Saturday, December 31, 2011

Uncertain

For the first time since 2003/2004, I go into the New Year without a clear idea of what to expect. I know that the next few months will be pretty stressful, and hard work. And I know that April will bring the wedding, which will be awesome.

But after that...?

Well, I don't know. Hence the uncertainty, really. Things will change, but which things, and to what extent?

Oh well. It will be fun finding out!

My Year in 2011

With a view to clearing my to-do list as far as is possible before the bells (and also to put off some of the day's less pleasant tasks), I thought I'd do my review of the year a little early.

2011 has been a strangely mixed year. In some ways, it has been the best year ever, while in others it has been pretty horrible. My overall impression of the year, though, has been one of abiding and deep tiredness.

My Year in... Work

2011 has not been the best of years in work. Things for the company have been going well, but for myself... not so much. August and September were particularly hard, and things have only recovered somewhat. I'm not looking forward to going back, while at the same time determined to do better again in 2012.

My Year in... Gaming

2011 was probably the best year for gaming since I left university. The RPG Meetup has moved across to Groupspaces, and continues to go well. We seem to have settled at around 25 people, with about a dozen people in the "core group". There are several games ongoing at any time, so people can usually find a game when they want to play.

This year I ran the first section in a new campaign "The Eberron Code", which will continue in 2012 (some time after the wedding). That went exceptionally well, and has joined my legendary "big three" as one of the campaigns I'm most proud of.

I also ran three one-off games. The first was a "Star Wars Saga Edition" game with a bit of an A-team vibe. This went exceptionally well, with everyone involved having a really good time. However, it was very quickly eclipsed by "Ultraviolet: Code-500", which was the single best game I have run in many years. And then, this week, I ran my second annual Christmas Game, which was once again "Serenity". Despite two late call-offs, the game remained a lot of fun, and was rather more satisfying than last year's effort.

In addition to running some good games, I got some opportunity to play, with the occasional game of "The Laundry", "Deadlands" and "Dark Sun". Good times.

The Saturday Game has largely come to a halt. I finished off the "Company of the Black Hand" campaign, and we've since played a couple of sessions of "Dark Heresy". However, I explained that the wedding marks the end of my availability for this game. I think we will have no more than one or two more sessions between now and then.

In 2012, I am hoping to run a handful of one-off games, and am also hoping that my schedule will allow me to continue "The Eberron Code". Obviously, we'll need to see about both these things.

My Year in... Band

As with so many other things, 2011 was a mixed year for the band. Early in the year, we were promoted to Grade 4A. We went into the season in high spirits, and actually won prizes at the first competition of the year, a Minor contest but traditionally a tough one. Spirits were high... and then quickly crushed.

The rest of the season was largely a sequence of disappointments. We failed to qualify at the Worlds, we didn't win any prizes of note, and we got some really hard criticism for our efforts.

We did set up the Development Band, which competed four times. Again, they won prizes on their first outing, which was remarkable. But, again, they didn't qualify at either the Worlds or at Cowal.

Financially, the band did extremely well, easing my fears for the future somewhat. However, at the end of the year we lost our lead drummer, and the pipe major of the Development Band. These were both painful losses that we haven't really recovered from.

It looks like 2012 is likely to be another year of consolidation. We'll see how we get on in Grade 4A, but the standard is really high and it's not clear we'll make it. I'll be leading the Development Band out, which could be... interesting. We'll see how it goes.

My Year in... Love

Super Secret Goal #3 was completed in June, and was awesome of course.

The preparations for the wedding have been a bit of a shock to the system, as there's so much more to do than I had expected. And, especially difficult, much of it is stuff that gets put in motion but can't be finished off until April... this leaves a huge pile of things unresolved, which is just stressful.

Anyway, things are either well in hand, or we've forgotten something important. I'll let you know in April!

My Year in... Resolutions

Six done, three failed, and one in progress. That's a 'B' grade performance, which is okay but not stellar.

For 2012, there is precisely one goal, and it will be resolved in 2012 (barring a disaster, of course).

My Year in... Travel

The annual trip to Ireland with the band went well enough. This year, we were joined by Lady Chocolat, which was nice. Recently, work took several of us out to Stuttgart for a training day, a trip that also went very well.

And, finally, the big trip of the year was to Rome, which was awesome.

Next year might well have a big trip in the offing...

My Year in... Faith

There's not really a lot to report here. All remains well, for now.

My Year in Painting

Over the course of the year, I gradually painted up that Ork Warband I mentioned last year. It is now done, and glaring menacingly across the living room. I have decided against getting any more figures to paint, at least for the time being.

My Year... Overall

2011 was a very mixed year. The trip to Rome was awesome, and the gaming front has been very good. On the other hand, the band's season was extremely disappointing, and work has been extremely stressful. August, in particular, was an horrible month.

2012 beckons. The high point is pretty obvious, but the rest...

