a copy of putty.exe which was immediately quarantined by Norton 360 and had to be rescued from the sin bin.

The next job having got PRTG running and the router happy to deal with SNMP requests, is to add sensors for SNMP traffic to the router records in PRTG. Turns out that it can only monitor SNMP for other devices that have SNMP enabled (it’s turned off in most Windows installations by default).  So having been round other Windows machines and switched SNMP on, I now expected these “interfaces” to be picked up by PRTG. Unfortunately not. Going to add new SNMP sensors to the router in PRTG does not find any, none are listed and “select all connected interfaces” draws a blank. “Nothing was selected, no sensors could be created” it says.

So I have given up. Stumbling block after stumbling block, and a lot of wasted effort delving into device settings that still didn’t work. In any case I want to be able to monitor traffic used by wireless and non-Windows Devices like the iPhone and the Wii as well as the desktop computers and laptops. The network should be secure but all the same it would be nice to know if anyone has managed to connect to it unauthorised, and is taking some of the bandwidth. I can only hope that someone out there is developing a network monitoring tool that is properly “plug and play” for this kind of environment!

Written by martinkay

February 28th, 2010 at 11:30 am

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Gmail: to POP or to forward

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Recently my web design clients have been experiencing space problems with their POP3 mail boxes provided with their web space. Often it’s down to poor housekeeping, and during recent bad weather some mailboxes went unchecked for a few days as staff weren’t getting to the office to log in. More and more people are also sending larger and larger files these days too, so a single large graphic document can easily take a user past their quota in one fell swoop. I’ve even had these problems myself.

So having had a Gmail account in the background for a while, I decided now would be the time to bring it to the front of stage and use it as my main mail processing centre, because of the vast free storage space it offers. I previously used the paid-for Spamcop service to filter out all junk and then send it on, but by many accounts Gmail’s spam filtering is pretty good too.

Initially, however, I set up Gmail to pull all the mail from my POP3 accounts. Which is fine, except it won’t fetch down anything that has a virus in it. Which means over time that your POP3 mailbox (now not being polled from the desktop) still fills up, but with bad messages, so you still have to go in and clear them down. May not be a problem, depending on the number of virus emails received. So instead I have now removed the POP3 mailboxes and set a mail forwarder on the domain name, to pass everything on to Gmail rather than wait for Gmail to fetch it and pick and choose what it wants to accept.

One other thing I have done is to set Gmail to forward all mail received on to one more POP3 mailbox on another domain name, and leave the Gmail copy in the inbox. The reason for this is that I want to fetch my mail to my desktop computer using my existing  POP3 Thunderbird settings, and keep using the same mail folders and mail processing rules (sending to various folders depending on content) that I already have. If you set up Gmail as a new account in Thunderbird it goes in a separate section of the Thunderbird inbox and all the rules need re-doing. The Gmail copy acts as a backup and can be viewed and marked as read either in the Gmail browser or when out and about with my iPhone.

So in summary, my POP3 mailboxes no longer exist, and the addresses they serviced are now just mail-forwards to Gmail. Gmail processes the spam and viruses, and then forwards a copy of everything to a “clean” POP3 box on another domain, that I poll from my regular computer. Having the Gmail copy as well is useful as a backup and means I am always seeing live mail in my mobile device too. I think this is the best solution for my mail needs and I will be recommending to my web clients with mail storage issues to do similar over the coming months.

Written by martinkay

February 21st, 2010 at 9:36 am

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Who put the “we” in football?

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Even though I play Hattrick I don’t really support any football teams. I was born near West Ham and also had a Chelsea football shirt when I was little but never got really fanatical about either. Later I lived near Crystal Palace when they got to an FA Cup Final and bought a club scarf to show my support, but still never felt like I wanted to sign up as a committed follower. Over Christmas I was reading ”Why England Lose” which covers a lot of topics relating to supporting football teams.  Which got me thinking about what is it exactly that makes someone go that one step further from casual interest to feeling part of a club?

When you see TV interviews with fans after games, pretty much everyone talks about the team they support in a possessive way, e.g. “we were absolute rubbish”, or “our lads did really well”.  I wonder at what point people start referring to their favourite team in that way? Is it from childhood or through a tradition in the family, or when someone moves to a new area and chooses a club to support, or perhaps when they attend their first home game and shout encouragement from the stands, or maybe when they buy a season ticket?

For my part I do follow the England team and will do in the World Cup, but for me, saying “England will easily beat Algeria” sits more comfortably than “we will easily beat Algeria”. I am not a member of the England Supporters’ Club, only watch televised games, and even though I know most of the players and the clubs they play for, I don’t feel any sense of ownership towards the England team even though it’s my national team. I also follow my local town football team’s non-league progress but I rarely attend games, know few of the players and other than living in the same geographical location where the home games are played, again I would always refer to them in the third person (“they should have done better in that game” for example).

To me, talking about a club in the possessive seems a curious thing to do if you are not part of the actual team, paid staff or directors. How does it feel as a club manager or director to have all these people claiming ownership of something that is your own responsibility?

The opposite extreme is if I am playing a multiplayer internet fantasy game in a mission or quest team with other real people such as members of a guild. There I am actually part of the team doing the mission, and we stand or fall by our own actions. After the mission I can happily say in the chat ”we should have gone this way” or “we used the wrong spells on the Necromancer Boss”.  Whereas if I go to a football match my presence has no effect on the outcome of the game, so it seems odd to talk about the people I was just watching chasing and kicking a ball for 90 minutes in a possessive way.

But clearly there is some hidden hurdle that once you have crossed it, makes you feel entitled to speak as if the club is yours and that you have played some personal part in every win or defeat. Funny, that. I wonder what it is?

Written by martinkay

January 31st, 2010 at 12:58 pm

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