Friday, December 31, 2010

Yes!

#100: "Stonehenge", by Bernard Cornwell

And with that, I'm swearing off doing anything so absurd ever again.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ninety-nine

I feel I shall have to find a Flake now. Yum, yum.

#97: "Eberron: City of Stormreach", by Keith Baker, Nicolas Logue, James "Grim" Desborough, and C.A. Suleiman
#98: "Pathfinder Companion: Adventurer's Armory", by Jonathan Keith, Jeff Quick, Christopher Self, J.D. Wiker and Keri Wiker
#99: "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass", by Lewis Carroll (book twenty from The List)

Just one more to go...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mamma Mia!

Some months back, I was forced to watch "Mamma Mia". The things we do for love...

Anyway, I didn't hate it. In fact, there was quite a lot to like about it. The music was of course what one would expect, and most of the cast were fine.

With one key exception. Simply put: Pierce Brosnan can't sing. At all.

Now, even this might be fine. Give him a small part, with just a handful of lines, and you're fine. But no. Instead, he's given the most significant of the three male roles, such that he has to carry several songs. And he just can't.

Basically, that one bad decision ruins the entire film.

(And it's not like you can really get away with bad music. In theory, some musicals could manage that, and be carried by the plot, the characters, or a general sense of well-being. But the entire selling point of "Mamma Mia" is the music. That has to be right, and it just isn't.)

So, I won't be watching "Mamma Mia" on DVD again. I might be persuaded to see it on the stage, if I really must, but not on DVD.

#94: "Dragons of Eberron", by Keith Baker, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Nicolas Logue and Amber Scott
#95: "Wrath of a Mad God", by Raymond E. Feist
#96: "Rides a Dread Legion", by Raymond E. Feist

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ooh, tense!

Yesterday morning I finished the very funny "Catch-22", taking my running total for the year to 93 books. This is a mighty total by any measure, but it does leave me some seven books short of the century, with a mere 19 days remaining this year. Worse, I now need to average more than two books a week to reach the goal.

(In fact, I need to average around 125 pages per day to complete the goal. But that's oversimplifying somewhat: not all pages are created equal.)

On the plus side, I now have only one more week of work this year, and there's only two more band practices before that takes a break also. So, I should be getting some additional time to read the remaining books.

So, it's all a bit tense. I'll update as I go...

#92: "Eberron: Forge of War", by James Wyatt, Wolfgang Baur and Ari Marmell
#93: "Catch-22", by Joseph Heller (book nineteen from The List)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Snow Day 3?

Dammit, I really want to get to work! I'm going crazy here.

I'm going to try to get the car out again in half an hour or so, but if I can't then I guess I'm stuck here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Michael Bay of the Writing World

I was asked to say something about why I didn't like "The Da Vinci Code". Given that I also didn't like "Angels & Demons", I think I'll cover that as well.

The thing is, it's not that these books are badly written. You can see the list of books I've read in the last two years, and there's no denying that there's a load of dross on there. And Dan Brown's works aren't significantly worse than some of the others.

Besides, I do think that the comparison is apt: as with a Michael Bay film, a Dan Brown novel doesn't need to be well-written, provided he keeps the pace up, and fills it with enough exciting events to distract you from the vapid nonsense involved. And so everything happens at a hundred miles an hour (even the endless chapters talking about art or science). There are people running here and there, revelations on every page, secrets and lies, things being hinted at and not revealed until later...

It's exciting.

The problem is, I do have a brain, and it doesn't just switch off. And in both "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels & Demons", the idiocy reached a level that I couldn't just ignore.

As I've mentioned before, I don't like it when people in the church start talking about science. As a rule, they don't have the grounding to know what they're talking about, or if they do then they over-simplify things for their audience to a point where it stops being anything like real science.

I also don't like it when scientists start talking religion (e.g. Dawkins). Again, they too often don't really understand their topic, or perhaps deliberately get things wrong for effect (more on this later). Basically, if you're going to talk about both, you really need to understand a fair amount about both, and very few people do.

Dan Brown's works are filled with endless expositions on art, science, religion and history. But it's bad art, bad science, bad religion and bad history.

The scene that first brought this to the fore was in "Da Vinci...", where Langdon has gone to see his colleague Leigh Teabing to discuss the Holy Grail. Whereupon about three quarters of the plot of the book is laid out in a huge chunk of exposition. (Actually, about 100 pages of exposition - I'm amazed he got away with it.)

Anyway, we proceed to have these two supposed high-end academics laying out the secret history of Jesus' wife and children, the vilification of Mary Magdalene, her line marrying into the French royal line, and then becoming extinct, and the Holy Grail being a vagina, and...

And as we go, we repeatedly have these experts saying, "Of course, X and Y and Z..."

But the thing is, X is just wrong, Y is a lie, and Z is maybe true if you really stretch the known facts.

But because these are 'experts' (even if they're fictional characters, and even if at least one of them is an expert in an entirely fictional field), people who don't know better will simply believe them. After all, if an expert says it, it must be true, right? And he couldn't put it in his novel if it wasn't true, could he?

Or, better still, how about the scene in "Angels..." in which Langdon is told about an experiment that 'proves' Genesis could be possible. (Of course, that itself is a nonsense - if you assume an all-powerful creator God, then of course it is possible; if there is no such creator God then Genesis is irrelevant anyway.)

Anyway, to prove Genesis is possible, our scientist has created "something out of nothing". Fair enough.

So, he took a particle stream (um, isn't that 'matter'), and fired it along a particle accelerator at speed (um, isn't that 'energy'), and then fired another particle stream along the accelerator in the other direction (more 'matter' and 'energy'), and proceeded to collide them (more 'energy'). And the result was... matter was created.

Something out of nothing? Um, no. That would be "something out of something else". Which is well-understood scientific principle: E = mc^2, and all that. ("Angels & Demons" even gets the science wrong in the 'fact' section preceding the novel itself. At least "The Da Vinci Code" didn't manage to annoy me until the first word of the novel proper.)

Then there's the logic failure: a key part of the plot of "Da Vinci..." revolves aroung the search for the "sacred feminine", the female counterpart to God. Fair enough. It also posits that Jesus was just a man (albeit a prophet), who had children by Mary Magdalene. Also fair enough.

But then, when Langdon finds the bones of Mary Magdelene at the end of the book, he feels compelled to kneel and pray at the feet of the goddess.

Um, what?

Surely, if Jesus was just a man, then Mary was just a woman, and their children would be... well, children. And wondrous as all that is, where exactly is this supposed goddess?

Bit of a failure on the 'logic' front, there, I think.

And so it goes. On the surface, these books are a quick read, they're exciting, and they have a bit of 'smarts' to them. It's just that as soon as you scratch the surface that you find that, well, it's all surface.

At least "Revenge of the Fallen" only takes two and a half hours to get through.

700th post

I just noticed that the previous post was #699. Which makes this the 700th post to this blog.

Of course, one number is basically the same as any other, so it's a largely meaningless milestone, but still...

House Gets Nasty

I should warn you in advance - this post contains spoilers for the most recent episode of "House" (or, at least, the one most recently broadcast on Sky).

I watch "House" every week, but I'm not really a huge fan. As far as I can tell, it's largely a mystery show that the audience simply has no basis on which to participate - if the medicine is accurate (which I very much doubt), then you can only guess what's going on if you yourself are an expert in obscure medical conditions; if the medicine is not accurate, then nobody can take part. Of course, there's the 'fun' of watching House bully and insult his staff, and the interactions between the characters, and... you know, I just don't get it - those things really aren't as compelling as I'm told.

Still, it's entertaining enough, I guess.

However, like many other shows, "House" has a number of recurring themes - Foreman is arrogant about something until House slaps him down (although... isn't Foreman supposed to be the boss these days?), Chase has loads of women after him, Taob is cheating on his wife or she's cheating on him or not...

And this week, we had a recurrence of my least favourite, the one I call "poke the fundies" - a religious patient comes in, House proceeds to belittle and mock his faith, and forces him to reject some part of his beliefs, and then the disease is cured.

Now, here's the thing: I have absolutely no problem with challenges to my beliefs. My reasoning is that if my beliefs are sound, then they will survive whatever challenges are put to them; if they are not sound, then I'm better off without them.