Books of the Year 2011

As I noted in my update on goals, I'm currently in progress on two books, but extremely unlikely to finish either today. That being the case, here's the roundup of the books that I have completed this year:

  1. "AD&D: Monster Manual", by Gary Gygax
  2. "AD&D: Player's Handbook", by E. Gary Gygax
  3. "Pathfinder: Vaults of Madness", by Greg A. Vaughan
  4. "Pathfinder: The Thousand Fangs Below", by Graeme Davis
  5. "Pathfinder: Sanctum of the Serpent God", by Neil Spicer
  6. "Les Miserables Volume One", by Victor Hugo *
  7. "Serenity: Out in the Black", by Tracy and Laura Hickman
  8. "Serenity: Adventures", by James Davenport, Ted Reed, James M. Ward, Alana Abbot and Billy Aguiar
  9. "Pathfinder: The Haunting of Harrowstone", by Michael Kortes
  10. "Serenity: Spaceships and Six Shooters", by Lynn Blackson and Jason Durall
  11. "Serenity: Big Damn Heroes Handbook", from Margaret Weis Productions
  12. "At the Gates of Darkness", by Raymond E. Feist
  13. "Pathfinder: Trial of the Beast", by Richard Pett
  14. "Les Miserables, Volume Two", by Victor Hugo *
  15. "Pathfinder: Broken Moon", by Tim Hitchcock
  16. "Cloud Atlas", by David Mitchell *
  17. "The Fort", by Bernard Cornwell
  18. "Pathfinder: Wake of the Watcher", by Greg A. Vaughan
  19. "Watcher of the Dead", by J.V. Jones
  20. "AD&D: Dungeon Master's Guide", by Gary Gygax
  21. "AD&D: Legends & Lore", by James M. Ward and Robert Kuntz
  22. "AD&D: Fiend Folio", edited by Don Turnbull
  23. "AD&D: Monster Manual II", by Gary Gygax
  24. "Pathfinder: Shadows of Gallowspire", by Brandon Hodge
  25. "Pathfinder: The Brinewall Legacy", by James Jacobs
  26. "Pathfinder: Bestiary 2", by Paizo Publishing
  27. "I Shall Wear Midnight", by Terry Pratchett
  28. "Pathfinder: Night of Frozen Shadows", by Greg A. Vaughan
  29. "Empire of Silver", by Conn Iggulden
  30. "War and Peace", by Leo Tolstoy *
  31. "Black Crusade", by Fantasy Flight Games
  32. "The Books of the South", by Glen Cook
  33. "Pathfinder: The Hungry Storm", by Jason Nelson
  34. "Pathfinder: Forest of Spirits", by Richard Pett
  35. "The Gathering Storm", by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
  36. "Pathfinder: Advanced Player's Guide", from Paizo Publishing
  37. "Renegade's Magic", by Robin Hobb


There are four books from The List, marked with asterisks. (Note that "Les Miserables" counts twice, per my "one set of covers = one book" rule.) Twenty-five of the books are RPG-related, mostly from the Pathfinder line. There were no work-related books, nor were there any re-reads.

It's hard to pick out the best books of the year, as there weren't any that stood out. I think perhaps "Les Miserables" edges out the competition as being the most satisfying read (although that's two books, and so cheating...). The worst was "Renegade's Magic", which was not a fun read - I only read it to finish up the trilogy, and the best thing I can say about it is that it is done!

For 2012, I currently have 25 books picked out, plus the two that are currently in progress. This includes two from The List - "Great Expectations" and "A Town Like Alice". I would expect to get through all of these without any difficulty. Beyond that, I'm not setting any reading goal, but will continue to note books as I finish them.

End of Year Update on Goals

The end of the year beckons, and I'm unlikely to make any more progress on any of my goals, so here's the year-end update:

  • Super Secret Goal #3 - Complete.
  • Blog more - This is post 818 on the blog, well short of the 900-post mini-target for the end of the year. On the other hand, I did manage to "blog more", so the goal as stated at the start of the year, is a success.
  • Lose weight - Fail. Christmas has not done me any favours this year.
  • The band got promoted last year, which meant that our goal for 2011 was to attain promotion again. This proved to be far too ambitious, and so this goal is failed.
  • The Saturday Game - Complete.
  • Write something - Fail. I had intended to finish off the writing task during the month of December, which then became an effort to finish it in my week off, but I never did. Shame.
  • Relax more - Complete.
  • Books - The goal as stated is complete. Of the five books other books I wanted to tackle, I have finished three and am in progress on both of the other two. I should finish those in the next few days, but won't get them done today.
  • Painting - Complete.
  • Wedding Preparations - Ongoing. The next major task is sending out the invitations, but there have been some unforseen delays...


So, that gives a total of six goals completed, three failed, and one that will remain ongoing for the next three and a half months. That's not a bad showing, but not a particularly good one, either. Still, given that I wanted to avoid a "tyranny of goals", it's not too bad I suppose.

