2016-17 NFL Playoffs – Divisional Round

We’re only two wins away from the Super Bowl, so who will be left standing after the Divisional Round this weekend?

In the Wild Card games in last season’s playoffs, all the home teams were knocked out. However, this season it was reversed, with all the road teams knocked out. So, what can be expected this week in the divisional round?

Last week, three of my picks (the Texans, Steelers and Seahawks) were correct, and one (the Giants) was incorrect. However, my predictor went one better, scoring all four correctly:

GamePredictionResult
Giants - PackersPackers by 8.5Packers by 25
Lions - SeahawksSeahawks by 9Seahawks by 20
Raiders - TexansTexans by 2.5Texans by 13
Dolphins - SteelersSteelers by 12.5Steelers by 18

As you can see, all four games were settled by margins larger than predicted – although the predicted margins were on the whole larger than most other people would have predicted.

The only exception to that would be the Raiders – Texans game, where most people would have expected the Texans to win by more than 2.5 points, but that was mainly down to the injury to Derek Carr, which my model doesn’t take into account.

All in all, my prediction model worked very nicely. So, how will it stack up this week? Let’s see.

Houston Texans at New England Patriots

Let’s get this game out of the way first. Let’s be honest – this is the biggest mismatch of the weekend. Despite being in the playoffs, and even getting through to the Divisional Round, the Texans are the twenty-third ranked team in my rankings.

They are a team that does two things well: they win at home, and they don’t allow many points – at home.

The trouble is, they’re playing on the road, where they allow, all things being equal, ten points a game more, score six points a game less, and lost three quarters of their games.

They play the meanest defense in the league, and an offense that can score on the ground or through the air almost at will.

A sidenote: I know people say the Texans have the league’s best defense. They don’t. The Patriots do. The Patriots allow fewer points per game than any other team (by two points a game). Give out awards for yards a game if you like, but last time I checked, you win based on points scored. That matters a whole lot more.

So, who’s going to win? The Patriots. By how much? Anywhere between 10 and 40 points. I could cloud you with more figures, but I won’t bother – apart from this:

My predictor is 35-3 in games this one-sided this season. One of those was the Cardinals beating the Seahawks in week 16. Another was the Bills beating the Patriots 16-0 in week 4, when the Patriots didn’t have a fit quarterback. The final one? The Texans – Chargers game in week 12. Unfortunately for Houston, they were meant to win it, and they lost – San Diego’s only road win of the season.

Pick: Patriots.
Predictor says: Patriots, 83% confidence, by 22.5 points.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs

This is an interesting matchup. If the Steelers were at home, they would be clear favourites, but a trip to Arrowhead makes this much harder to pick.

Undeniably, a team with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are not a team you can write off. Nevertheless, the Chiefs’ defense is tough, they have a quarterback who doesn’t tend to turn the ball over, and they also can run the ball. Add on to that a bye week to rest, and Andy Reid’s 16-2 record after a bye week, and something has to give. So who’s it gonig to be?

People will tell you the Steelers are poor on the road. Well, they’re not the best team, but they are 5-3 on the road, and the Chiefs are only marginally better at home (6-2), so there’s not a lot to choose there.

Intriguingly, their average points per game are almost identical (23.47 to 23.81), as are their points allowed (18.76 to 18.81). However, the Chiefs are marginally better scoring on the road than at home. The Steelers are the third-rated team on the road, behind only the Patriots and Cowboys. So, are the Steelers edging towards victory?

The Chiefs are 2-2 in their last four home games, which have been the toughest of their home games. The Steelers are 4-0 in their last 4 road games, and haven’t allowed more than 20 points in any of those games. They’ve also scored at least 24 points in all those games. That’s a significant turnaround compared to their first four road games, where they scored fewer than 16 points in 3 games, and allowed more than 20 on 3 occasions.

The Chiefs are 1-0 in home games against playoff teams this season, whilst the Steelers are 0-1 in road games against playoff teams.

I’ve flip-flopped on this all week, and I’m not confident. But I’m going to back the Steelers’ recent road form.

Pick: Steelers.
Predictor says: Too close to call. Based on previous similar matchups, it suggests Steelers.

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys

I refuse to get carried away with how good this Green Bay Packers team is. Yes, they are good, but they’re not really good. Last week, they were flattered by a New York Giants team which had plenty of opportunities to take a big first half lead, but didn’t take them. The Giants paid for that in the second half, but the game could have looked very different had they taken those chances. I suspect the Dallas Cowboys wouldn’t have wasted those chances…

The Packers still have two main weaknesses. First, their defense is not great, especially right of the hash mark. I expect the Cowboys to exploit this. Second, they struggle to run the ball. There’s only so long you can rely on Aaron Rodgers. You need more than him to win a Super Bowl. The Cowboys’ defense aren’t great, but they aren’t bad either, and allow 6 points fewer per game than the Packers. It’s definitely advantage Cowboys.

The Packers give up too many points on the road. They allowed 47 against the Titans, 42 against the Redskins and 33 against the Falcons. Yes, they’ve also scored 30 points three times, but who against? The Falcons (terrible defense), the Bears (just terrible) and Lions (average).

The Cowboys have allowed 20 points at home 5 times, but never more than 26. They have only once scored fewer than 20 points at home, have surpassed 30 three times, and on one of those occasions, they scored 42 (against the Lions).

The Packers are 1-1 in road games against playoff teams this season. They beat the Lions and lost to the Falcons. The Cowboys are 1-1 in home games against playoff teams – they beat the Lions and lost to the Giants.

