What a week!

I’m back home, and completely exhausted. This week has been a total write-off in terms of work, as I started off tired from fencing and enjoying myself all weekend, then I had the 2nd year medicine formal on Wednesday night to ensure I would be wrecked for remainder. Now add to that my new cold/whatever the hell this is I’m infected with, and you’ll understand I’m pretty much destroyed. I had intended to post this last night, but I ended up just watching the Usual Suspects instead, a brilliant yet quite confusing film. I missed posting last week, which was due primarily to the fact I was in Dublin for the fencing intervarsities. This post is going to be a serious essay length one!


Team organising

Fencing Intervarsities

This was both my first year at intervarsities, and my first year as captain of the épée team. Make that the first time of captain of any team, come to think of it. I really enjoyed the whole weekend, and everyone in the team, and the whole club did really well. QUB came 4th overall, and 4th in Men’s Épée. It was very different having to choose who to put on against each team (we had five fencers, and three fenced against each university), but aside from a few strategical errors, everything went quite smoothly. Trinity was hosting the competition this year, so everyone had high expectations which weren’t entirely met. The fencing was generally fine, aside from moving between different floors/halls from time to time, but the entertainment left a lot to be deserved. Saturday night was the formal and was hosted in the very nice Radisson Blu, which wasn’t exactly handy to get to in the first place. After fencing for hours, all you want to do is sit down, talk to people, and be served some good food. I assumed too much, and the buffet dishes outside the hall should have been indicative of what was to come. It was indeed self-service and took until about 9 before any food was available at all. But aside from that, and the generally terrible games, it was a good night. When the time comes for Queen’s to host the competition, I think we could do a pretty damn good job.

Formal stuff

Two formals in one week! Madness, but I did get good use out of my tuxedo. I made a pact with another of the fencers, Jeremy, that we would both wear tuxedos for the fencing formal. It was a mix of formal and semi-formal really, and along with one other guy, we were the only three in full black tie. The medical formal was a bit more traditional, with about half in black tie and the rest in suits. This year was pretty good as all of my tutorial group came for the first time, and most of us were at a table together. It was held in the Europa hotel, which was really nice, and it was a good night. The after party was in Eivissa, which was so-so. I could have probably just left after the formal itself finished up – I’m not really a fan of after parties, as they can never promise to be any way as good as what preceded them.


Fencing formal

Fencing momentum

Fencing is still non-stop! Tomorrow morning I’m heading down to Maynooth for the Student Individuals which should interesting. I’m hoping to get a bit further than I have been getting in competitions so far, building on the momentum from the intervarsities. Fingers crossed it all goes well!

The new sword

I have finally gone and done it. I’ve wanted one for years, and the other day I bought myself a swept hilt rapier. Well, ordered anyway, it hasn’t arrived yet but I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it. It will be interesting to see how the precursor to the modern fencing épée handles. Oh yes…there will be pictures. Next Friday, that is.

Swept hilt rapier

Sword price problems, and also Leon Paul annoying-ness (charging extortionate amounts for postage)

One of the issues that arose out of the intervarsities was the safety of Sword Price Fighters equipment. SPF source equipment from China, in an attempt to vastly undercut the overinflated prices of EU manufacturers like Leon Paul and Allstar Fencing. They haven’t exactly been welcomed by the bigger manufacturers. The BFA no longer allow SPF equipment to be used at their competitions after Barry Paul (yes, he is involved in Leon Paul) had SPF equipment tested in an FIE approved German textile testing facility. All was deemed to have failed testing, and some didn’t even survive the wash, so naturally they considered the equipment unfit for use in UK fencing. In a sport as potentially dangerous as fencing, it is important that all the equipment is up to standard, but this should be determined by a neutral third-party, not by the manufacturers themselves. Terrence Kingston, owner of SPF, sent new equipment to be tested in another textile testing facility in France and everything exceeded the required standards, so who do you believe? The competition who want to run SPF out of business, or the manufacturer of the equipment themselves. All the while, I’m caught up in the middle being given hassle for my choice of fencing stuff. If I could afford Leon Paul then I would happily go out and buy all the equipment in the world from them, as their stuff is undoubtedly good, but it is also very expensive. They effectively have a monopoly on the UK supply of high quality fencing gear.