But there's a big difference between 'challenge' and 'mockery'. If you simple ridicule and mock, there is no discourse there, and there's no meaningful response possible. Take something out of context, point and laugh hard enough, and you can make anything look ridiculous, whether it is or not.

This week, "House" crossed the line. Our patient is first shown at the start of the show being crucified. He starts vomiting blood, and you hear someone say, "Get him down from there."

It transpires that the character's daughter had cancer, and he made a deal with God - every year she lives, he will nail himself to a cross. (I'll not start on that particular bit of madness.)

They then short-circuit the usual diagnostic process, and quickly determine that there is one treatment, which of course involves the use of embrionic stem cells. So, naturally, the patient refuses - his beliefs don't allow him to use such a treatment, due to the connection with abortion.

So House tries to mock the patient into giving up his beliefs, then he tries to use his bully pulpit to get the patient to take the treatment anyway, and then finally he lies to the patient, telling him his daughter isn't cured, that God lied, and that therefore the character should take the treatment.

So he does.

Yay, House!

But here's my problem: there's nothing there. It's just assumed that House is right. There's no discussion whatsoever of the ethics of the treatment, which are very definitely not clear-cut*. There's absolutely no character growth. The patient doesn't decide whether his life is more important than his faith - he's lied to and tricked into making a choice he probably wouldn't otherwise have made. House learned nothing, the other characters learned nothing, and we learn nothing.

Except perhaps that this is a show I don't care to watch any more.

* Incidentally, I say that despite believing that we should proceed with the development of such treatments. But it's a very complex issue, and simply dismissing any concerns as being irrelevant is unacceptably dismissive, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Snow Day 2

Yesterday was an awesome day. After my initial guilt at not getting to work, I spent the day painting, reading, cleaning, and generally getting caught up on things. I also took a wander up to the doctor's to put in a repeat prescription (nothing serious - mostly just stocking up just in case). En route, I helped a couple of people get their cars out.

All in all, I was really happy with my day, went to bed nice and early, ready to get back to work today.

Six inches of snow fell overnight, and I had exactly two chances of getting my car out: fat chance and nae chance. It's especially annoying, since the next street over was cleared for the buses, and my car is about fifteen feet from it, but is completely stuck.

And lots more snow is falling. I don't know when I'll be able to get back, and until then the work just keeps piling up.

Today is not going to be such a good day, I fear.

#91: "Smoke and Mirrors", by Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Snow Day!

The view outside my window right now is absolutely amazing. Falkirk is a veritable winter wonderland.

On the other hand, I missed half a day of work yesterday, didn't make it in at all today, and am looking doubtful for tomorrow. Far from the overtime I had expected to clock up, it looks like this week I'm barely going to do half my normal hours. Fortunately, the company are reasonable about such things - they understand that if I could be there, I would. Unfortunately, the work doesn't get itself done, but rather just stacks up waiting for when I get back.

#87: "Eberron: Dragonmarked", by Keith Baker, Michelle Lyons, and C.A. Suleiman
#88: "Pathfinder: City of Seven Spears", by James Jacobs, Kevin Kulp, and Rob McCreary
#89: "Into a Dark Realm", by Raymond E. Feist
#90: "Eberron: Secrets of Sarlona", by Keith Baker, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Glenn McDonald, and Chris Sims

Friday, November 19, 2010

We Have a New Winner!

#84: "The Handmaid's Tale", by Margaret Atwood. (Book seventeen from The List. Very good book, and really quite disturbing.)
#85: "Flight of the Nighthawks", by Raymond E. Feist
#86: "Angels and Demons", by Dan Brown (Book eighteen from The List, and the new worst book of the year so far. On the plus side, since he wrote this one before "The Da Vinci Code", he's actually getting better.)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Lack of Updates

I really need to blog more. The monthly updates to the list of books are getting ridiculous, not least since it gets increasingly difficult to remember the order in which the books should be listed.

However, the problem is one of time. Because I'm attempting to get to 100 books, almost all my time is taken up with other things, which doesn't leave me time for blogging.

Of course, I've resolved to blog more several times this year already!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Argh! Hurty Brain!

I'm now halfway through my third Spanish course. It's really hard going - the level is just much higher, I've managed to forget a depressing amount, and there seem to be some gaps in what we should have covered last time.

And now, while listening to the accompanying podcast for last week, I find myself distinctly remembering a segment of the podcast. Only I'm absolutely certain I haven't already listened to it. Which leads me to doubt myself - did I forget that I listened to it, or am I imagining that I've heard this before?

Good thing I'm mad already, or else this could really break my head!

(I think this is going to be my last Spanish course. Truth be told, I'm not enjoying this one as much as the previous two, and I have less time now to dedicate to it than I did then, so I'm getting less from it. Also, I really need to spend some time speaking the language in a real-world scenario to fix it in my mind, and I'm not going to get that in a classroom environment.)

#77: "Faiths of Eberron", by Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, Ari Marmell and C.A. Suleiman
#78: "Birdsong", by Sebastian Faulks (book fifteen from The List)
#79: "Pathfinder: Racing to Ruin", by Tim Hitchcock
#80: "Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition", from Pinnacle Entertainment Group
#81: "King of Foxes", by Raymond E. Feist
#82: "The Da Vinci Code", by Dan Brown (book sixteen from The List, and also the worst book of the year so far. Oh, the posts I could write about its awfulness!)
#83: "Exile's Return", by Raymond E. Feist

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Calling It

A couple of months back, after the Liechtenstein match, I had intended to post an update here stating that I now felt there was no chance of Scotland qualifying for the Euros in 2012. After a poor 0-0 draw against Lithuania (a match we needed to win), and then an extremely narrow victory (in the 97th minute!) against Liechtenstein, it really seemed there was no chance.

Still, a win was a win, it was pointed out to me. So, perhaps a little hope could be maintained? And then, all week the radio pundits had been saying that the Czech Republic weren't the force they had been, so maybe...?

Then came the news that our manager had decided to drop our in-form striker and instead go with a relative unknown, in an ultra-defensive 4-2-2-2 formation.

"What is he thinking?" I immediately asked. And then, "well, he's the manager. He must know what he's doing."

Yeah, I was right the first time. One heroic 1-0 defeat later, and we now get the excitement of facing Spain next.

So, yeah, I'm returning to my original prediction: Scotland won't qualify for the Euros in 2012. In fact, we won't qualify for the next World Cup, or the Euros in 2016 either.

So, the question is this: where do we go from here. Unfortunately, the answer is 'nowhere'.

See, it's not the players. This is the best squad of players we've had in more than a decade, and the best squad we're likely to have for more than a decade. As far as the manager is concerned, well, on paper, the four best candidates for the job are Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley and Craig Levein. Unless we can somehow persuade Sir Alex Ferguson or Martin O'Neill to take the job, we're not going to get anyone better.

So, if we can't improve the players, and we can't improve the manager, what can we do?

My radical solution is this: We should start lobbying for the dissolution of the Scottish national side and the Scottish Leagues, and press for an amalgamation with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Let's have a Team GB, and go from there. It's pretty much the only way we're going to see the finals of any major tournament any time soon.

(Of course, this week one of the English news outlets decided to poison that idea for me, by assembling 'their' Team GB. Naturally, they insisted on starting with the English team, and smugly asking "well, who can then break in from the other nations?" They also proved sublimely blinkered - as we all know, England have massive weaknesses in goal. The one area where Scotland is very gifted is in goalkeepers, where we have at least two world-class keepers. So, of their four choices for keeper, how many were English? Three. And where did the Scottish pick come in their order of preference? Fourth.)

(Still, despite that sort of idiocy, I think it's a good idea, for us at least, and I think it's probably time. Otherwise, we're not going anywhere.)

#76: "Eberron: Secrets of Xen'drik", by Keith Baker, Jason Bulmahn and Amber Scott

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Just catching up on the books...

I finished book 75 on the 30th of September, just before midnight.

This means that in the first quarter of the year I managed to get through 25 books, in the second I read 19, and in the third I read 31. The race is now on to read through 25 by the end of the year, and thus reach the threshold of 100.

Frankly, it's doubtful. What is certain, however, is that I am never doing this again.