#36: "Pathfinder: Advanced Player's Guide", from Paizo Publishing
#37: "Renegade's Magic", by Robin Hobb

Thursday, December 08, 2011

On the other hand...

Turns out that almost immediately after I published my last post, the road opened up again and I was able to go. I promptly left the office and had a really quick ride home. I'm now 36 minutes short of where I 'should' be for the week, but that's okay. I'll make up the time tomorrow.

With the extra time I have been given, I was able to finish up the most recent novel, which was the twelve volume of the Wheel of Time. And, having said that, I can almost hear Chris bracing himself for the big rant...

Well, it turned out that the book did indeed live up to expectations, being a big turgid mess of words with nothing actually happening. For the first twenty-seven chapters, anyway. After that, suddenly, the plot sprang to life, and it was actually quite exciting. Almost reminded me of why I got so far into the series in the first place.

Apparently, Robert Jordan had the book partially written before he died. It's probably unkind, but I think I can pinpoint just where he got to.

#35: "The Gathering Storm", by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

There's no place like home...

Today, Scotland is being battered by high winds. This is not the usual run-of-the-mill winds we sometimes get, nor indeed is it the absurdly anti-climactic non-winds I expected when I heard they'd put out a Red Alert about the winds. (I mean, honestly, what was I supposed to expect? They declare extreme weather warnings at the first hint of weather these days.)

So, I developed a cunning plan. My plan was to stick around in the office for the minimum possible amount of time, attend the meeting I had booked, then copy some stuff onto a disk (so I could work at home), and then, well, go home.

This was an excellent and inventive plan, which proved to have only one small flaw.

About one hour before I was able to leave the office, a lorry overturned on the motorway, right where I needed to join it. And, consequently, the entire road system near the office has ground to a halt for the foreseeable future. In a cruel reversal of last year's Snow Days, this year I have become trapped in the office.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Strike!

So, the strike...

On the one hand:

- I'm really not a fan of the various union leaders. In fact, they seem to go out of their way to make sure I don't like them. And I can't help but think that a large part of their motivation is political; if the Labour party were in office doing exactly the same things, I daresay they wouldn't be as active.

- It is true that much of our public services just aren't fit for purpose (with the House of Commons being the most obvious example). It is true that there is a very strong case for some cuts. It is true that we're just not getting good value for money in a lot of areas. It is true that there are entire functions that various organisations are providing that they really shouldn't be. It is true that the bureaucracy has gotten badly out of hand, and is now serving the bureaucracy more than it should (and, sometimes, more than it does us). And it is likely true that there are entire layers of middle management that could simply be eliminated that would not only not reduce services, but which would actually improve them.

- If we were setting up public sector pay and pension arrangements from a blank slate, it is almost certainly the case that we wouldn't offer anything like the current arrangement, and even the revised arrangement on offer is probably more generous than what would be tabled.

However...

We're not setting up public sector pay and pension arrangements from a blank slate. A particular set of pay and conditions were agreed, including the current pension arrangements. And simply trying to change those unilaterally is wrong.

(And, actually, it's exactly the same argument as I made with the banker bonuses at the start of the year - the contracts say that particular payments should be made; those payments should be made. Despite most of the banks being in public ownership, the government haven't insisted on a mass renegotiation of banker pay, and they haven't even insisted that the banks only pay out the minimum contractually-required bonuses. That they are instead going after public sector workers is a rather shocking double standard.)

The government tabled an initial ridiculous offer. They had it rejected, and came back with another "generous" offer that was still unacceptable. They seem strongly disinclined to further negotiations. That being the case, striking is certainly justified.

(At the moment, the government are asking public sector workers to accept a multi-year pay freeze followed by a two-year 1% increase while inflation is around 5% (effectively, a big pay cut), and to pay more into their pension, and to work longer, and to get a smaller pension at the end. And in return they'll... well, nothing really. Some negotiation. Any one of these, or maybe the combination of "pay freeze" and "work longer", might be acceptable, but all together? Yeah, right.)

As far as I can see, the only thing wrong with the strike is that it's a one-day stoppage. This will probably hurt the workers more than it does the government. Still, this is probably just the opening shot - I can foresee worse to come.