But, looking at the season, the Cowboys always do the business when they should – except against Eli Manning. Tom Brady knows all about that. The Giants just defy convention.

Pick: Cowboys.
Predictor: Cowboys, with 83% confidence, by 7 points.

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons

Although there are three cracking games this week, this is for me the most intriguing, because it’s a battle of relative strengths and weaknesses. It’s hard to know what will win out.

On one hand, the Falcons have an explosive offense, up against a team that whilst not as good as it has been, is hard to beat in the air. On the other, you have a Seahawks team which has struggled to score consistently, up against a Falcons defense which has more holes than emmental.

I suspect the end product may end up disappointing, as I’m coming to the conclusion the Falcons will likely be more able to score against a tough Seahawks defense, than the Seahawks will be able to take advantage of the Falcons’ ropey defense. I do hope I’m wrong though.

The Falcons have allowed 29 points or more 6 times at home this season, and have scored 30 points or more 6 times too. Their lowest scoring home game featured 54 points, a 41-13 win against San Fransisco. They have lost at home to Tampa Bay, San Diego and Kansas City, but all needed at least 25 points to win. Can Seattle score that many?

It’s hard to know. They can, but they don’t consistently. They scored 31 against New England on the road, but they also scored a combined 24 in Los Angeles, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Green Bay. Those four games combined would be enough to get a tie against Atlanta in their lowest-scoring game.

This is the Seahawks’ problem: against balanced teams, they’re a good matchup. They don’t create massive mismatches. Unfortunately, that’s their downfall this week. The rest of their game probably can’t make up for the mismatch of Julio Jones. I think any thoughts to the contrary are probably wishful thinking on my part.

Pick: Falcons.
Predictor: Falcons, with 62.5% confidence, by 9 points.

2016-17 NFL Playoffs – NFC Wild Card

Following on from my insight into the AFC playoff race, here’s your guide to the NFC playoffs.

New York Giants and Green Bay Packers

This game is easily the juciest game of the weekend. One team on a 6-game winning streak against another known for shutting down opposing offenses. Even better, the Eli Manning is 2-0 in the playoffs when playing at Lambeau Field, so this really should be the game to watch…

The Giants are 3-2 against playoff opposition this seasom. The Packers are 5-2, including a win against the Giants at Lambeau Field. The only playoff team the Giants have beaten on the road is the Cowboys (week 1). The only playoff team the Packers have lost to at home is the Cowboys (week 6).

The game isd essentially two teams’ weakenesses matched against each other on one side, and their strengths on the other. Are the Packers’ offense (ranked #4 on points) better than the Giants’ defense (#2)? Are are the Packers’ defense (#21) worse than the Giants’ offense (#26)?

At some point, Aaron Rodgers has to turn the ball over. At some point, the Packers’ run must end. At some point, Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Junior will connect and show that the Giants’ offense can be better than that #26 ranking.

The Giants’ pass coverage and the Packers’ issues in coverage, especially down the field on Clay Matthews’ side, mean this matchup is built to expose these. It may not happen, but this is the best chance the Giants will get.

I’m not confident picking this game, not least because both teams have been inconsistent this season. Despite the Packers’ impressive six-game winning streak, only the win against the Seahawks was unexpected. The other five were weak opponents. They’ve given up at least 24 points in each of their last three games, and that makes me think they’re not quite as good as others think, and that the Giants have just enough hope they can overcome their ropey road form to pull this one off.

The Giants and Packers met at Lambeau Field in week 5. The Packers won 23-16.

My pick: Giants
Predictor says: Packers, 80% confidence, by 8.5 points.

Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks

Let’s cut to the chase here: the Detroit Lions are the only playoff team not to have beaten another playoff team this season, and it’s not for lack of opportunity. They have lost to the Packers at home, and on the road to the Packers, Cowboys, Giants and Texans.

That really should tell you all you need to know. Against non-playoff teams, the Lions are 9-2. Against playoff teams, they are 0-5. They’ve had a good season, but it ends here. They’ve hit their glass ceiling. That shouldn’t disappoint them, they just need to accept they’ve hit their maximum potential this season.

The Seahawks, on the other hand, whilst inconsistent this season, have played well against playoff opposition, winning three out of four games. They beat the Falcons and Dolphins in Seattle, and beat a Brady-led Patriots team on the road in an impressive week 10 win. Their only loss was an odd road loss to the Packers 38-10 in week 14.

The real differentiator here is that whilst both teams score around 20 points a game, the Lions give up around 21, whereas the Seahawks are closer to 17 points a game. I don’t see the Lions running many points up on the road in Seattle.

My pick: Seahawks
Predictor says: Seahawks, 80% confidence, by 9 points.

Bye Week: Dallas Cowboys

If the New England Patriots are the best team in the NFL, most people would agree the Dallas Cowboys are the next best, and the best in the NFC. The regular season definitely suggests that, although come the playoffs, they will have to beat quality and experienced opposition to get to the Super Bowl.

The question mark the Cowboyd have to answer is this: when facing up to the Seahawks, Packers and Giants, do they have the poise to beat teams with quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, who between them have five Super Bowl appearances, four of those on the winning side? No matter how good the Cowboys are, they will be up against teams who have proved they can win in the postseason, even if they’ve been merely average in the regular season.

Outside of experience, the Cowboys only have one obvious weakness to exploit: defense. They won 7 out of 8 games at home, their only loss was in week 1, to the New York Giants, and even then only by a point. Furthermore, four of their wins were double digit wins. However, they give up a median of 20 points at home, which whilst not the worst of the playoff teams, is not league leading either (though it should be pointed out, the three teams leading the league on this all missed out on the playoffs).

