Monthly Archives: June 2008

Demystifying Squash Equipment

When I first took up squash, getting the right advice for equipment is very hard if you don’t have someone knowledgeable to talk to. This is especially the case if you’re not a member of a club. I’ll attempt to demystify the options and choices in buying squash gear, listing what I think is the best kit on the market and what factors to look out for when buying.

Rackets

First things first, the racket is where you should spend the majority of your budget. For a beginner, a good racket can cost in the region of £30-50, while the top professional rackets can be bought for £80-100. When you’re a beginner, you should be looking for the right weight and balance. Ideally you want a slightly heavy racket at 150-160g unstrung, with a head-heavy balance. This will help you develop your muscles early on in the game, and you will be able to feel the swing much more with a head-heavy racket. Good bargains now are old Dunlop ICE Pro and M-Fil Pro rackets which are slightly head-heavy1 but still a decent weight, and at £40-50 they’re affordable considering they used to be top of the range rackets not too long ago.

For more advanced players, your racket choice usually falls into two groups: those that prefer head-light rackets, and those that prefer head-heavy. The best of the head-light rackets is the Dunlop Aerogel Tour, which at 145g is the heaviest of the Aerogel range. They feature excellent stiffness, probably the stiffest rackets you can buy, and the Tour is the most head-light of the range. I’ve played with the Pro and Ultimate rackets too, and they’re all very similar rackets, but I prefer the Tour as I think it has the perfect balance of weight and balance. If you prefer head-heavy rackets, then the Prince O3 Speedport Black is an excellent racket, offering a big sweet spot, excellent motion through the area giving greater head speed, and good touch. I find the racket glides through the air effortlessly, and gives cleaner hits more consistently with its large sweet spot. You can get some very hard hits with it, but I find it’s harder to control the more difficult shots, especially the ones requiring more wrist work. At around £110 online, it’s also a little expensive, but worth it if you like the balance.

Strings

Most players would happily play with the stock strings on a racket, but not all stock strings are created equal, especially the M-Fil strings on the Dunlop Aerogel range which gives a very wooden and dead feeling. I found that restringing them with Technifibre 305 or Ashaway Powernick 18 transformed the racket in the same way a good set of tyres transform a car; much more feeling, control, and power. I tend to prefer a lower tension too, around 24lbs, and the Aerogel comes with very tightly strung strings which don’t help its lack of feeling. On the other hand, the Prince O3 Speedport range come with fairly decent strings and it’s probably not worth restringing them when you first get them unless you own multiple rackets and want them all with your own string and tension level.

Shoes

When you’re starting out, it’s probably fine to use whatever trainers you have in the cupboard, however when you get more advanced and start moving about quicker, a good pair of squash shoes are a very worthy investment to prevent injury and improve your movement. Currently, the best shoes overall in value and performance are Hi-Tec’s 4SYS shoes specially designed for squash. They are used by several top 10 players, and when I compared them to the Adidas Stabil, I found them to be more stable and more comfortable. The best news comes when you discover you can get them for £50-60, much less than other top squash or court shoes. I’d recommend going into a retail shop to get these shoes though, as you can never be sure what size you are for that specific shoe and you do need a very good fit.

Clothing

Very little squash specific clothing is made nowadays, so you have to pick and mix clothing from other sports that are most suitable. The best squash shirts are mesh t-shirts that allow the body to breath and are very lightweight. I’ve found that Adidas running shirts are very good to use for squash, as are their tennis shirts (although they can be prohibitively expensive to buy). Other similar style of sports share the same characteristics, such as tennis, indoor football, and badminton, all have clothes that are very suitable for squash. Each shirt should cost between £10-20 online, although the best tennis shirts sometimes retail for over £50!

The best shorts are long running shorts (who wears short-shorts anymore?) that are a good fit, but are breathable, flexible enough for lunges, and a good length — about a couple inches above the knee. Badminton shorts offer the same features although are harder to find, but tennis shorts are sometimes too thick and aren’t flexible enough. These shorts cost about £20.

A large sweatband on the forearm of your racket hand is a good measure to stop sweat dripping down your arm into the palms of your hands, and are also in a handy position to wipe away sweat from your face. If you have long hair, then it may be advisable to have a buff or headband to keep your hair in check and stop sweat dripping into your eyes. Don’t go for a headband unless you want to look like [David Bedford](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bedford_ (athlete))2.