#66: "Brave New World", by Aldous Huxley (book twelve from The List)
#67: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", by C.S. Lewis (book thirteen from The List)
#68: "Eberron: Five Nations", by Bill Slavicsek, David Noonan and Christopher Perkins
#69: "Confessions of a Shopaholic", by Sophie Kinsela (book fourteen from The List)
#70: "Eberron: Explorer's Handbook", by David Noonan, Frank Brunner and Rich Burlew
#71: "Jimmy the Hand", by Raymond E. Feist and Steve Stirling
#72: "The Colour of Magic", by Terry Pratchett
#73: "Magic of Eberron", by Bruce R. Cordell, Stephen Schubert and Chris Thomasson
#74: "Player's Guide to Eberron", by James Wyatt, Keith Baker, Luke Johnson and STAN!
#75: "Talon of the Silver Hawk", by Raymond E. Feist

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Cowal Highland Gathering

(I have deliberately skipped my account of the World Pipe Band Championships, so I can finish my recounting of the band's season on an appropriately high note.)

I hate Cowal.

I've been five times now, and never once had a good time. The day is far too long (left home at 6, got back at 11), it's invariably cold, windy and rainy, and there's almost nothing to do. But it's the pinnacle of the piping season, so of course, we have to go. Plus, there was a real sense we might actually win, and that would make it all worthwhile - wouldn't it?

And besides, as an added bonus, the Chieftain this year was Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor. That's got to be good value, no?

So, we went. The journey there was long and annoying, but not too terrible I suppose. The major amusement was when the guy at the dock wouldn't let our bus on the ferry because it didn't have enough clearance... only to discover that the bus was sitting in a hollow, so his measurement was wrong.

Just as we left the bus to go tune up, the rain started. Fortunately, it stopped a bit before we had to play, but it was still pretty miserable. And, as we marched over to the arena, my drones chose that particular point to decide to act up (having been fine to that point). That left me terrified that they'd be a problem on the field.

But they weren't. Fortunately, everything went okay, and we made it through qualification. But only just - this was not the polished performance of earlier in the season.

Anyway, it was 10:30 (ish), we have qualified, and we weren't playing again until 5.

Cue much tedious waiting.

Later, we gathered for the final. At this point, it was hot and sunny, such that when we left the bus, I actually debated whether I should bother taking my cape. I chose to do so.

This proved a good decision soon thereafter, as it started bucketing it down while we waited to go on. But the rain went off, we tuned up, and everything seemed fine.

But it wasn't fine. Once again, when marching to the arena, my drones decided to act up, having seemed fine right up until that point. Only this time, there was no escape on the park. Try as I might, I could not get them to sound correctly.

So much for that.

When we came off, it started raining again. Of course, we'd had to remove our capes to compete, and the person who was carrying them wasn't immediately available, and so we got soaked. (Couldn't even hide under an umbrella - it was that swirly rain that comes from all directions.)

One saving grace of the final being so late was that the march-past came immediately thereafter. So, on we went (now wearing capes), and shivered on the field.

Now, at all these events, the bands play the salute to the chieftain, which is usually "Highland Laddie". However, at Cowal, it's always "Glendaruel Highlanders" (I don't know why). Sadly, the guy who was ordering this mumbled at the key point, and then the drum major was calling the bands to order. The result was a predictable, and sad, shambles. Awful, awful.

(It wasn't even just that half the massed bands were playing one tune and half another; there were also at least three different speeds being played.)

And next would come the inspiring words of the chieftain. At least that should be entertaining - for the first time ever, there was a chieftain who I actually would like to hear from. Well, it wasn't a long speech. Indeed, it can't even be accurately described as "a few words". The chieftain said... nothing.

In the end, the band came tenth. We were seventh and tenth for piping, seventh for drumming and eighth for the ensemble. A poor result all around.

The weather being awful, we then retreated to the bus to head home, where we faced the same complaints as last year for not doing the parade (probably should have made the effort, although I don't think I could have faced it yesterday). Still, nothing close to the same fallout as last year, so that was am improvement at least.

And then home, and to bed. Thank goodness.

Before the day, I had been joking about the possibility of a Dalek invasion. It is a sad indictment of the day that that might actually have improved it.

#62: "Tomb of Horrors", by Ari Marmell and Scott Fitzgerald Gray
#63: "Pathfinder: Sound of a Thousand Screams", by Richard Pett
#64: "Souls for Smuggler's Shiv", by James Jacobs
#65: "Murder in LaMut", by Raymond E. Feist and Joel Rosenberg

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bridge of Allan Highland Games

Another glorious day for a competition, and with this one being on a Sunday, Lady Chocolat was able to join our venture.

It was a good day. Due to the reduced number of bands present, some of the competitions were amalgamated, and due to the nature of the Championship rules, the Grade 4B competition was mixed with the Novice grade. (It's also worth noting that, this being the weekend before the World Championships, there was an unusual number of very good bands present, many over from the USA and Canada for the month.)

We came third. Perhaps also relevant, the two bands that were first and second were from the Novice grade, making us the best Grade 4B band present.

And so our tally for the year reached seven prizes, including three at Championship events.

#57: "Oliver Twist", by Charles Dickens (book eleven from The List)
#58: "Star Wars: Jedi Academy Training Manual", by Rodney Thompson, Eric Cagle, Patrick Stutzman and Robert Wieland
#59: "Unseen Academicals", by Terry Pratchett
#60: "Star Wars: Galaxy at War", by Rodney Thompson, Gary Astleford, Eric Cagle and Daniel Wallace (And so, my reading goal is complete!)
#61: "The White Rose", by Glen Cook (from the "Chronicles of the Black Company" anthology - I had already read the first two books of the trilogy)

Monday, August 02, 2010

The European Championships

We came sixth in our grade, with the pipers narrowly beating the drummers for the first time this season. Given that the competition was in Ireland, against all the Irish bands (many of whom are very good, but don't compete enough to ever be moved out of our grade), and with Irish judges, this was a marvellous result.

Huzzah!

So, it was a good competition and a really good result. Sadly, it was not a very good weekend, but I have decided to repress most of my memories of it, and so have nothing more to say here!

#55: "Honoured Enemy", by Raymond E. Feist and William Forstchen
#56: "Star Wars: Legacy Era Campaign Guide", by Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey and Gary Astleford

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Riding of the Marches (Annan Highland Games)

The week after our truimph at the British Championships, the band returned to Annan for "The Riding of the Marches", which was part gala day, part Highland Games, and part something else entirely. Whatever it was supposed to be, it was a competition at which we had high hopes of doing well.

Once again, it was a bright and sunny day. We had seven pipers this time; those who had been dropped the previous week had been offered the chance to compete but had each had something else on, while two of those from the previous week were also busy. The drum corps was in full attendance once again. There were a total of seven bands in our grade.

We played well, I thought, although I did also think it seemed a bit 'thinner' than the week before. Still, I had no great complaints about the performance.

There then followed an afternoon of waiting, which featured watching Germany thrash Argentina at football - I wouldn't have expected such a one-sided game.

There was then a lot more waiting as the massed bands assembled to go play, with the added fun of horses being thrown into the mix (it being "The Riding of the Marches", after all). Unfortunately, horses do not like the bagpipes, by and large, which made things occasionally interesting.

Eventually, we did our parade, and got to the prize giving. Events there were controversial, to say the least. At length, we came fourth in our grade, and won the drumming prize (and also the "Best Bass Section" prize, which seems unique to this competition).

However, initially, we didn't win the best drum corps. The prize was awarded to some other band. It wasn't until our Pipe Major collected our prize that he realised the other had been given to the wrong band. There then proceeded to be a stewards' enquiry, culminating in the other band being forced to hand back the prize, which was then turned over to us.

And there was more fun to go. As we drifted back to the bus, I decided to dash to the toilet, rather than use the rather poor facilities on the bus. So, I duly told someone where I was going, and asked them not to leave without me. As I emerged from the toilets, I was then treated to the sight of the bus gradually receding into the distance!

Luckily, I was able to dash across the car park fast enough to catch them, bang on the side of the bus, and so attract attention. Still, could have been awkward, not least since my mobile phone was also on the bus, so I couldn't call them to let them know they're mistake. (I did at least have my wallet on me, so it wouldn't have been a total disaster.)