It's going to be an interesting few months.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

One More Update on Goals

As we move into December, I think there's time for one last update on goals, before the end-of-year wash-up:

  • Super Secret Goal #3 - Complete.
  • Blog more - Ongoing. The blog passed 800 posts quite recently, but in order to reach the target of 999 by April 11th it probably needs to hit 900 by the end of this year, which isn't happening.
  • Lose weight - Ongoing. As with the blog target, I haven't done as much as I would have liked, and won't have done as much as I would like by the end of the year, but I'm not too unhappy about the actual progress to date.
  • The band got promoted last year, which meant that our goal for 2011 was to attain promotion again. This proved to be far too ambitious, and so this goal is failed.
  • The Saturday Game - Complete. It seems doubtful that we'll get together again this year, and we'll probably only get together a couple of times in the new year. A shame, but there it is.
  • Write something - Ongoing. I had hoped to get this done for Lady Chocolat returning, but that proved over-ambitious. My revised deadline was the end of this month, but wasn't able to find the time. I intend to have it done by the end of the year.
  • Relax more - Complete-ish. As discussed last time, I let things slide a bit and created problems for myself. Better to just stay on top of things!
  • Books - I have finished "War and Peace", completing the reading I set out at the start of the year. Further, I have now reached 34 books for the year. There are five more books I would like to read, including one from The List. This should be possible, but I'm not going to press too hard.
  • Painting - Complete. For now, I have no intention of investing in any more miniatures. I should probably find a good home for the left-over paint and brushes!
  • Wedding Preparations - Ongoing. These remain well in hand. The wedding cars are booked, we had another meeting with the photographer on Saturday, and we sorted out the bulk of the Guest List on Friday. (That last was absolutely brutal. It's really no fun deciding which of your friends not to invite, since you can't invite everyone.)


Five complete, one failed, and four ongoing. Not a bad position to be in at this stage.

#34: "Pathfinder: Forest of Spirits", by Richard Pett

Monday, November 28, 2011

Both barrels...

George Osborne has decided to start building infrastructure projects to create jobs, and get the economy moving. He's finally realised that that's the sort of thing that really needs to be done to help fix things.

I was absolutely delighted at this... for all of five seconds. And then it was explained how he was going to pay for it all: yet more cuts. Cuts that don't help at all, that just demoralise everyone, that destroy confidence, and that therefore act as a massive drag on the economy.

He was so close. But he might as well not have bothered. Gutted.

Meanwhile, on the yellow side of our disaster of a government, Nick Clegg has finally realised that people hate the Lib Dems. So, he's going to take action to fix that, right?

Well, no. He's called in his marketing experts to help rebrand the party.

Because of course, when people hate you for your actions, and don't trust you because of your lies, the thing to do is carry on with the same actions but find ways to lie more effectively!

If the Lib Dems want to avoid the annihilation that awaits them at the next election, I recommend the following:

1) Withdraw from the coalition immediately. Abstain from all future votes, thus avoiding bringing down the government, but under no circumstances support any government policy.

2) Replace Nick Clegg as leader, and then throw him, and any other person who held office in this government, out of the party.

That is the minimum required to have a chance. Even that will probably not be enough. But anything less will leave the party tainted with the poisonous stink of supporting the current hated government, and leave intact their deserved reputation for mendacity.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

We can rebuild it. We have the technology

I have fixed my bookshelves, at least for a little while. The problem seems to be that they were overloaded, with the books forcing the sides apart, tearing the nails out of place, and causing the whole thing to sag.

I took it out of place, tightened the holding screws, re-did the nails, added some new nails... and it seems nice and solid. I have since re-stacked the shelves, being careful not to force so many books in. This has the benefit that the shelves are now back together, but has the disadvantage that there really isn't enough space for all the books. It seems I need to get some more bookshelves.

And that's before even considering all the hundreds of books LC will be bringing with her...

Friday, November 25, 2011

There's only one way to find out!

Here's a question: who is the greatest heroine in Sci-fi? I'm pretty sure it's either Sarah Connor or Ripley, but which?

There are actually some marked similarities. In the first film, each is relatively defenceless against a far superior threat. In the second film, each reaches a point where she takes a stand against the foe ("Get away from her, you bitch!" being one of the greatest lines in all of sci-fi).

And in each case, you hear occasional tales of a further sequel or two, but nothing seems to come of it...

Now, I like Sarah Connor, but then I also like Ripley. But which is better?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On the Horns of a Dilemma

I have always had mixed feelings about the Harry Potter films. "Philosopher's Stone" is very distinctly a kids film, and frankly an over-long one at that. "Chamber of Secrets", on the other hand, is fantastic - definitely my favourite of the series. "Prisoner..." is probably a really good film, but I found the change in tone to be rather jarring after what had gone before, and unlike others I didn't really welcome it.

"Goblet of Fire" is the last one I own on DVD. For the first time, I found that the film was really too short - the need to compress the story to fit the allotted time really compromised the narrative. "Order of the Phoenix" is my second-favourite film, largely because of the portrayal of Dolores Umbridge (for my mind, the best and most unique villain in Harry Potter). But "Half-blood Prince" again suffered from being too compressed, which was a shame as it's probably the best of the novels.

And then they decided to split "Deathly Hallows" into two films. I am really not a fan of that approach - IMO, only "Kill Bill" has managed to pull off that little trick. Still, I suppose it meant that they didn't need to compress as much. It's just a shame that DH is one of the few books that would benefit from some serious compression - Harry just spends far too long wandering around on the periphery of the action. And so, Part One is largely spent setting things up for Part Two (and so is a rather wasted film), and while Part Two is considerably better (third best in the series, IMO), the climax is rather to pyrotechnic for my tastes - quite at odds with the final showdown in the book.