If you can slow down the Cowboys on offense, they’re beatable, because their defense allows scores – every road team scored at least 14 points this season against the Cowboys, compared to the Patriots who allowed three road teams a combined 13 points, whilst piling on 94 points at the same time.

Bye Week: Atlanta Falcons

If the Cowboys’ defense is a weakness, the Falcons’ defense is positively ugly. They allowed 29 points or more in 6 of their home games this season, which would put road teams in the top 10 for scoring in the NFL this season.

Of course, the reason Atlanta are in the playoffs is that they lead the league in scoring, comfortably, with an average of nearly 34 points a game.

That’s great, but what happens against quality opposition? Well, their two closest games this season at home came against two playoff teams. They played the Green Bay Packers in week 8, winning 33-32, and played the Kansas City Chiefs in week 13, losing 29-28.

In fact, despite all their scoring, five of their home games were one possession games. They beat three teams by two, three or even four scores, but those teams were the Panthers, Cardinals and 49ers, none of whom were great teams this season.

It’s hard to put 40 points up against a playoff team, and when you concede an average of 25+ points at home, you don’t have much margin for error. In short, this team gives up too many points to win the Super Bowl.

And the bad news? The most likely visitors to Atlanta next weekend are the Seattle Seahawks. To me, that’s the worst possible matchup for this team.

2016-17 NFL Playoffs – AFC Wild Card

With the postseason about to start, you’ve been dying for a low-down on the AFC race. Wait no longer.

There’s one thing I love about January: the NFL playoffs. There’s also one thing that disappoints me about January: the NFL season is nearly over. So, if it’s nearly over, let’s enjoy it while it’s still here.

Looking at my detailed statistics, fine-tuned for the 2016-17 season and more accurate than ever due to my top-secret new formula, I’ll take you through the AFC Wild Card games…

Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans

Last season, the Houston Texans won their division and hosted an AFC West team in the playoffs. They lost. If the Oakland Raiders had won in week 17, this would be a rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs, and I suspect they would lose again.

As it is, the Raiders’ star quarterback is out for the season, their backup is also injured, and they travel to Houston for an intriguing match up.

On paper, this Raiders team (12-4) is better than last season’s Chiefs (11-50, whilst the Texans are again merely an average team winning a poor division. So what are they good at?

The Texans are very good at home, going 7-1 in the regular season. They even beat the Kansas City Chiefs 19-12 in week 2. They have allowed fewer than 15 points at home in half of their home games, although their opposition haven’t been particularly strong.

Still, you can only beat the teams in front of you, and four of their seven wins were by seven points or more – not bad considering they haven’t scored 30 points in a single game at home all season.

Their other strength, as you may have picked up, is their defense. Overall, their defense ranks 10th in the league for points allowed, but at home, only the Chiefs, Patriots and Seahawks have meaner defenses.

In short, they may be an average team, but that’s averaged out between a good home team and a poor road team. Only the Seahawks have a larger disparity between home and road performance. Good thing they’re at home then!

So, what of the Raiders?

Let’s be honest, if Derek Carr wasn’t injured, Oakland would be hot favourites. But, he is injured. So is their backup. They will likely need to start their third-string quarterback, rookie Connor Cook.

Good news for Oakland: the Texans average around 20.5 points at home, and the Raiders average around 22.5 on the road. However, the Raiders’ road defense is as bad as the Cleveland Browns on the road, and as I’ve mentioned, the Texans are in the top 10. Everything points to a home win.

My projections give it to the Texans by 2.5 points, before you account for the Raiders’ quarterback issues, despite being ranked #26 in points difference in the whole NFL – ahead of only the Jaguars, Jets, Bears, Rams, 49ers and Browns.

The teams met in week 14 in Oakland, where the Raiders won 27-20.

My pick: Texans.
Predictor says: Texans, 100% confidence, by 2.5 points.

Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers

At the start of the season, people talked of the Steelers as potential Super Bowl champions. After the first couple of weeks, it all went a bit wrong.

After winning four of their first five games, they lost four on the bounce, including to the Cowboys, Patriots and Dolphins, before winning out in their last seven games.

The trouble is, only one of those final seven games was against playoff opposition (the Giants), although in week 3 they did hammer the Chiefs 43-14 at home. So, overall they are 2-3 against playoff opposition.

The good thing for the Steelers? Their two losses at home were to the AFC and NFC #1 seeds, so they only lose to really good teams. And the Dolphins aren’t really good.

The Dolphins are 1-3 against playoff opposition. The Patriots beat them comfortably in Foxboro back when Tom Brady was suspended in the interests of trying to stop the Patriots winning. They were squeaked out by the Seahawks in week 1 when the Seahawks looked very lost. And in week 17, they were annihilated by the Patriots.

Don’t get too excited by the 9 wins in 10 games between weeks 6 and 16 either. Yes, they beat the Steelers, but that was at home, and their other wins were against the Bills (twice), Jets (twice), Chargers, Rams, 49ers and Cardinals. The Steelers aside (who are 3-5 on the road), none of those teams even went .500 this season. This is a team flying high on a weak schedule, who get beat against quality opposition.

The Dolphins are 4-4 on the road, and are middling at best in terms of points scored and points allowed. They average 19 points on the road (the Steelers average 28.5). They don’t give up any more points on the road, but it won’t be enough to save them.

Points difference gives this to the Steelers by 12.5.

The teams met in week 6 in Miami (another reverse fixture!), where the Dolphins won 30-15.

My pick: Steelers.
Predictor says: Steelers, 100% confidence, by 12.5 points.