So, anyway, that was that. At this point, we've actually won more prizes than we did in the whole of last season, and with half of the season still to go. The band has not competed for some three weeks now, and at the moment the bulk of the band is actually in Spain at the moment (where I've heard things aren't going terribly well). Our next competition is in Ireland this weekend, for the European Championships. I just hope we do rather better than last year...

#52: "The Ghost King", by R. A. Salvatore
#53: "Star Wars: Rebellion Era Campaign Guide", by Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey, Owen K.C. Stephens and J.D. Wiker
#54: "Pathfinder: War of the River Kings", by Jason Nelson

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Just When I Thought I Was Out...

Look at all these shiny books!

#45: "Races of Eberron", by Jesse Decker, Matthew Sernett, Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel, and Keith Baker
#46: "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Campaign Guide", by Sterling Hershey, Peter Schweighofer, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Rodney Thompson
#47: "Forest Mage", by Robin Hobb
#48: "Pathfinder: Blood for Blood", by Neil Spicer
#49: "Dragons of the Hourglass Mage", by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
#50: "Sharpe's Waterloo", by Bernard Cornwell
#51: "To Kill a Mockingbird", by Harper Lee (book ten from The List, and the new Book of the Year So Far!)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The British Pipe Band Championships

Last Thursday, our Pipe Major took the radical and dangerous step of dropping a number of people, deciding that for the British Championships the band would go on with our nine best pipers only. This was a gamble - if we did well then the decision would be vindicated, but if not then it might well be the end as the band tore itself apart.

Saturday was a gloriously sunny day, bright and hot. This, unfortunately, had something of an effect on the pipes. However, it wasn't too bad, and frankly it was better than the alternative.

We went on, we played, and we came off reasonably happy. However, we've felt that way before; it doesn't necessarily mean anything. And so, we waited.

In the end, we came third overall.

The drummers actually came first in the grade, with the pipers being judged fourth and fifth. For ensemble, we were scored fifth. All in all, a very solid performance, albeit one that still allowed room for improvement.

Yay!

#40: "Pathfinder: The Varnhold Vanishing", by Greg A. Vaughan (this was actually book 39; I forgot it last time I did an update!)
#41: "Bones of the Hills", by Conn Iggulden
#42: "And Another Thing...", by Eoin Colfer (part six of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy)
#43: "Eberron: Sharn: City of Towers", by Keith Baker and James Wyatt
#44: "The Burning Land", by Bernard Cornwell

At this point, it's clear that I have no chance of reaching 100 books for the year. In fact, although I'm going to keep an ongoing log of books read for the rest of the year, I'm not going to work towards any sort of a goal.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Markinch Highland Games

Completing the trilogy of posts about band competitions, we have the biggest disappointment of the season thus far. Last Sunday we were at the Markinch Highland Games. It started reasonably dry, but started to rain as we tuned up and went on. Gary was back for this one.

The band played badly. Very, very badly.

We came seventh out of ten, which was better than we deserved.

Frankly, at this point I'm wondering if any of the effort we've put in over the winter was worth bothering with.

Bathgate Highland Games

The week after the Scottish Championships, we found ourselves competing at Bathgate Highland Games. It was another nice day. Once again, Logan led the band out - Gary was there, but not recovered enough to play.

We went on, and again I felt we played well. Better than the previous week, in fact.

We came sixth out of thirteen, narrowly missing out on a prize. (We were seventh of nine last year.)

So, once again, a rather disappointing day.

The Scottish Pipe Band Championships

About a week before the championships, our Pipe Major was taken into hospital. Under normal circumstances, the Pipe Sergeant (me) would step in and lead the band on. However, due to a series of events, I ended up not leading the band out, but instead ceded the position to a stand-in Pipe Major called Logan.

The Saturday of the competition was a nice, sunny day. The band went in good spirit, made ready, went on, and played. We played well, or so I thought. (Unlike in previous years, we didn't have to qualify for the 'real' competition.)

After we had played, the day was mostly fairly enjoyable. However, there was one fly in the ointment - Logan had dropped a couple of the younger members of the band for various reasons. Unfortunately, this was the second time they'd been dropped, and the second time they'd been dropped on the day. Both were less than ideal, and their respective parents were understandably angry.

In the event, the band came 10th, the same position we came last year. This was rather disappointing - I thought we'd played a lot better than last year. Oh well.

Yes, I will be supporting England!

For one match only, though, and only against the USA. After that, I'll be reverting to my normal policy of emphatically not caring.

It's not that I have anything against the Americans, you understand. The ones I have met have been really nice people, without exception. However, the truth is that the USA doesn't care about football (they don't even give it the right name!). Their interests lie with baseball, basketball, or American football. Which is fine... but I would prefer to see a nation that actually cares about the sport succeed. Which is certainly true of England.

Actually, in the build up to this World Cup, it does seem that the normal media insanity has been rather less extreme. It's possible that hopes are more realistic after the humiliation of failing to qualify for the Euros, it's possible that the commentators have finally gotten the message, or it's possible that they're saving it up for the actual tournament itself. (It's also possible that I just haven't seen it - I don't think I've watched any TV live for six weeks now. Or it's possible I'm getting old, and can't quite muster the same levels of annoyance. Take your pick.)

In the tournament itself, I think I will be nominally supporting Spain, for no other reason than that I seem to be forging a link with that country of late. I would consider France, for much the same reason, but for their cheating to get there.

Anyway, roll on the football!

#39: "Life of Pi", by Yann Martell (book nine from The List)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Getting Caught Up...

Oh dear, I seem to have slipped right behind on updating the blog. It's not that there haven't been things to talk about; I just haven't been able to find the time. I'll try to put that right over the next week.

#32: "The Amber Spyglass", by Philip Pullman (book seven from The List)
#33: "Eberron: Whispers of the Vampire's Blade", by David Noonan
#34: "Eberron: Eyes of the Lich Queen", by Stephen Schubert, Tim Hitchcock and Nicolas Logue
#35: "Krondor: Tear of the Gods", by Raymond E. Feist
#36: "Lords of the Bow", by Conn Iggulden
#37: "The Catcher in the Rye", by J.D. Salinger (book eight from The List)
#38: "Star Wars: The Unknown Regions", by Gary Astleford, Owen K.C. Stephens and Rodney Thompson

Those are all the books I read in May. I haven't as yet finished any books in June (currently reading "Life of Pi"). As can be seen, I'm well in hand on getting to my goal of 60 books, and on course to successfully read 20 from The List. If I were going for 100, I am about 3 books short of where I 'should' be, due to losing ground in April. That's not too terrible, provided I get at least nine books read in June... which doesn't look good. Although, frankly, that might be something of a relief, as then I could let up on the manic pace...

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Dunbar Highland Games

I stayed up until 12:15 on Thursday to watch the election. This maybe wasn't the best move, as I had to be up early for work on Friday. And then I had to get up a 4:30 yesterday to get ready for the competition. It's not much fun getting up at that time, and tends to knock your entire day for six.

Anyway, the bus had three pick-ups to do: firstly, two streets over from my flat, then at a primary school across town, and then across in Linlithgow to pick up the drummers. Naturally, I got on at the first stop (and so got my pick of the seats). By the third pick-up, I was suffering from a very unpleasant bout of travel sickness. (This was something of a shock, as I haven't suffered from travel sickness for years, exclusing when playing first-person shooters on the PC.)

We got to the competition site, and started to get ready. It was absolutely freezing. And then we went on and played, being the second band to perform in the entire day.

We were rubbish.

All last year, there have been four areas where the band have been lacking: bad starts and stops, poor phrasing of the tune, and bad blowing. So, when we went on, we had a bad start, phrased the tune badly, made loads of mistakes, suffered bad blowing, and then had a particularly poor stop. When we came off, the Pipe Major was absolutely livid, and with good reason.

We then had to wait for hours while the competition went on. The whole day was very cold, even in the sunshine. And it wasn't helped by knowing that the performance hadn't been good. I read some 300 pages of my latest book, which was good, but less than I had hoped. And then it was time to find out the results.

Surprisingly, we came 5th (7th in piping, 6th in drumming). In fact, we came joint 4th, but missed out on a prize on a "piping preference". Further, we were the best 4B band there. All in all, a bit of a shock. And, frankly, undeserved. Still, we'll take it.

The journey home was quiet, and mercifully quick. I got in, watched Doctor Who (alas, the weakest episode of the season thus far), and went to bed.