Why is this relevant?

Well, due to combination of factors. While I am not personally a huge fan, Lady Chocolat is. "Deathly Hallows, Part Two" is about to be released on DVD. However, in a Disney-esque move, the publishers have decided to release it for all of a month, before withdrawing all the DVDs from sale.

All of which leads to a slightly tricky dilemma. I'm inclined to think we should own a set of the movies, and if they're going to be available for only a short time, it should probably be now. That's fair enough - a boxed set of all eight can be had for a very reasonable price.

But... do we go for the DVD set, or a combined DVD/Blu-ray set? At the moment, I have a Standard Def TV and DVD player, but I also happen to know that I'll be being upgraded to a High Def TV in the nearish future, after which a Playstation 3 becomes a very likely purchase. And that suggests the Blu-ray set.

It's a tricky one. Normally, the answer would be "get DVD now, and maybe upgrade later", but with the rapid deletion...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Not Ready for eBooks

I'm finding the idea of getting a Kindle and/or iPad (or equivalents) increasingly tempting as time goes on. However, I am as yet resisting, for five reasons:
  • Despite the oddities inherent in this position given my choice of careers, I'm actually something of a Luddite when it comes to all this newfangled technology. I only got a mobile phone when I was going to visit CJ in the States, and needed some way to be in contact while on the move. I've avoided getting any sort of smartphone, don't bother with Faceboo, and have skipped the delights of MMORPGs entirely. So, to some extent, it's just a matter of principle. (That said, I was an "early adopter" of DVD. Probably one of my best moves, that.)
  • Can't use a Kindle on an airplane whilst taking off or landing (although you should be able to - those things are hardened against lightning strikes; they can handle passengers reading Dan Brown's latest excretions).
  • If I'm away somewhere and my £8 book gets lost/stolen/damaged, it's annoying but no big deal. The occasional £8 is below my threshold of notice, so I'll just get a new copy and move on. However, if my £100 Kindle is lost/stolen/damaged, that's quite another thing. Especially since it would also mean the loss (at least temporarily) of the entire library of books contained within, including the three or four other novels I've taken on holiday with me.
  • This one is specific to the iPad. The one use I have for this device is as storage for my many RPG books. But, in order to be really useful it would need to contain all my RPG books, including the ones currently littering the floor in the Purple Room (due to a broken bookshelf). Many of those books simply aren't legally available in PDF, and in any case buying new copies is too expensive to consider. So the one immediate use I actually have for such a device is also not something I can legally do.
  • Books aren't subject to VAT. Computer files, including eBooks, are.

#33: "Pathfinder: The Hungry Storm", by Jason Nelson

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Return of Lady Chocolat

Lady Chocolat returned from Kenya on Saturday, and I was able to unveil my latest surprise by meeting her at Heathrow. This proved to be a particularly wise move, as the flight up on Sunday was delayed, but more on that later.

Originally, my plan for her return had been to take the day off work and meet her at Glasgow airport. That was pretty much the best I could do. However, quite close to her departure there was a change of dates, which meant that her return would be on a weekend. And so a plan was born... The day after she left, once I had confirmed details of her return flights and hotel, everything was ready.

The last week was pretty dire, actually. Whereas previous weeks had been a case of just getting on with things, this last week was like the countdown to Christmas or to the school holidays - I just wanted it done, was excessively conscious of the clock, and so it dragged out. But, finally, I got to Friday, which was spent on an epic painting session, and then in to Saturday, and I was off.

The flight down was fine. I checked in online, didn't have a bag to drop, sailed through security (who made me put my boat away. Spoil-sports!), waited a while with a coffee, got on the plane, read for a while, and got off the plane. Pretty standard, really. I was amused that they quite often showed our journey's progress on a big map of europe, where the plane icon they were using was bigger than the distance we were travelling on the map!

On arrival, I made my way from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3. This proved to be a mistake - for all its faults, Terminal 5 is a much more modern facility and generally more pleasant. I should probably have waited there until the last minute before transferring. But no matter. In Terminal 3 I got a couple of sandwiches, spent a couple of hours reading, and then spent an hour impatiently bouncing from foot to foot while LC made her way off the plane, through customs, collected her bag, and into Arrivals.

Surprise!

We stayed in the Premier Inn. This is the second time we've stayed in one of their hotels (the first being in Belfast), and I must admit to being impressed. The staff were helpful and welcoming, the room was spacious, and the bed was comfortable. Basically, I couldn't fault it.

Now, I'm not claiming that it is the best hotel I've ever stayed in. However, I have now stayed in most of the budget chains, and this one is definitely the best of those. And the facilities put a lot of other, more expensive, hotels to shame - indeed, in terms of the room itself, it even beats out some much higher-starred hotels. So, that's good.