Finally, most socks are adequate for squash, although if you are having problems with your feet then try some long distance running socks out.

Eye Protection

Most clubs more require juniors to wear eye guards, although it’s not required for the adult game, it is recommended. I personally don’t wear any, but I’ve tried on Dunlops I-Armour Protective Eyewear and they fit very well and don’t really impede your vision at all. It’s up to you whether you think you play dangerous enough opponents to warrant having eye protection, but most players will recognise a dangerous situation and will play a let of stroke instead of risking to hit you.

Balls

Don’t skimp on balls, get the Dunlop ones from Sports Direct, they’re the cheapest by far by charging three pounds for three balls. Start off on the blue beginner balls and progress up to the red dot, single yellow, and finally the professional double yellow balls. Use the balls until they break, but save a couple newer ones for important matches as your practice balls can become quite slippery which will affect their bounce.

Tuition

Finally, while this may not be part of your equipment, if you want rapid improvement in your game there is no better way than one-to-one squash tutoring. See your local club for tutors, the basic level 1 or 2 tutors may charge around £10 per hour, rising to £60 per hour for a top level 5 tutor.

This article is just a taster of the minefield that is squash sports equipment. As I mentioned above, it’s best to get the advice of a professional from your squash club, or you can ask on the Squash Game forum where there are plenty of experienced players to answer your questions, but hopefully this will answer at least some of your questions.

  1. Dunlop state they have even balance, however I’ve always found Dunlop rackets to be slightly more head heavy than they suggest. []
  2. Think 118 118. []

Ars Preview of OmniFocus for the iPhone

Ars Technica have a preview of the upcoming OmniFocus app for the iPhone.

Ken told us that OmniGroup’s plan for the iPhone version of OmniFocus was not to be merely a companion to the desktop version, and since day one has planned a standalone version of OmniFocus. That means that, unlike some other projects, OmniFocus for the iPhone allows its user nearly the full spectrum of capability you expect from such an application. This includes adding, deleting, and editing tasks, organizing and prioritizing those tasks, and marking tasks as complete.

It also discusses how OmniFocus will feature tight integration with iPhones core components.

Ken showed us an example of a task he added, “Go to GameStop to buy a game,” and had associated a place name of “Gamestop” to that task. In his example, you could be out running other errands with free time, sort all your tasks by location and then sorts them by their physical proximity to your current location. Assuming there was a GameStop close by, it might appear at the top of the list. The team has also made it simple to retrieve driving directions to that location as well.

Grand Theft Auto Flawed

Grand Theft Auto IV has had the most positive critical acclaim of any game ever made. And deservedly so, it offers one of the most immersive single player experience any game has every had, as well as brilliantly fun multiplayer. But in the uncompromising praise that has been lavished on the game, many of the reviews fail to devote enough words to the game’s problems, and personally I find the the problems distracting enough to tarnish the game’s perfect status among the press.

Being the most anticipated game ever, Grand Theft Auto IV has a lot to live up to. The first in the series blew the games industry away with its sandbox style game play and story line. It didn’t matter that the graphics were years out of date, or that the controls were baffling even after hours of play, GTA was immense fun for running around killing people and joy riding cars as much as the scripted missions were.

The second game continued in a similar fashion, this time with updated graphics that meant your character looked more like a person and less like a collection of pixels. However, much of the game play was the same, and irritatingly so was the control system. The overall experience made the game feel more like an add-on pack, and Rockstar were really pushing what they could achieve with the top-down perspective.

The third game is what really kicked the series off. Grand Theft Auto III featured a huge city and a new third-person 3D environment that made you feel much more part of the game, with smoke, explosions, and weather and time effects adding to the immersion. Much of what made GTA III great is also in GTA IV, the same sandbox style game play in a 3D environment, the music and radio stations, and the enjoyment from playing the game off-script. However, GTA III was not a perfect game, and GTA IV inherits many of its problems.

GTA IV still suffers from the same combat system from GTA IV, meaning a clumsy auto-aim system that always seems to choose the wrong enemy to target in an intense fire-fight. Manually aiming is so difficult it’s worse than using auto aim in most scenarios, and it takes too much effort to switch auto-aim on and off. This ruins a lot of the combat in the game, which could be a lot more fun if it didn’t feel like the skill was taken out with the poor auto-aim.