Bye Week: New England Patriots

The Patriots are the best team in football, even without Gronkowski, and without Jamie Collins. Forget the hype around the Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks – they’re all good, but the Patriots are the team to knock off the top of the perch.

The Patriots may not win the Super Bowl – plenty of favourites don’t – but they are by far the team to beat. The Dallas Cowboys look very good, but their rookie quarterback will need to step up a gear in the playoffs to hold off two of the Falcons, Packers, Seahawks and Giants to just get to the Super Bowl (don’t worry about the Lions, they’re toast).

So why are the Patriots so good? Well, we know all about Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but the standout reason the Patriots are so good this year is that they give up fewer than 16 points a game – that’s two points a game fewer than the next best team (the Giants). They win their games by an average of 12 points – nearly 4 points more than the next best team (the Falcons).

People questioned trading Jamie Collins to the Browns. Things might change in the playoffs, but they haven’t looked like they’ve missed him much so far.

Then there’s Martellus Bennett. The Patriots have a second tight end who can win any matchup – with one upside on Rob Gronkowski. He’s not a walking hospital case.

Finally, there’s the run game. The Patriots aren’t known for the run – or at least, they weren’t. But with Dion Lewis, LaGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James White and James Develin in the backfield, this Patriots team can run the ball down any team’s throat.

And that’s why they’re the team to beat.

Bye Week: Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs secured a bye on the back of Oakland’s bad fortune. They’ll be glad they did, as a trip to Houston would have been tricky, having lost there in week 2.

If any team in the AFC can beat the Patriots to the Super Bowl, this is probably the team to do it. They won 6 out of 8 on the road on the back of one of the toughest schedules in the league. Of their road games, four were against playoff teams, and two more were against last year’s Super Bowl teams, and they were 4-2 in those games.

So, if they get to to the AFC Championship and it’s in Foxboro, they have certainly shown they’re good enough to compete. The question is, can they get there?

Their home form hasn’t been as good as it should be. They’ve only played one home game against playoff opposition – against the Raiders, which they won. They lost twice, to Tampa Bay and Tennessee, both games by two points. Six of their games were decided by one possession.

Their most likely opposition in the Divisional Round is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that would be juicy match-up. They’ll be glad to get this week off to prepare.

Reviewing Politics, 2016 Edition

It’s the end of the year, and what better way to end it than to look back on how foolish you were at the start of the year?

You may remember, at the start of the year I wrote my 2016 political predictions. Like many others, I suspect, most of these I now wish I hadn’t, as they turned out to be so badly wrong. So, I thought it would be fun interesting to review them…

Scottish elections
I predicted the SNP would win a majority in the Holyrood elections, that the Conservatives would win more seats than Labour and that the Green Party would win more seats than the Liberal Democrats.

Overall, a good start, I’d say. The SNP didn’t win a majority, of course, although they came very close. I was surprised how many constituencies they lost to other parties – the Liberal Democrats won four and the Conservatives seven, whilst Labour clung on in three.

Winning more constituencies, combined with a slight fall in their share of the list vote, meant they overall lost seats compared with the 2011 elections, although with the Green Party picking up seats overall, their is an overall majority for pro-Indy parties in the chamber.

In the end, the Conservatives did more than make gains on Labour – they passed them, comfortably, although with fewer seats than Labour had in 2011. The results were terrible for Labour, but they’ve not quite reached the bottom yet… that will be in May’s local elections.

The Greens did indeed beat the Liberal Democrats, by one seat. It would have been more, but the Liberal Democrats managed to win four constituency seats. Their local campaigns must have been exceptional, as their campaign nationally was abysmal, and all I remember of it is two randy pigs…

Verdict: Mostly correct.

The EU referendum
 I still don’t really understand this. People don’t usually vote to make themselves poorer, which is what they chose to do in this referendum. I guess, all in all, they decided it was worth it, or that it wouldn’t make them poorer.

More than six months on, we’re still none the wiser what will happen and how it will pan out, but 2017 will give us an idea. How much sovereignty will the UK get back? Is it willing to pay the price, or will it become a poor man’s Norway?

In essence, we settled on an answer to the question, but we still don’t understand the question very much.

Verdict: Abject failure

Jeremy Corbyn
Well, he did survive as Labour leader, but his MPs did try to stick the knife in. They just didn’t succeed, thanks mainly to their National Executive Committee. Once Jeremy was confirmed as being on the ballot paper, he was never going to lose.

Well, apart from those pesky elections outside the internal Labour Party. He’s still losing those. Badly. Although not as badly as the branch office in Scotland…

Verdict: Half-right.

Hillary Clinton
It turns out that whilst none of the Republican candidates were electable, she was even less electable. Quite an achievement really.

That said, I don’t think any other candidate would have lost to Donald Trump. Familiarity and contempt cost her. Any other Democrat candidate probably would have beaten Trump. Would any other Republican candidate have beaten Hillary? No one will ever know.

I still would much rather be seeing Jeb Bush as President-elect, but that ship has sailed.

Verdict: Not completely wrong – the Republican candidate is a crackpot.

London mayoral elections
I was half right on this one. Sadiq Khan was the winner, but it wasn’t the closest election yet. Indeed, it was the largest margin of victory since the first election in 2000 when Ken Livingstone won as an independent.

Verdict: Half-right.

2017 predictions
Let me have a think about that. It might be better to use a fake news generator as it may be just as accurate.

Changing directories in the Windows command prompt

Everyone knows how to change directories in the command prompt, right? Sometimes you know less than you think.

I’ll admit, this one does seem a little basic. However, it’s something that’s often struck me as odd, yet I’d never bothered to look into further until this week, when my curiosity got the better of me.