(Probably the best thing, though, is that PI Heathrow seemed pretty much identical to PI Belfast. That consistency is itself a boon, since it allows one to book with confidence with what you're getting. I've had generally good results by picking at random, but there have been some stinkers, one particular hotel in Paris being notable...)

We went for the full breakfast, and stocked up on all manner of foods. Good thing we did, really. (The breakfast was a most welcome start to the day - the range was good, the quality was okay if not exceptional, and the price wasn't too steep.)

We then made our way back to Terminal 5. There was fog, which meant delays...

LC had to check-in and drop a bag off. Fortunately, when checking in, she found that the seat next to mine was still free. (I had checked in online previously - for some reason I had to do both flights together.) We then proceeded through security again, grabbed a seat, and waited.

Our flight was delayed, but we were told that it was expected to leave at 12:45 instead of 12. As a result of this, we decided that it wasn't quite time for lunch, so waited. And, fair play to them, they seemed to be running roughly to-time, albeit offset by about 45 minutes. So, they got us onto the plane at about the right time for a 12:45 departure...

Pretty much as soon as we were all on the plane, and stuck there, the captain informed us that there was going to be another hour to wait before take-off. We had no choice but to wait, stuck in our seats.

It's fair to say I was more than a little annoyed about that. Firstly, I don't think they should have had us board the plane in that case. Terminal 5 has its faults, but it is much more comfortable than being stuck in a plane unnecessarily. However, I think that decision is forgivable.

But they should have made it clear to us what the delays were going to be. Had we known, we would have made sure to get some lunch before boarding. That way, the additional wait and the flight would have been much more comfortable. Instead, we had to go hungry. And, of course, there wasn't any meaningful food on the plane. Polo mints do not make a good lunch.

Anyway, eventually the flight took off. I read for quite a while, finished my book, started the next one, and then we landed. And all was well - Lady Chocolat was home.

#32: "The Books of the South", by Glen Cook

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Waaaagh!

After a truly epic painting session lasting more than two whole "Indiana Jones" soundtracks, I finished the last of my Orks last night. The varnish was applied this morning, and they have now joined the rest of the horde (or "Waaagh") on top of my DVD shelves.

I have now completed all but one of the things from my "to do" list for before Lady Chocolat returns from Kenya, and all but one from my "nice to do" list. In both cases, the remaining task was just one step too far, and I have no chance of finishing it off in time.

Anyway, when the last coat went on to the last Ork yesterday I felt suddenly, immensely, happy. Actually, 'happy' isn't quite the right word. Relieved? Free? Something like that.

Given that, why do I now feel a strong urge to rush out and buy a whole bunch more?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Disaster!

To my horror, I discovered that one of my bookshelves had collapsed on Saturday. This was terrible, not because of the loss of the shelves (they're cheap and nasty £30 efforts from Argos), but rather because of the books that live on the shelves.

This discovery prompted a hasty round of lifting the books from the shelves, and checking that they were okay. Fortunately, no harm was done. My books had survived.

This is extremely fortunate. The shelf in question contained about half of my RPG books, many of which are now irreplacable (being long out of print, and only having a few copies printed ever), and others of which would be extremely expensive to replace (for the same reason). Not to mention that this is a collection assembled over two decades of play...

Of course, I find it mightily coincidental that Lady Chocolat made her anti-RPG agenda quite clear, then arranged for herself a water-tight alibi, a scant few weeks before the shelves containing my RPG books collapsed... I can only presume her agents are at work in her absence.

Anyway, I now have an additional task for the list, one that won't be finished before Lady Chocolat returns (and therefore, she will be forced to bear witness to the horrors) - the replacement or repair of the bookshelves. My inclination at this time is to go for a repair, rather than to invest in another set of low-quality Argos shelves. I'll need to see, though - the shelves will need to be pulled out of position before I can determine if a repair is possible. My belief is that a good round of nails should do the trick, but one can never know. (Unfortunately, at this time it is not practical to invest in some good shelves, so the only question is whether to repair the existing dodgy shelves or to buy some new, equally dodgy shelves. Since the repair is considerably less hassle, it is preferable.)

#31: "Black Crusade", by Fantasy Flight Games

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

My Best Friend vs Man's Best Friend

Over on the Chrlog, Chris has raised the question of who is to be my best man. Now, naturally, Chris was the second person I thought of (after Optimus Prime, of course, but it turns out that he's fictional and so unlikely to make it). However, there has been a development...

Inspired by the glorious example of Kim Kardashian, I decided to see if I could use the wonders of TV to fund the wedding. Therefore, I pitched an idea for a TV show to Sky: "My Best Friend vs Man's Best Friend" - a reality TV contest where several random blokes would be pitted against dogs in a bid to become my best man. Contestants would be judged on many 'best man' duties, such as the ability to bring me alcohol, willingness to chase after pretty girls, and ability to give a drunken and embarrassing speech on cue.