Next up is the Scottish Championships at Dumbarton. Should be interesting.

#31: "Pathfinder: Rivers Run Red", by Rob McCreary

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

My prediction

Labour to win, with a majority of 2 seats. I just have a feeling.

And with that, I'm going to say no more about the election (in any forum) until after we know the results. I've bored... someone... rather too much with it.

#29: "Hunter: the Vigil", from White Wolf Publishing
#30: "Eberron Campaign Setting", by Keith Baker, Bill Slavicsek, and James Wyatt

Friday, April 09, 2010

A door that won't stay closed

Way back, in days of yore, when I bought my very first D&D rulebook (the legendary "Red Box"), the store owner threw in a couple of little metal men with the box. Little did we know that this small act of kindness would have far reaching consequences...

Back in those days, D&D didn't require any sort of figures to play. Strictly speaking, it still doesn't, but with the two most recent versions the publishers have done their level best to change that - playing the game without some sort of token or other marker to track movement loses a lot. I don't really consider this an improvement.

However, back then, it was not long before we converted to the use of miniatures, a practice that would actually only last a couple of years before being discontinued as being too much hassle.

But in that time, I was hooked. See, the thing is that the miniatures are supplied unpainted, and so require a certain amount of time, effort, and skill to prepare for 'real' use. And I always found the process of actually painting the miniatures very restful, and a good relief of stress. The concentration and attention to detail required necessarily took my mind off of whatever issues had been bugging me, at least for a while.

(I was never a fan of the 'other' parts of the process. See, the miniatures also had to be cleaned up before painting, they sometimes needed assembled, and they also needed undercoating (and varnish afterwards). Still, those were necessary evils.)

And so, I found myself buying hundreds of the little guys, especially from Games Workshop. I always liked their miniatures, although I never got into their games. I found them unnecessarily complex (basic attacks required four rolls to resolve, when it should have been only one, and there were too many exceptions littered around), and the design was also cynically done to favour the person willing to spend the most money (the best figures were always the most expensive).

Eventually, I found myself with more than a hundred unpainted figures, and with progressively less time to paint. And I do so hate having things left undone...

In 2003, found myself unemployed for the first time, and for a number of months. During that time, I dedicated myself to getting the remaining figures painted. I wanted it done, and put away. And so, just after the New Year in 2004, I put the final coat onto the last outstanding figure, and put away my brushes.

For a while.

It seems that the itch never quite goes away. When I moved to Yeovil, I was involved (briefly) with a gaming group there. And one of their specialities was Warhammer 40,000. Naturally, all my figures were for the fantasy game, so I needed a new army to get involved. I duly bought a number of new figures, got some significant way though assembling them...

Then decided to leave Yeovil, and put them away.

Two years later, I was again briefly inspired to do some painting. This time, I was inclined to purchase a small number of 'adventurer' models to represent a new party. I bought them, cleaned them up, undercoated them... and then never quite got around to putting any paint on them.

Now, as I've mentioned, I don't like leaving things undone. And so, with a part of an army of Warhammer 40,000 Space Orks to paint, and a quintet of adventurers to paint, and two weeks of holiday, I thought to myself that I would do some painting. Why not, indeed?

And so, I dug out the various gear, and set to work cleaning up and assembling some of those Orks. And, in doing so, I found that my existing superglue had dried up (and my plastic glue was long-gone). "No problem," thought I. "I'll just pop round to the shop and get some more."

Fortunately, before I went I thought to check on my various paints. Were they still in useable condition?

Well, no. Turns out that every single pot of paint I own (and have carted the length of the country, twice) has dried out and become useless.

Truthfully, this isn't (or shouldn't be) a surprise - I haven't used them since 2004, after all. But, somehow, it was.

Anyway, I decided that my inspired state wasn't enough to persuade me to spend large amounts of money replacing lots and lots of paint (and glue, and, probably, brushes, and other tools and kit). So, I packed everything up again, threw out the paints, and considered this a sign that the door should remain closed.

Until next time, that is. After all, Reaper miniatures are about to release a new dragon 'miniature' that looks really nice...

#27: "Star Wars: Threats of the Galaxy", by Rodney Thompson and Robert J. Schwalb
#28: "Rebecca", by Daphne de Maurier (book six from The List)

Monday, April 05, 2010

Vote #2!

As you have probably realised, I am rather cynical, especially when it comes to politics. I've reached the point where I just despair at our choices.

In next month's election, we realistically have a choice of two parties: the Labour party or the Conservative party. There are a whole bunch of others, but none of these will get a look in. (There is a third realistic alternative, actually - we could have a hung parliament, in which case we'll get several years of a government that is paralysed and unable to act. Yay!)

Of course, I now consider that the Labour party have been progressively ruining the country for years, and intend to essentially carry on with more of the same should they win. The Tories, on the other hand, seem to stand for winning the election. And then? Well, who knows. Their main selling point would appear to be that they're "not Labour", but what they most definately are is the spiritual successors to the Thatcher and Blair governments that were so toxic.

Frankly, it's a shame they can't both lose.

Anyway, given that choice, I'm left looking for the best political good that could come out of my use of my vote, and I think I've found it.

One of the other things we know is that large numbers of our politicians (of all stripes) are corrupt. Large numbers of our politicians (of all stripes) are incompetent. And there are surely a bunch more who are only neither corrupt nor incompetent only because they haven't yet had a chance.

It strikes me that we should perhaps just vote out as many of the incumbents as possible, and get as close to a clean sweep as we can. And so, I think my voting intention this time, and the advice that I would give anyone who asks, is this: find out which party came second in your constituency last time, and vote for that party this time, because that's where there's the best chance of changing the representative.

Unfortunately, for me this would mean voting SNP (when I am strongly anti-independence). Also, since I live in a Labour seat and any loss aids the Tories, this also means I'd be effectively voting for David Cameron, which I really don't want to do.

Why can't they just all lose?

A New Series Needed

Hmm, I don't seem to have updated here very much at all this year. A large part of this is due to being absurdly busy, but another part is a lack of anything much to talk about. Although, there are a few things about to kick off...

Anyway, one of the things that really helped me last year was my "Experimental Cookery" series, which gave me something to write about every week, even if there was nothing pressing. Since that has come to its end, there has been almost nothing.

So, I guess I need a new series, something to give me a topic for those times when I have nothing to write about. Any ideas?

#24: "Pathfinder: Classic Horrors Revisited", by James Jacobs, Rob McCreary and F. Wesley Schneider
#25: "Yes Man", by Danny Wallace (Very funny, if rather long-winded. Also, very different from the film.)
#26: "Pathfinder: Stolen Land", by Tim Hitchcock

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Update on books

At this point, mostly I just wanted to update the log of books read so far. Given the rate at which I'm reading, and especially given the rate at which I'm updating the blog at the moment, it is quite difficult to keep track.

At the start of the year, I set myself a goal of 60 books for the year. This is starting to look comically light. I don't want to revise the target at this time, as I'm wary of taking on too much, but in the back of my mind there is a whisper of a new, higher, number.

The book of the year so far remains "Animal Farm", which was really quite astonishing. However, I did feel a little bad for both the exceptional "Fragile Things" by Neil Gaiman and, especially, for "The Children of Hurin" by Tolkien, both of which held that position for a matter of days before being superseded. Other books of note are "The Kite Runner", which was excellent until the last thirty pages or so, but which I didn't feel ended well, and "Wolf of the Plains", which was a much lighter read, but was very enjoyable for all that.

At the start of the year, I also said that I wanted to read twenty books from "The List". Thus far, I have read five ("Northern Lights", "The Subtle Knife", "Animal Farm", "The Kite Runner", and "Elric").

One of these days I intend to put The List up here, but not today. However, it is made up of four different lists: two "100 most popular" lists, one from the UK and one from the US, the legendary "Appendix N" from the 1st Edition "Dungeon Master's Guide" (much of which is rubbish, but some of which is simply fascinating - more on that at some later date), and the corresponding "Inspirational Reading" list from the new Pathfinder roleplaying game.

There is quite a lot of overlap between the "100 most popular" lists, and between the "Appendix N" and Pathfinder lists. There is almost no overlap between the "100 most popular" lists and the two roleplaying lists, except for J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm not particularly surprised by this.