In Windows, as in Linux, it’s really easy to change directories when in a command prompt. Say you’re in C:\Users\User, and you want to change to C:\Users\User\Desktop, you would put in the following:

cd Desktop

If you wanted to switch to C:Windows\System32, you would put in the following:

cd C:\Windows\System32

Simple, right? So, if you store files on another drive (as I always do, because it makes backups and sharing much easier for me), and you want to switch to, say, D:\Websites\Website\, you would put in the following:

cd D:\Websites\Website

The trouble is, it doesn’t work. I would always have to do the following:

D:\
cd Websites\Website

Until now, I’d never been bothered enough to look at what i need to do to make it work. It turns out, when switching drive letters as well as directories, you need to use a switch, /D. so, to do it in one line, you need the following:

cd /D D:\Websites\Website

To be honest, I can’t really see any reason why you would need a switch, since nothing happens at all if you dont use it, but I’m sure someone, somewhere, will know why it’s implemented like that. Although come to think of it, I’ve never really understood why Windows still uses drive letters, as the Linux model of folders relative to root seems much more logical to me!

WordPress updates with SSH2 in Ubuntu 16.04

I’ve had a few issues upgrading WordPress recently. I thought I was going mad, but it turned out to be a really annoying bug.

Recently, I upgraded my virtual private server (VPS) to the latest Ubuntu release (Ubuntu 16.04). I did this for two reasons.

First, it’s good to be on a recent release, and Ubuntu 16.04 is a long term support (LTS) release, meaning it’s supported for longer than other Ubuntu releases, and aimed more at stability for things like servers, rather than all-new features which might be a bit sharp around the edges.

Second, Ubuntu 16.04 came with PHP7 out of the box, which provides drastic performance improvements which, on a VPS, is very useful as CPU resources can be a little constrained.

It also gave me a chance to burn the old install to the ground as over the past three years or so, I’d tested a lot of things out on it and I wanted everything to be nice and uniform, putting into practice some of the things I’d come up with along the way, like my automated website creation script.

Anyway, on my Ubuntu 14.04 install, which used PHP 5.6, I had automatic updates set up on my WordPress installs. They worked nicely and provided good security, as I used SSH2 for the updates, meaning the files and folders the WordPress install lived in were not modifiable by the web server itself.

I host multiple websites on my server, and to enhance security, each site is owned by a different local user, and each database has its own user, so if one site is compromised, it’s harder to compromise the rest.

The web server shouldn’t really have write access to local files, but it needs write access to update WordPress automatically. By using SSH2 for WordPress updates, the web server can get the access it requires without having direct rights. It works well.

The problem is, it’s broken in PHP7. No matter what I did, I could not get updates to work. I came across various error messages, and after a lot of hunting around and double-checking, I was sure it wasn’t because I was doing anything wrong.

And it turns out I was right to be sure. A problem with the php-ssh2 breaks updates for WordPress. If you have this problem, you’re probably not going mad. Fortunately, I can offer a solution: SSH SFTP Updater Support.

This plugin uses a different library and I found that once I’d uploaded the plugin manually and activated it, my updates worked perfectly, first time (because my settings were correct, obviously!)

Once I’d fixed this, I decided to see if I could find any more information about this package, so I had a look at the information attached to the package in my installation:

php-ssh2

So this is an unreleased git snapshot and should be used with caution? Doesn’t seem like the kind of package that should appear in a long term support release…

Installing PHP Manager on IIS 10

Have you tried to install PHP Manager on IIS 10? It doesn’t seem to be compatible. But don’t fret – the solution is straightforward.

This is a bit of a niche issue on the whole, but an issue all the same.

Microsoft have a useful utility called the Web Platform Installer, which is a repository of products which plug in to Internet Information Services (IIS) for people hosting sites on Microsoft servers (yes, some people do that, despite what you might read).

One useful utility is PHP Manager. It installs an easily accessible utility into IIS Manager giving you a shortcut to PHP settings. It’s also useful if you run sites on different PHP versions and/or configurations.

One problem. If you try and install it on IIS 10 (Windows 10 / Server 2016), it will fail. Why? It seems to check against a registry entry for the Windows version, and didn’t take into account that the Windows version number might change in the future. Awkward.

The key in question is in:

HKLM\System\CCS\Services\W3SVC\Parameters*

The entry in question is MajorVersion. In Windows 10, it’s set to 10 (decimal). Change it to a lower number (e.g. 8). PHP Manager will then successfully install. Once you’ve installed PHP Manager, don’t forget to change it back!

CCS is shorthand for Current Control Set.

Thoughts on the EU Referendum

We’re days away from the UK’s third referendum in just over five years. The first referendum, on our voting system, was barely met with disdain, let alone any real views or debate. The second, on Scottish independence, consumed political debate for two years in the lead-up to it, and still looms in some corners.

This one, on whether the UK should remain a part of the European Union, or leave, sits somewhere between the two. For people who believe in the European project, it’s met with disdain, but for those who want to leave the EU, it’s a fiery subject.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this referendum is that, like in 2011’s AV referendum, very few people are enthusiastic about their chosen option. Just like most people who wanted change in our electoral system didn’t really want AV (they wanted STV, for the mostpart), a large number of people supporting Remain in this campaign struggle to be enthusiastic because Europe isn’t really what they want it to be either. In some regards, it’s a bit of a poisoned chalice.

People regularly ask my opinion on the matter (more fool them!) so here are some of my thoughts.