(Naturally, the balance of tasks would be important, to avoid skewing the contest too far one way or the other. For example, the St Bernard would have a clear advantage in the "bringing alcohol" contest, while the human contestants would have a clear edge in speech-giving over all dogs, except K-9 and the dogs from "Up", of course.)

Anyway, I figured there would be no way that a TV channel would go for such a ridiculous and outlandish concept, but that was because I haven't watched any reality TV lately. Apparently, Sky Living already have a very similar show, but with less intelligent contestants.

So they've commissioned the show.

Naturally, the big decision that needed to be taken was: who would be the judges. Obviously, I would have to be the head judge, but who else would be suitable?

Well, it obviously had to be a mixed panel, so as not to give the human or canine contestants an unfair advantage. And I think we've done a really good job. Playing the role of "the nasty judge", we have Kelsey Grammar who, having been married several times, knows a thing or two about best men. Our celebrity dog judge is none other than the legend that is Bouncer from Neighbours. And our final 'wild card' judge is that paragon of advertising: Churchill. (Although, to be fair, I think he may have agreed just a little too quickly...)

Anyway, look for my show coming this winter!

(Of course, there isn't a single thing in this post that is actually true. Although a big part of me really wishes it was!)

Saturday, November 05, 2011

A Fascinating Fact

There is only one wedding in the Star Wars saga, which takes place at the end of "Attack of the Clones". This is between Anakin Skywalker and Padme.

What is less obvious is the role of the other characters present. See, the marriage takes place in secret, so only five characters are present: Anakin and Amidala, C-3P0 and R2-D2, and an unnamed official. Obviously, the official conducts the wedding, so that makes sense, but the droids...

Well, it turns out that R2-D2 is the maid of honour, presumably in a Patrick Dempsey style (with all the horror that that entails). See, at that point of time he still belongs to the court of Naboo (canonically, Padme gives him to Anakin as a gift when he becomes a full Jedi Knight, in the Clone Wars cartoon). That clearly means that he's on the bride's side, and since he's clearly neither the mother nor father of the bride, the next most important role...

And C-3P0 must be the best man. Much the same logic applies - he belongs to Anakin, and that's the role that most needs filled.

I'll just repeat that for effect: C-3P0 is Darth Vader's best man.

Anyway, this explains why Darth Vader expresses no surprise at C-3P0's condition when they meet up in Cloud City (in "Empire Strikes Back"). Presumably, he's used to seeing him legless...

A Matter of Succession

So, the government have quietly announced that from now on, daughters of the monarch will have the same rights of succession as sons. That is, if William and Catherine's first-born is a daughter, she will become queen ahead of any younger brothers she has.

As a matter of principle, this is something that is long overdue, even if it doesn't really affect anyone currently living. (Depending on how it is worded, it may mean that Anne and her children move up the list, while Edward and his children move down... but barring a major event, neither of these two were ever going to be crowned monarch anyway.) So, on the face of it, this is a good move.

However...

It does rather beg the question of why the eldest child should become monarch anyway. Why Charles, and not Andrew, or Anne, or Edward? After all, the sex of a child is essentially just a matter of probability, and the birth order is likewise just a matter of probability. The eldest child is not automatically in any way a better as a candidate as monarch. If we're eliminating one accident of birth as a criterion for becoming monarch, why not another?

So perhaps when the monarch dies, the surviving children should draw lots to determine who becomes the next king or queen. Or, indeed, perhaps we should have an election.

But, of course, it's actually a very short jump from that to the ultimate step along this path - the elimination of the monarchy entirely. After all, being born a prince rather than a pauper is just a matter of an accident of birth. Being born to a rich family does not automatically make you a better candidate for monarch than anyone else.

(And I say all this despite not actually being anti-monarchy. In principle, I would prefer a republic. But in practice, I can't see any better solution, especially given the caliber of politicians we have currently.)

It's a very dangerous game, adjusting the rules for succession. Because as soon as you make any change, you open the door for making any change.

Friday, November 04, 2011

War and Peace

In a mammoth reading session, I managed to reach the end of "War and Peace" last night, a little ahead of schedule. In all, it has taken just under 100 days to get through.

It was an interesting novel, not least because it had a very clear agenda - Tolstoy wanted to argue that history was not a result of the actions of Great Men, but rather an inevitable procession of events that just aren't under anyone's control.

I disagree, mostly. While history is not just the story of Great Men, and while looking for a single ultimate cause of any historical event is rather foolish, this does not by itself negate free will, nor does it make history inevitable.

Tolstoy's argument is rather flawed, in a number of ways. In particular, he makes the assumption that the universe is infinite (it isn't) and that time is infinite (it isn't, in either direction). He also argues that historical events are inevitable, based on the fact that once you've done something you cannot take them back and do them differently. The faulty logical leap here is obvious - just because you cannot now go back and change things doesn't mean that at the time you couldn't have acted differently.