However, I did in fact cave to pressure, and bought some Leon Paul equipment. It was their low-end range, and I managed to get it for about half their price thanks to eBay. Leon Paul are the most inflexible people to do business with ever – I’m trying to buy a singular titanium épée guard from them, but they are looking over half the value of the order to post it. This is for packing materials, they say. When did they start packing everything in gold?

Induction hob

Induction cooking!

The future (of cooking) is here! Well, I say it’s here, but really the technology has been knocking about for the last hundred years or so. It is, of course, induction cooking and is absolutely fantastic. I’ve been interested in it ever since seeing an induction hob specifically for a wok on the Gadget Show a good few years back, and only now have I got a hob to try out. The technology is relatively inexpensive, as I picked my tabletop unit up for £30, and you can also have them installed instead of ceramic hobs (the traditional element based heating solution). Why are they so good? First off, they are completely different to the standard “heat the surface, to heat the pan” idea, as they heat the cookware directly, making them much more efficient regarding heat transfer. This is because of the way they work – I’m not the greatest at explaining it so I’ll just pinch the description from Wikipedia. An alternating electric current flows through a copper coil, which generates an oscillating magnetic field. The field created induces an electric current in the pan, and the resistance to the electric current generates heat.

Of course, there are some drawbacks, the main being due to the requirement for ferromagnetic cookware. Essentially, you are restricted to using pans made of cast iron, steel or some stainless steels. Despite being the best thing for heat conduction previously, copper and copper-base pots are out the window unfortunately, as there isn’t enough resistance to the flow of electric current. And the usual precautions about damaging the glass top are still applicable here. There is also some extra noise provided by a cooling fan, as the electronics have to be kept from overheating, but it is masked most of the time by the sound of cooking. Aside from those minor issues, induction cooking is much more efficient and the control over temperature is more akin to gas than traditional electric cooking.

So far, I’ve only used it to caramelize onions and fry a few other things, and it has worked really well. Even when boiling water you can see the clear gradation of temperatures, from slightly simmering through to a full rolling boil. I’m definitely a convert to induction cooking – I just need to get more compatible pots! We only have two sauté pans which work, and some of the copper skin pots will work but are making threatening sounds.

Battlefield 3

Along with my new Xbox way back in November, I bought a couple of games – Halo CE: Anniversary and Battlefield 3. I’ve played Halo a few times, and though good, it is the same game as the original aside from vastly updated graphics. Battlefield 3, however, was neglected and remained unopened for a number of months, and unplayed for longer. No longer is that the case! Last night I ventured into the unknown and began the Battlefield 3 campaign, and I can report good news. It’s actually pretty fun, and though very similar to the Modern Warfare style, it is different enough to be distinguishable. The combat feels more realistic, and the weapons are more akin to the real life equivalents in terms of accuracy and power. Every weapon in Call of Duty tends to feel as though it’s pinpoint accurate, whereas in Battlefield there is more variety – though I can’t speak for the latest game, Modern Warfare 3, as I am yet to play it.

I’ve only played Battlefield 3 for about an hour, but it is definitely a compelling game, if frustrating in some places. Normal is the difficulty of choice for my first play through of games, but it felt way too easy at times and I found myself simply running into the chaos and picking off target after target without taking a hit. This wasn’t always the case, and at certain points the difficulty would ramp up, but that was mainly due to ignoring what the game told me to do and going on my own missions to kill everyone. One of the mechanics which annoyed me most was the use of quick time events (QTEs) to create effectively interactive cutscenes. QTEs can be well placed, for example the excellent Shenmue on Dreamcast, but they really don’t suit these situations. Particularly when they are as simple as, “press A” to perform a complicated set of actions. They aren’t enough to detract from the gameplay in general, but they are just becoming completely overused. Back to reality though – Battlefield 3 is definitely worth a look, and I’ll report back when I finish the campaign and play the multiplayer a bit.

Just to end, I absolutely despise video ads on websites. Especially those which play automatically, and remain only muted for a short time before looping at full volume again. Why, oh why, must advertisers continue to ruin the internet. I hope you enjoyed my essay, and I congratulate those who actually made it the whole way through this post

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