It’s not about the Tories

First and foremost, this is not a referendum on the Conservative Party. It’s not about whether you prefer David Cameron and George Osborne or Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (which is good news for everyone, I think). We need to look past the media headlines, because this is a decision that will affect not just the next five years, but possibly the next twenty-five. This is about how we, the British people, view our country, our standing in the world, and our approach to the future.

Making a statement

The decision we make on Thursday will inevitably have consequences in the way our country is seen by people outside the UK, and their governments. If we vote to Remain, the other member states of the EU will read that as acceptance of the general direction of the EU. If we vote to Leave, we will likely be seen as isolationist. Whether either of those scenarios appeals to you is a moot point – that’s the position we’re in by holding a referendum, and that’s how people outside the UK will see it.

The bigger picture

If we do choose to Leave, eurosceptic movements in other countries may be emboldened. The obvious candidates are Sweden and Denmark. In some ways, we could have an opportunity to form a northern European bloc of some kind, which would be an interesting prospect!

I think it unlikely the UK wouldn’t be followed by other countries. This could result in some very big changes to the EU, but may also result in a long period of instability. This could be, in the short- to medium-term, bad economically for Europe, albeit beneficial in the longer-term. Politically, NATO is a far more important institution for Europe’s stability, especially when looking further east.

The economic argument

The economic argument is more complex than any politician will openly say. The shock! But to me, it’s a trade-off. In my mind, staying in the EU is definitely beneficial in the short-term. If we vote to Remain, the Pound and stock markets will surely rally, as things will basically return to normal. The future will be as predictable as it was six months ago. Businesses won’t leave the UK unless they had plans to do so already. Investment will be made in the knowledge of existing rules.

Were we to leave, uncertainty could lead to all sorts of effects. If investment goes down, taxes receipts might go down. Tax rises might follow. The government might come under serious pressure. Inflation could be quite unpredictable. Of course, it’s hard to know which of these would happen and to what extent, and who would win or lose, but one thing it would surely have an immediate effect on is pensions invested in shares.

But should that really affect how we vote this week?

If this referendum will affect the UK for a generation, we really should be basing our view of economics on the whole of that period. Would a potential recession last for twenty-five years? No. Would any short-term loss of GDP be recoverable in the longer-term? Yes. Do you trust the people on either side have a sound economic plan? Not so easy to answer that one, is it?!

It’s not racist to talk about immigration

People who support Leave seem to think people on the Remain side want open borders. People on the Remain side seem to think that controlling immigration is racist. Neither is an accurate picture.

There is, of course, freedom of movement across the EU, plus a few other non-EU countries.By pulling out of the EU, we can pull out of existing arrangements over freedom of movement. This would mean we could place a limit on people from the EU coming to live in the UK. EU countries might then place similar restrictions on British citizens. Is this something we would be willing to accept?

Furthermore, freedom of movement would likely be a precondition of any deals we make with the EU. It’s kind of the Leave campaign to point out Canada don’t have to sign up to freedom of movement, but Canada is not on Europe’s doorstep either!

It’s also worth pointing out that refugees from non-EU countries do not have the right to come to the UK just because they claim asylum in an EU country. There may be moral arguments for the UK to take more refugees, but that’s another argument.

On the other side, it is not racist to want to place limits on immigration. Immigration undoubtedly has an impact on the UK. Some of it is positive – workers for the NHS, for instance (and savings on training them). However, there are other consequences, such as pressure on house prices. Could everyone in the world come to live in the UK? No. No-one would disagree on that, surely? So the question to ask is, how many people would be too many? And what controls should be in place to control who makes up the numbers that are then deemed to be sustainable?

A points system for immigration does two things. First, it sets a limit on the numbers of people who can enter a country. Secondly, it provides a (hopefully) objective system by which people can be assessed on merit. The alternative is a first-come, first-served system. If that’s what you support, that’s fair enough, but short of accepting uncontrolled immigration, you need a system in place to control immigration in some way.

(Some of) the EU debate is a mirage

The EU debate is often an easy way to avoid taking responsibility for the failures of our own governments. For instance, immigration is often blamed for stealing people’s jobs. But there are two problems with this. First, sometimes British people don’t take those jobs. Job centres do not appear to be set up to effectively channel people into work. Perhaps that’s as much an issue as immigration? Second, in some cases it’s because jobs require expertise which is not available in sufficient quantities in the UK. This is an issue with education and training, rather than immigration per se. Why are so many of the healthcare workers from outside the UK? Perhaps we don’t have enough training places available…

Sometimes arguments just cover up other issues, and you can’t always rely on the other side to flag it.

Whatever you do, vote

Especially if you’re a young person. The odds are the result will affect you for longer!

Reviewing Eurovision 2016

It may be a little late, but I’m sure you’re dying to know what I thought of this year’s Eurovision.

Although a couple of weeks have now passed since the Eurovision Grand Final, I figured it’s still worthy of a few notes and opinions since, as always, it managed to provoke a few interesting reactions (and people are still asking me about it).

The Winner

The winner was always likely to cause controversy this year. My personal favourite to win was Bulgaria, but it was always a long-shot that Poli Genova would take the trophy home. The early favourite, France, was never likely to do well in the televote. I also thought Sweden was over-rated.

The other favourites were Russia, Ukraine and Australia. Any of those three would have been controversial winners one way or another. Australia originally were meant to be a one-off entry for 2015, so many in Europe would have complained had Australia won. Russia will always be a controversial winner, and the nature of Ukraine’s song meant it would always to accused of being politically motivated, regardless of any truth.

Of the three, I thought the only bad winner would be Russia. Sergei performed his song very well, and the staging was very, very good, but the song itself was about eight years past its time. It would have been a victory for style over substance, which would have been a shame when up against a number of songs of good substance.