GTA IV also features a new covering system, which partially works but is nowhere near as good as the systems in Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, or Army of Two. The most tedious thing about a cover system is one that doesn’t work quite as you expect, and this is something like that from GTA IV. I found hitting the wrong buttons too frequent, which would usually end up with sending me into the line of enemy fire, or into a ridiculously exposed covering position.

Driving is much more realistic in this incarnation, with certain cars that under-steer more, and certain cars that over-steer. A nice touch is that you can now fly out of the windscreen if you crash into something substantially heavier or substantial front first, even more amusing when you do it to a passenger in your car or a driver of another car. The camera in the chase view of the car is terrible, making it very difficult to drive at speed without manually turning the camera yourself. I can see why they did it, to shoot out the car you don’t want the camera to move around with every little bump of the car, but on the other hand, it ruins the driving for the other 95% of the time when you’re not doing a drive-by. I actually find it easier to drive and shoot in bonnet view anyway and I have my camera position set to that.

To gain respect with friends and to get them to like you more, you must go out and spend time with them, which involves mini-games or just driving them to a bar or restaurant and back. After the initial novelty of playing pool or darts wears off, this becomes incredibly repetitive and tedious, adding very little to the overall game experience for the time invested by the developers and players. In fact, I can see the developers making this more of an important part of the game if they had spent a lot of time on making it. But really it deserves as much attention as getting dates did in San Andreas (which is not much), as it doesn’t really add anything to the main storyline (said friends will still give you missions whether they like you or not!)

Visually, the fourth in the series is much more impressive than GTA III, Vice City, or San Andreas. That old graphics engine has been stretched to its limit, powering several other Rockstar games, including the recent Bully (Canis Canem Edit). It has been given a complete overhaul in GTA IV, and the overall experience is much better. However, probably because of the sandbox nature of the game, the graphics are still far from the level of a more focused and modern first-person-shooter such as Bioshock, and are more reminiscent of the very early Xbox 360 games like Gears of War. Some textures are very low in detail, and some models are very blocky, which doesn’t detract from the game when you are driving at high speed, but walking around it does affect the immersion.

Overall, I was left underwhelmed after completing the game. The ending is quite a muted affair and leaves the main story on a low (whichever ending you get), hopefully something which the downloadable content for the Xbox will fix. Hopefully, the Vice City and San Andreas of GTA IV will spice up the game and offer a more balanced game play of story missions, and other stuff. GTA IV is a good game, I’ve not yet played the multiplayer enough to fully make up my mind on it1 but the single player has a solid 30 hour campaign. It’s just not quite as good as the single player in Bioshock.


  1. I quite like it at the moment, but I’ve only played about 20 minutes

One Star Hulk

Peter Bradshaw, a Guardian film critic has written a one-star review of The Incredible Hulk all in Hulk-speak:

“Hulk. Smash!” Yes. Hulk. Smash. Yes. Smash. Big Hulk smash. Smash cars. Buildings. Army tanks. Hulk not just smash. Hulk also go rarrr! Then smash again. Smash important, obviously. Smash Hulk’s USP. What Hulk smash most? Hulk smash all hope of interesting time in cinema. Hulk take all effort of cinema, effort getting babysitter, effort finding parking, and Hulk put great green fist right through it. Hulk crush all hopes of entertainment. Hulk in boring film. Film co-written by star. Edward Norton. Norton in it. Norton write it. Norton not need gamma-radiation poisoning to get big head. Thing is: Hulk head weirdly small. Compared with rest of big green body.

Snow Leopard Drops PowerPC Support

LogicielMac.com has published the requirements of the Snow Leopard Developers Preview handed out at the WWDC, and it states that it requires “an Intel processor”, meaning that support for PowerPC will end with Mac OS X 10.5.

Union Station Photo Flap

As a Fox news reporter interviews an Amtrak spokesman about not having any photography restrictions in Union Station, Washington DC, they are told to stop recording by a security guard.

Are Photographers Really a Threat?

Bruce Schneier on the increasing paranoia of photographers being terrorists.

Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don’t seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets? Why are our fears so great that we have no choice but to be suspicious of any photographer?

Because it’s a movie-plot threat.

It Is Over

I take back what I said, on Guitar Hero III, completing DragonForce’s Through the Fire and Flames on Expert with 100% notes hit isn’t impossible. But it is fucking hard.

css.php