#19: "Eberron: Grasp of the Emerald Claw", by Bruce R. Cordell
#20: "Elric", by Michael Moorcock (book five from The List)
#21: "Pathfinder: The Twice-Damned Prince", by Brian Cortijo and James Jacobs
#22: "Eberron: Voyage of the Golden Dragon", by Nicolas Logue
#23: "Wolf of the Plains", by Conn Iggulden

Monday, March 08, 2010

Typical...

It is of course absolutely typical that I wrote a blog post explaining why I was too busy to update the blog, only to decide I wasn't happy with it, take it down, and then find I was too busy to ever get back to revise the post.

Anyway, in the meantime, that post has become almost entirely redundant, as the vast majority of what it says is now no longer true. The basic thrust was that, around the start of February, I took stock of all the various elements of my life, and decided that there wasn't even a single one that was quite right. Several of them were close, and some others easily fixed (which is not quite the same thing), but there was nothing that was quite there.

And so, I set out a bunch of resolutions to sort out the mess, which formed the content of the deleted post. (However, most of them dealt with work matters, hence my dissatisfaction with the post.)

Over the past several weeks, the various elements have now been sorted out, so that I am mostly happy with the way things have been going recently. Unfortunately, there has been a cost to all this: in order to get everything going again, I have had push things really hard. The consequence, quite apart from not being able to update the blog, is that I have been really tired all the time. Indeed, it has been so bad that for the past several weeks I have reached Friday and just stopped. There has been nothing left in the tank, so to speak. (Of course, by Monday I was invariably quite recovered, and ready for another punishing week of work.)

So, something has had to give. And so, gradually, the various resolutions have slipped away, one by one, until only a few remain intact. And those will basically be going soon. (Still, I'm not sure that matters - they served to solve a short-term problem, and perhaps that is enough?)

It has also become clear that I'm simply doing too much. The current rate is unsustainable, and something will have to be dropped. Fortunately, this is an easy choice: my Spanish course is coming to its natural end next Wednesday. Still, I find myself wondering if that is enough, especially as there are other things I would like to be doing, but have neither the time nor the energy.

So, anyway, that's what's been going on with that "Coming Soon" post for the last several weeks.

#16: "Hot Pursuit", by Corey Reid
#17: "Shadows of the Last War", by Keith Baker
#18: "The Kite Runner", by Khaled Hosseini (another book from The List)

Friday, February 26, 2010

(Not) Coming soon...

I've taken down the first draft of this post for redrafting. I'm just not happy with it.

#9: "Pathfinder: Mother of Flies", by Greg A. Vaughan
#10: "Star Wars: Scum and Villainy", by Gary Astleford, Robert J. Schwalb, Owen K.C. Stephens, Rodney Thompson and JD Wiker
#11: "Children of Hurin", by JRR Tolkien (excellent novel, by the way, and yet it was only the "best of the year" for about a week.
#12: "Fragile Things", by Neil Gaiman
#13: "Animal Farm", by George Orwell, which is now the reigning "best of the year" (oh, yes, and it's the second book from my List)
#14: "Star Wars: Galaxy of Intrigue", by Rodney Thompson, Gary Astleford and Eric Cagle
#15: "The Subtle Knife", by Philip Pullman (book 3 from the List)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Man Card at Risk

If you are of a newvous disposition look away now, for I have a tale to tell that will shrivel the soul of any Man who dares read it...

Dinner tonight was burgers. Specifically, home-made burgers. Yum yum. Of course, burgers, being decidely a Man Food, should always be accompanied with all the appropriate condiments. And so, there was the Red Sauce (none of this 'ketchup' nonsense), the Mustard, the Onion... and, critically, the gherkins. Now, I don't particularly care for gherkins. I can take them or leave them. But for the Man Food homemade burgers, they represent a crucial ingredient.

Plus, they come in a jar, which makes them inherently Manly.

I gathered the ingredients, I chopped the onion, made ready the red sauce and the mustard, and then I turned to the jar of gherkins...

And, to my horror I found that I could not open the jar! Twist, strain, press, and grimace as I might, that damn lid just would not shift. Even as my wrist started to ache with the strain, it didn't budge at all. Sheepishly, I put the jar back in the cupboard, unopened.

As can be imagined, this was a true horror come to life. After all, the key marker of a true Man is the ability to open jars. Where would we be without that crucial skill? If I were to be so bowed and beaten, would I have to start liking "Mamma Mia"? Would I have to start wearing matching socks? Where would the madness end?

No! This cannot be! There is a line that must be drawn, and that line must be drawn here. This far, no further!

Inspired by the words of Picard, I reached once more for the jar. This time, things would be different! And different they were, for just as I heard the sickening pop of my shoulder exploding, so too did the lid of the jar release! The Man Card was safe after all!

Huzzah!

#8: "Northern Lights", by Philip Pullman (the first book from my List)

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Lament for Rover

Well, that's it. This afternoon I took my old car to the dealer, and finally gave it up. The final mileage was 144,260.3.

Now, it may seem excessive dedicating two blog posts to what is, in truth, an inanimate object. But I had that car for eight and a half years, which is a full quarter of my life thus far, so I don't care.

While taking it on its final journey, I couldn't help but feel a little emotional (in a totally manly way, of course). The universe, though, was seemingly oblivious to the momentousness of this event, for instead of the requisite triumphant fanfares, I was met with a rather annoying traffic jam. Stop-start driving all along that last 1.3 miles. Yay.

Anyway, I took the car in, and with a heavy heart I surrendered the keys. Fortunately, the sting of loss was rendered somewhat less painful immediately, as I got in to my shiny new(er) car, and found that it is far superior in every way. Which is as you would expect, really - it would be a bad sign if car technology hadn't advanced in the eight years between the manufacture of the two cars.

Still, it's just not the same.

#7: "Star Wars: Scavenger's Guide to Droids", by Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey, Patrick Stutzman and Robert Wieland

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Noooooo!

The exhaust on my car started making a funny noise on Friday. A trip to Kwik-Fit confirms that one of the sections nas been damaged, and would need to be replaced. However, the cost to replace is greater than I am willing to spend to keep the car on the road, and so the time has come for a new car.

Sadly, this means that I won't be able to get my car up to the 150,000 miles I had hoped to reach before replacing it in June; in fact, on my way to look at a new car today it reached 144,000 miles. Still, a nice, respectable total for a car that has done me great service.

It will be sad to see it go. On the other hand: new car!

#4: "Star Wars: The Clone Wars Campaign Guide", by Rodney Thompson, Patrick Stutzman, and JD Wiker
#5: "USB Complete", by Jan Axelson
#6: "Nation", by Terry Pratchett

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Experimental Cookery Tuesday: Final Thoughts

And so, I have come to the end of my Experimental Cookery series. I said at the outset that I would carry on until I gave myself food poisoning, I reached the end of the book, or I got bored. Well, frankly, I got bored, and so have decided to stop (a decision made easier by reaching a point where all that remains is seafood). Also, I am now busy three Tuesdays of every month, which has really created problems for the series going forward; at the very least it would have had to be moved to a different day.

I know quite a lot of people have been enjoying the series (mostly because they have said as much). I hope you won't be too disappointed at it coming to its end. As much as anything, I didn't want this blog to turn into "I sat a sandwich today". I shall try to write more entertaining things in future, albeit on different subjects.

I have felt that this experiment has been a resounding success. I have tried a number of things that I simply would never have tried otherwise, including some seafood and even parsnips. I have cooked a range of food quite beyond what I would have done otherwise. I now have a freezer filled with several weeks of curries. And I have generally enjoyed myself.

My favourite chapter in the book was most definitely the curries chapter, followed closely by the stir fries, and then the mince. Between these three chapters, I could probably eat quite happily for a year. The weakest was the salad chapter, followed by the pastas.

I do recommend "Jamie's Ministry of Food". The book is a nice, simple introduction to cooking, and Jamie clearly knows what he's about. There was basically nothing in there I couldn't handle, and the range of meals was pretty good.

Going forward, I do intend to continue expanding my repetoire of meals. To that end, I have purchased a book entitled "Chinese Food Made Easy" by Ching-He Huang, which looks decidely intriguing. I'm also on the hunt for a really good Indian cookbook; if you know of one then please suggest away! However, I have no intentions of working through another cookbook in the same manner as this one; my intent will always be to dip in and out at random, with an emphasis on trying new things. (Oh, and in restaurants I will continue my policy of ordering largely at random.)