In contrast, Australia and Ukraine were great songs with simple staging. I probably would have preferred Australia to win, but Ukraine was a worthy winner. The song may not be uplifting, or a natual chart hit, but it struck a chord with people across Europe, and that cuts much deeper than a bunch of slick stage tricks.

I hope this results means more countries do what Australia and Ukraine did this year and pick a strong song and give it simple staging that keeps the focus on that – the song – in what is, after all, a song contest.

Eastern Bias

There’s a familiar and sadly predictable line, often spouted by the UK media, that Eurovision has an eastern bias and that western countries do badly at Eurovision because of that.

Let’s be clear. It’s nonsense. In the ten years before this year, Sweden won twice, with Norway, Finland and Denmark winning once. Germany and Austria won once too. The other winners in that time were Serbia, Russia and Azerbaijan. That makes it seven wins for countries in western or northern Europe, and three for countries outside of that. If anything, there’s a Scandinavian bias, and with Sweden winning twice, perhaps I could petition that it’s really just a bias towards decent music?

Of course, that doesn’t really fit with the fortunes of the UK and Ireland, who between them have an abysmal record. Ireland finished in the top ten twice, failing to qualify five times. The UK finished in the top ten once, finished bottom of the final twice, and all because of that pesky eastern bias.

The other accusation is that the rest of Europe don’t like us. Well, they don’t care much for Russia either. Russia’s record in those ten years? One win. Oh, and three second places, two third places and a fifth place.

Maybe we just send junk to Eurovision? Let’s face it, that’s the real story here. Eurovision winners include Loreen, Lena, Emmelie de Forest, Alexander Rybak, Mans Zelmerlow and Conchita Wurst (yes, a man in drag, I know – but a man in drag with an incredible voice).

Who have the UK and Ireland sent in that time?

  • Daz Sampson, cavorting with teenage schoolkids
  • Scooch, with a Ryanairesque entry, but less pleasant
  • Josh Dubovie, who, it was universally agreed, didn’t sound as good as he thought
  • Blue, out of music retirement
  • Engelbert Humperdinck, out of a retirement home
  • Bonnie Tyler, presumably from the same one
  • Ryan Dolan, who didn’t survive a terrible perfomance in the jury final
  • Jedward, nearly scraping the bottom of the barrel,
  • Dustin the Turkey, which absolutely was the bottom of the barrel

Aside from Jade Ewen in 2009, there’s nothing memorable for anything other than glorious failure. There’s nothing that should have done really well, let alone win. Out of 20 entries, barely anything that registers better than mere indifference.

So what of this year’s entries? Nicky Byrne didn’t qualify from his semi final, and despite Graham Norton’s protestations, it was thoroughly deserved. Nicky is a good performer, but firstly, he’s not current, and the song’s chorus was very weak. The UK’s entry wasn’t terrible, but was let down by some terribly weak verses. The chorus may have been passable, but overall, the song had no realy presence.

Joe & Jake and Nicky Byrne may have been fine on The Voice, or XFactor, but it’s not good enough at Eurovision any more. You need confident performers, stage presence and a solid song. If you miss any of those, you won’t win. Other countries have the same issue – Germany suffer from picking weak performers and Spain often suffer from weak staging.

If the UK and Ireland want to do well at Eurovision, they need to invest more into the contest. We don’t need to go all-in Melodifestivalen style, but we do need to put more focus on good songs. We often look for the full package all at once, but we’d perhaps be better to commission song-writers to pen great songs, and then find a performer who can really pull it off – and that performer really needs to be someone confident on stage, not just an act that looks like it’s hired the stage for a three-minute impromptu garage session.

And Ireland, if you want to do better, ditch the Late Late Show and Louis Walsh. The UK and Ireland produce some fantastic music. The acts we send to Eurovision don’t reflect that.

Anyway, enough of that.

A Few Other Thoughts

The entrances worked very well, once it got going. I found the country introductions fairly tedious last year, with each country just waving their own flag. It was far more interesting this year with the catwalkers. My own gripe is that it wasn’t really introduced, so it was only after the first couple of counries had entered that you realised what was going on.

My personal favourite, Poli Genova (Bulgaria), was amazing. As was Dami Im (Australia), and Zoe (Austria). Poli and Zoe also worked the camera very well when Justin Timberlake was on screen.

Cyprus had some fairly wild strobing, but Georgia’s were something else. I have never experienced strobe lighting like that. When they called it “prolonged and extreme”, that wasn’t a lie.

Francesca Michielin (Italy) was probably disappointed with sixteenth, but she was a bit flat, which is a shame because it was a really beautiful song. Hovi Star (Israel), who went right after her, sang really well but ended up overshadowed by Bulgaria and Sweden, who went after him.

Germany finished last, again. I really like Jamie-Lee. She was quirky, and admittedly definitely an acquired taste. Unfortunately, she was just too weak. All the above criticisms of the UK and Ireland apply to Germany too.

I thought Spain deserved better. A fun song, sadly let down by mediocre staging.

Armenians have good genes, and they clearly want us to know that.

Petra Mede was incredible, as always, and her performance with Mans in the interval act was hilarious. But how did the man manage to climb on top of the hamster wheel?!

I loved the new voting system. However, it seemed to take everyone (Graham Norton aside) a while to realise Ukraine had won. It created a strange moment of suspense when there wasn’t really meant to be any.

This year’s production was phenomenal. The whole Eurovision team did an amazing job. Ukraine will have its work cut out next year, as Sweden always put everything into Eurovision, but with the contest away from northern, western and central Europe for the first time in six years, it may provide a very different experience to what we’ve seen in recent years – and that could be a good thing.