And so, that's that. Thanks for reading!

Experimental Cookery 'Tuesday' #69: Moroccan Lamb With Couscous

It turns out that this is the penultimate "Experimental Cookery" post. There will be one more, acting as a wash-up for the series. No, the pun wasn't intentional.

Anyway, the Moroccan Lamb turned out to be another flirtation with food poisoning, but was another dodged bullet. The meal was all nice and easy to prepare and serve, and tasted nice enough. I don't think the lamb was cooked as thoroughly as I would have preferred, but one of the advantages of eating by candlelight is that one gets to avoid seeing the true horror of such things.

My final assessment of the meal was that it was okay, but was rather bland. I think in future I would be inclined to use more cumin throughout and to not deseed the chilli to give the sauce rather more kick.

Still, I would count that as a qualified success, if not the resounding victory I would have hoped for from the final meal in the series. Still, that brings the chapter to 8-0, and marks a decent place to stop. Next up is something else entirely...

#2: "Pathfinder: What Lies in Dust", by Michael Kortes
#3: "Pathfinder: The Infernal Syndrome", by Clinton Boomer and James Jacobs

Saturday, January 02, 2010

How Pathfinder Lost its Way

Just over eighteen months ago, Wizards of the Coast released a new Fourth Edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Shortly thereafter, I posted to the effect that there were some things I liked, some things I really didn't like, and some distinct oddities in the new rules. At length, I concluded that I wouldn't be switching to the new edition.

However, when Wizards released the Third Edition, they also released the core of the system under an Open Gaming License, allowing anyone to take the rules and develop their own adventures, expansions, and even revisions. As it became apparent that Fourth Edition would not be similarly open, and that the revisions were receiving a distinctly mixed reception, a company called Paizo announced that they would be doing their own revision, entitled Pathfinder.

I had eagerly awaited Pathfinder. Indeed, I had hoped to get it on release day, only to find that I was in France at the time, and so could not. Still, I got the new rules as soon as I got back, and spent some time reading them. I finally finished the Core Rulebook just before the New Year, and have since read the Bestiary.

And my impression? Will I be switching to this new version of the game?

Um, no.

There is an awful lot I like about Pathfinder. The core of the game is recognisably the same as the game I have been playing for six years, with some key improvements. A lot of the options that used to be wasted space in the books (being clearly less good than the others) have been improved, to the point where the game once again has seven good races and eleven good classes.

The big improvement to the game comes in the form of "Combat Maneuvers", which have standardised the old systems for disarms, sundering, grappling, and the like into a single coherent system. This is a very strong mechanic, and one of those "I wish I had thought of it" developments.

But the problem with Pathfinder is that it is not "better enough" to compel a switch. My existing group are all very familiar with the 3.5e of the rules. We all have the rulebooks, and although there are some things that bug us, we never had huge problems.

To switch to Pathfinder, we would all need to invest in copies of the new rules (granted, I have a set, but the others do not), they would all need to read the 576-page core rulebook, and then we'd need to spend some time assimilating a whole host of minor and annoying changes. The force of inertia is just to strong.

My other issue with Pathfinder is that it features yet another round of "power creep". It seems that with each version of the game, the numbers get bigger - in the 3rd Edition, a Fighter of a given level had certain abilities; in the 3.5e revision, that same Fighter got some new powers that made him just that bit more powerful; in Pathfinder he's just a bit more powerful again. The monsters are all more powerful too, so it's not a massive issue by itself, but given that the biggest weakness of the 3.5e version was that the numbers got out of hand as the game went on, this does not bode well for the new version.

I'm also saddened by a number of missed opportunities in Pathfinder. The Fourth Edition of D&D introduced a marvellous new concept called Skill Challenges. That mechanic could have been adopted, adapted and improved for Pathfinder, but alas has not. Similarly, Fourth Edition introduced some powerful new methods of designing encounters; these have also been ignored. And where 4e made the 'low-level humanoids' more distinct from one another, Pathfinder leaves them as-is, leaving Kobolds, Orcs, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Gnolls, Bugbears and Lizardfolk feeling very much like the same monster in different masks. It's a shame.

I don't want to come across as being too negative. I really like Pathfinder for what it is. I certainly prefer it to D&D Fourth Edition. And, if I were making a recommendation to a new player, that would be the game I would suggest. On balance, I even say it is a better game than 3.5e. It's just not "better enough" for me to switch over.

#1: "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary", by Paizo Publishing

Experimental Cookery 'Tuesday' #68: Griddled Lamb Chops with Chunky Salsa

This is the penultimate "Experimental Cookery" post. With the exception of the fish dishes, I have now tried almost all of the full meals from Jamie's book, I am getting rather bored with writing these posts, I feel they are becoming repetitive, and I don't really want this blog to devolve to "I ate a sandwich today". So, once I have finished the 'meats' from the "Quick Cooking Meat and Fish" chapter, I am going to call time on this series.

The griddled lamb chops were both quick and easy to prepare. Chop, cook, chop (again), mix, and we're done. However, I did find myself rather concerned that I may have given myself food poisoning: the meat came out rather pinker than I had expected. Still, it tasted fine and I have not died, so far at least.

The result of this meal was a distinct success. I would definately have this again, although I'll probably cook them for a bit longer next time. Also, I may be inclined to try some of Jamie's other salsas.

Anyway, that's 7-0 for this chapter. I think it's safe to say that this one is a winner. Hopefully, I'll have opportunity to try the final meal, "Moroccan Lamb with Couscous" early next week, and then I'll post a wash-up for the experiment.

Books of the Year 2009

So, all through last year, I kept a running tally of the books I had been reading through the year. I thought it would be interesting to look back at the books I have read in that time. So, here's the compiled list:

  1. "Excelsior: Forged in Fire", by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels
  2. "Moonraker", by Ian Fleming
  3. "How to Fossilise Your Hampster", by Mick O'Hare
  4. "Pathfinder: Into the Darklands" by James Jacobs and Greg A. Vaughan
  5. "Pathfinder: A Memory of Darkness" by J.D. Wiker
  6. "Twenty Years After", by Alexandre Dumas
  7. "Diamonds Are Forever" by Ian Fleming
  8. "The Orc King" by R.A. Salvatore
  9. "Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition Core Rulebook" by Bill Slavicsek, Andy Collins and JD Wiker
  10. "The Lords of the North" by Bernard Cornwell
  11. "Starships of the Galaxy" by Gary Astleford, Owen K.C. Stephens and Rodney Thompson
  12. "Pathfinder: Descent into Midnight" by Brian Cortijo
  13. "Emperor: The Death of Kings", by Conn Iggulden
  14. "Watership Down", by Richard Adams
  15. "From Russia With Love", by Ian Fleming
  16. "Pathfinder: Howl of the Carrion King", by Erik Mona
  17. "Star Wars: Invincible" by Troy Denning
  18. "Pathfinder: House of the Beast" by Tim Hitchcock
  19. "Sword Song", by Bernard Cornwell
  20. "Doctor No", by Ian Fleming
  21. "Pathfinder: The Jackal's Price", by Darrin Drader
  22. "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding
  23. "Pathfinder: Dragons Revisited", by Mike McArtor
  24. "Pathfinder: Guide to Absalom", by Owen K. C. Stephens
  25. "Pathfinder: Legacy of Fire Players' Guide", from Paizo Publishing
  26. "Emperor: the Field of Swords", by Conn Iggulden
  27. "Pathfinder: The Great Beyond", by Todd Stewart
  28. "A Sword From Red Ice", by J.V. Jones
  29. "Goldfinger", by Ian Fleming
  30. "Pathfinder: Dungeon Denizens Revisited", by Paizo Publishing
  31. "Shadows Linger", by Glen Cook
  32. "For Your Eyes Only", by Ian Fleming
  33. "Pathfinder: The End of Eternity", by Jason Nelson
  34. "Pathfinder: Bonus Bestiary", by Paizo Publishing
  35. "Krondor: the Assassins", by Raymond Feist
  36. "Pathfinder: The Impossible Eye", by Greg A. Vaughan
  37. "The Pirate King", by R.A. Salvatore
  38. "Emperor: The Gods of War", by Conn Iggulden
  39. "The Book Thief", by Markus Zusak
  40. "Thunderball", by Ian Fleming
  41. "Nineteen Eighty-Four", by George Orwell
  42. "The Spy Who Loved Me", by Ian Fleming
  43. "Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay", by Green Ronin Publishing
  44. "Pathfinder: The Final Wish", by Rob McCreary
  45. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", by Ian Fleming
  46. "The Princess Bride", by William Goldman
  47. "You Only Live Twice", by Ian Fleming
  48. "Career Compendium" (for "Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay"), by Fantasy Flight Games
  49. "Azincourt", by Bernard Cornwell
  50. "The Man with the Golden Gun", by Ian Fleming
  51. "Octopussy and the Living Daylights", by Ian Fleming
  52. "Devil May Care", by Sebastian Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming)
  53. "Pathfinder: The Bastards of Erebus", by Sean K. Reynolds
  54. "Pathfinder: The Sixfold Trial", by Richard Pett
  55. "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook", by Paizo Publishing
  56. "Lankhmar", by Fritz Leiber