Eurovision 2016 Preview

There’s something I get excited about every year that everyone pretends not to care about. Secretly they love it.

Eurovision is here? Wondering what to expect? Look no further.

Northern Europe

Two of the Northern European countries are already through to the final: the United Kingdom, as one of the Big Five, and Sweden, last year’s winners and this year’s hosts. Sweden are one of the favourites to win; the UK will be looking for somewhere close to the top ten. I’ve given up guessing how British entries will do at Eurovision, but there’s been less negative press around Britain’s entry this year.

Iceland are represented by Greta Salóme, who was at Eurovision in 2012 when Iceland finished twentieth in the final in Baku. I’m not convinced.

Norway are represented by Agnete Johnsen, five years after she finished second in Norway’s qualifying competition Melodi Grand Prix as part of the BlackSheeps. I love it, but it has an unusual transition from verse to chorus that might be too much for people to really love from on listen.

Nicky Byrne represents Ireland, but that’s as good as it gets for them. No one in Europe will care for his past credentials, and the song is weak. I don’t see it making the final, so if you want to catch it, make sure you see the second semi-final.

Of the Baltic States, Latvia are the strongest. They open the second semi-final. The song is probably too much a grower to win, but may do very well. It’s written by Aminata, who finished sixth for Latvia last year – their best finish since 2005.

Watch out for: Latvia, Sweden
Give it a miss: Estonia, Denmark

Western Europe

Two Western European countries are already in the final by virtue of being in the Big Five – France and Germany. Germany has a chequered history in Eurovision, and France’s history is more on the side of glorious failure – sometimes justified, and sometimes simply unappreciated by the rest of Europe.

Germany didn’t score any points in last year’s final. Their entry this year is from the winner of their version of The Voice. I quite like it, but it’s not going down well at all with others, so it’s likely going to finish bottom of the Top Five this year.

France, by contrast, have brought an entry that’s garnered a lot of attention. It opens in French, but the chorus is in French. It’s an upbeat song, and will do much better than some of their moodier entries from recent years, or the car crash of Twin Twin in 2014 (which had a great studio track, but was disastrous on stage, turning into the worst din I have had the misfortune to hear). Some think it will win. I think there’s better, but the outer reaches of the top five might not be too far away.

Austria also failed to score last year – unfortunate given they hosted the event. I really like their entry this year, probably because it’s a half-decent, upbeat pop song, in French, with a violin in the background. It ticks a lot of pleasant boxes. Unfortunately, past experience tells me Europe will be unimpressed and Zoë won’t be asked to turn up to the final on Saturday.

Watch out for: Belgium
Give it a miss: Switzerland

Southern Europe

This is a large section. Two more countries go direct to the final as members of the Big Five: Italy and Spain. Both are tipped to do well this year. Personally, I think Spain will ultimately struggle with a song that whilst pleasant, isn’t particularly memorable, whereas Italy should be comfortably around the top ten with a contemporary number that mixes Italian (which is always worth more points, as opposed to French which I always think is a penalty) with English. Since Italy returned to Eurovision in 2011 their record has been very good, and they should be confident of beating most of the Big Five on Saturday.

Greece have always qualified for the final since the semi-finals were introduced, despite a few questionable acts. Aphrodisiac (2012) was cute, but hardly tuneful, yet finished fourth in its semi-final. Freaky Fortune and RiskyKidd (2014) finished seventh in their semi-final with a terrible song only made slightly better by a trampoline the act bounced on during the song, giving you some vain hope they might fall off, break their neck and save you from the rest of the song. If there is any justice, this year will finally be the year they fail to qualify.

Perhaps reflecting the vast expanse of land and culture between these fair isles and the far reaches of Southern Europe, there’s a lot of entries here I wouldn’t give much light of day. Montenegro are usually the best example of this, and this year is no different. There’s also Albania, F.Y.R. Macedonia and others who you’ll not worry if you hear them only once.

The standout entry from this section, however, is Malta, which closes the first semi-final and is a sure-fire qualifier for Saturday. With Molly Pettersson-Hammer on backing vocals, it’ll be interesting to see how high this song can go in the final.

Watch out for: Italy, Malta
Give it a miss: Greece, Montenegro

Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe is a fairly small bunch of countries and a bit of an eclectic mix.

Ukraine return to Eurovision this year having pulled out in 2015 owing to the unrest in the east of the country which Vladimir Putin most definitely has nothing to do with. The song is called “1944” and is about Stalin’s treatments of Crimean Tatars. How it passes Eurovision’s political test, I’m not sure, but it’s a good song with a message that if understood, will certainly resonate with many.

Bulgaria were well-fancied in the run-up to Eurovision this year, but seem to have dramatically underwhelmed in rehearsals. That’s a shame because on track recording only, it’s one of the best songs of the year. It’s reminds me a little of Hungary’s Kati Wolf in 2011. A shame.

Watch out for: Ukraine
Give it a miss: Belarus

Greater Europe

And so we come to the final Eurovision group: the countries which aren’t really in Europe! This includes Cyprus, which whilst in the EU and using the Euro, is officially (according the United Nations) in Western Asia. Which, conveniently for me, helps reduce the size of Southern Europe.

Russia appears in this group, and they are currently the favourites to win. Australia are fourth favourites, despite Graham Norton’s disapproval. Armenia has also had a lot of hype, including a little coverage from some leaked footage of the jury semi final. But, to be honest, none of this group really light my fire*.

Watch out for: Russia, Israel
Give it a miss: Georgia

*Congratulations if you understood that reference.