As can be seen, this gives a grand total of 56 books for the year, of which 22 were books for various roleplaying games, be they the core rulebooks, supplements, or adventure modules. The most read author was Ian Fleming, with 12 books (13 if you count "Devil May Care", but I don't). Other favourite authors were Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden, neither of which is a surprise.

The best novel of the year by quite some distance was "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak. Honourable mentions must go to "Nineteen Eighty-four" and "Watership Down", both of which would have been the winners by a long way in any 'normal' year. The most disappointing book of the year was "A Sword From Red Ice", which was a rather poor follow-up to two other volumes, both of which had been excellent.

In 2010, my provisional goal is to read 60 books, or roughly five a month, an even more punishing rate than last year. I'll be applying the same rules, with one notable addendum when reading a compiled version of novels, if I have already read some of the component parts, I don't need to reread them to include the whole in the list. This will be relevant when I read "The White Queen", which is now only available with two other novels I have already read, and perhaps also with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe".

Moreover, in 2010, I also intend to read 20 novels from my master list of "books to read". This list is made up of a combination of two "100 best" lists, the recommended reading list from the 1st Edition DMG, and the recommended reading list from Pathfinder. There are some 250 items on the combined list, although I've already read about 50, and some few are no longer available (and were trash anyway).

And so, onward!

Friday, January 01, 2010

My Year in 2009

2009 was a long, hard year. To be completely honest, I'm glad it is over. Still, there remain a couple of tasks to do, one of which is to post my review of the year. So, here it is:

My Year in... Work

2009 was a bad year in work. There were several reasons for this. The economy hurt us the same as it hurt everyone else (although, fortunately, we were able to avoid any job losses, so we were better off than many others). We also suffered from a rather terrible inability to get our projects finished, out the door, signed off and concluded - they seemed to go on and on and on, lingering long past the time we should have moved on.

But also on a personal note, I did not do my best work in 2009. At the start of the year, I set a Super Secret Goal for work, which promptly had to be abandoned. Unfortunately, at much the same time, coupled with the endless stresses of the year, I seemed to find it increasingly hard to get up in the mornings, to stay motivated and on task, and to generally do my best work.

So, 2009 was a really bad year for work. I'm certainly intending that 2010 will be better in this regard - although work was almost the only thing that went badly in 2009, it is such a major part of life that a bad time at work can really mar the overall performance of the year.

So, must do better.

My Year in... Gaming

The only other part of the year that I found disappointing was in gaming, although here the report is sharply divided.

For the first ten months of the year, the gaming scene was bad. The plan to focus on getting the group together in the early months of the year failed due to cancellation after cancellation. Then there was a hiatus for the band competition season, and then we were back, but with lots more cancellations. What gaming we got done was really good, and I very much enjoyed running Star Wars Saga Edition, but there just wasn't enough.

However, things turned around dramatically in November. Having concluded that the existing situation was unacceptable, I went and set up a second group in Falkirk, and have been engaged in a D&D (3.5e Eberron) campaign since, meeting on alternate Tuesdays. This has been going really well; in fact, I find myself having the odd problem that we're getting towards having too many players, rather than too few.

At the same time, the existing group (that I thought was dead) has had something of a revival, and we've suddenly managed to get together for several sessions of the Warhammer campaign I prepared on this blog. It has been going very well indeed, and looks to be another strong campaign.

In 2010, then, I'm hoping that this trend continues. I would like to run the Warhammer campaign to conclusion, and then run the "second season" to my Star Wars campaign, all while running the Eberron campaign in parallel. Things are looking better on this front than they have for a long time.

My Year in... Band

It has been a year of very hard work for band, but a very successful one also. We managed to qualify at three of the four Majors we entered, and won two prizes in Minor competitions. Additionally, we ran very successful trips to France and Ireland (although we didn't qualify at the latter, something of a fly in the ointment). We also hosted a very successful concert in October, raised about four times as much money for the band as in the previous year, and rebuilt a much stronger financial foundation for the band.

All in all, a lot of hard work, but it paid off handsomely.

In 2010, we are hoping to do well enough in competition to actually advance out of our grade and up to grade 4A. A change to the competition rules means that we won't have to pre-qualify at most of the competitions (probably only the World Championships and at Cowal, because of the number of bands present), while the promotion of several bands has really opened the field for us. Add to that the dedication of the current band members, and the addition of several new members, and we're in great shape.

Definitely looking forward to success in 2010!

My Year in... Love

Awesome. That is all.

My Year in... Resolutions

I completed ten of my eleven goals for the year, and had to abandon the last due to circumstances beyond my control. As such, 2009 was a really strong year.

In 2010, I hope to have a similar success, although I am intending to try to avoid the "tyranny of goals" this year by not setting goals that absorb my every waking moment.

My Year in... Travel

Trips to France and Ireland with the band, plus a trip to England for a wedding, made 2009 a successful year, despite my not wanting to spend money on expensive foreign holidays.

My Year in... Faith

Holding steady. No great advance to speak of, but neither was there any great crisis of faith to report.

One possible weakness is that I have stopped attending church on Sunday mornings (but still go in the evenings). This is mostly because of some serious roadworks, which make the drive across deeply unpleasant; I really don't want to do that drive four times on the Sunday, and neither do I want to spend every Sunday afternoon at the parents' (I love them and all, but I can never get anything done there, even if I take my PC, and I can't afford to waste Sunday afternoons).

My Year in... Health

Mostly, I'm in very good health. Certainly, I'm in much better health than most people, so I probably shouldn't complain. However...

I had to take two days off work due to illness this year. The first was a really bad cold, which had me bed-ridden. Annoying, but something that couldn't be helped, and something that passed quickly.

The second, though, was due to a neck problem that has now been ongoing for ten weeks, which is a real problem. I have been to the doctor and given pain killers and anti-inflamatories, and also some exercises to do, and have been referred to see a physio. So, that's all in hand. Still, it's a real pain, and it just hasn't gone away, and it's a big problem.

With a lot of luck, that will get resolved soon - it's having quite a bad effect on my life generally, and is largely preventing me from exercising, which is having the nasty side-effect of letting my weight gradually creep back up due to difficulties in exercising.

(I will have to do something about that in 2010 - I didn't go through all the pain of losing that weight just to put it all back on again!)

My Year... Overall

Mostly, 2009 was a good year. Actually, in several keys was, it was a spectacular year, of the sort I wouldn't have dared to dream of 12 months ago.

But work... work was a real killer this year. If there is one thing I would change if I could, it would be that. In 2010, I will need to focus on that. (Although, hopefully, it will also improve naturally - my estimates were always that things would be bad until June 2010, so if that is right...)

Anyway, I'm definitely looking forward to 2010. I haven't been this optimistic about a new year in a long long time.

Endurance Test

Yesterday, apart from a quick trip to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription and a quick trip to Tesco to pick up some wine, I spent the day doing exactly one thing: reading. I started the day some 250 pages short of the end of the compilation of Lankhmar stories, and really didn't want to carry it through into the new year. And so, I can now complete my list of books for last year:

#55: "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook", by Paizo Publishing
#56: "Lankhmar", by Fritz Leiber