He also attacks historians based on their search for an ultimate cause of historical events. His argument here is that every cause is, itself, the result of some other cause, and so on back in time. This is correct, as far as it goes. However, what he neglects to consider is the possibility of 'windowing' history - when studying the causes of the Second World War, historians won't go back to the Roman Empire and work from there, but rather will go back just a few decades. Having doen this, they'll note the starting conditions, and work from those. In effect, this means that all studies of history are at best a simplification of reality... but that's inevitable. The only totally accurate map of history would be identical to the events themselves!

I think he's also wrong to discount the actions of Great Men entirely. Indeed, he argues that such figureheads are actually the least free figures in history, as they have to act in accordance with the inevitable path of events. But this just isn't true, either.

Arguably, the course of events will be directed by the sum of the will of the seven billion people on Earth. That makes sense (although even that is a simplification, since it neglects factors we do not control, such as the weather). However, it is also true that some people have a greater or lesser impact than others - if Barack Obama decides we're going to attack Iran, that counts for rather more than if I decide we won't!

Tolstoy's counter-argument here is that any movement of armies is dependent on the many people in the army - if the men and women of our armed forces refused to attack Iran, then the will of our politicians is moot. This is true, as far as it goes. However, it depends on many thousands of people exercising their will to countermand the will of one other, and it depends on them doing so even when they're strongly incentivised not to do so. They could refuse to fight, but they won't - if only a few refuse, they will be punished harshly, and a mass refusal is highly unlikely in anything but the most extreme circumstances.

Anyway.

If the purpose of literature is to make us think, then this was a great book, even if I disagree. If the purpose is simply to entertain, then I'm afraid it was little better than okay. I'm glad I read it... but I won't be reading it again in a hurry!

#30: "War and Peace", by Leo Tolstoy (a book from The List)

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Fourth Season Syndrome

It is an almost univeral law that for any TV series you care to name, the second and third seasons are the very best the show has to offer. (It's not absolutely universal, before you start citing exceptions...)

The reasons for this are quite simple, actually. In the first season, the creators are working without feedback, and so they have to take their best guess at what the audience will like. So, some ideas will work, some will fail, and others will do okay. In the second season, then, they are able to refine the concept. Ideas that didn't work out are dropped, while others that worked well are expanded. And so things are great for a year or two.

Problem is, after three years or so, they will have used up all of their best material. At this point, they will go one of two ways - either they start expanding on lesser ideas (resulting in an inevitable loss of quality), or they will try to take the show in new directions by shaking it up (almost certainly resulting in a loss of quality).

The latest casualty of this law has been "Fringe", which ended its third season extremely strongly. Unfortunately, they've started the fourth season by introducing a major paradox that has dramatically shaken up the world and the characters. The reasoning between these changes makes no sense (in order to fix a broken universe, some of the characters deliberately caused a time paradox?). And, worst of all, they've retconned the previous three seasons. Effectively, it's like jumping into an entirely different show four seasons in, but only after someone managed to destroy all of the DVDs of the previous three series.

Basically, it's not a good situation. As things stand, "Fringe" will be joining "Torchwood", "Bones" and "House" on the reject pile, which is a shame.

Meanwhile, "Merlin" is continuing to be quite good, although it, too, is suffering from Fourth Season Syndrome. (I would say more, but Lady Chocolat hasn't seen it yet... spoilers!) "Strikeback: Project Dawn" has ended, but was at least good fun, if not particularly high art. "Carnivale" remains good, but is nearly finished. And "Terra Nova" remains... okay, I guess.

Finally, two annoyances. It looks like Sky have taken the decision over the last season of "Chuck" out of my hands - they've decided not to bother showing the last thirteen episodes. I'm marginally annoyed at this, since I had decided to see it out. And it's still not clear when (or if) "Clone Wars" will be returning. But then, that's going into its fourth season as well...

As things stand, it looks like I'll be down to "Fringe" and, maybe, "Terra Nova" by the end of the year (with "Nikita" returning in April-ish). Given that neither of these is currently very good, that may finally be the time to drop the Sky subscription - it's been a long time coming.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

800th post!

This is the 800th post on this blog.

There are 162 days to the 12th of April (I'm not counting down, I just did the calculation). That means, in order to reach 999 posts before the wedding (and thus Part Four), I would need to post a little more than once per day for the next five months.

Which isn't impossible, but I'm not sure I have a sufficient supply of inane waffle and tedious rants to fill up all that space!

Just a Thought

I find it very interesting reading much of the comment on the Guardian's website about the interaction between the Occupy protestors and the administration at St Paul's.

The Guardian and its readership is pretty strongly anti-Christian. At any other time, they would be quite keen to wipe St Paul's off the map, to destroy Christianity, and to forget it ever existed. Likewise, very few of the Occupy protestors would normally have anything whatsoever to do with Christianity, and a good number would normally be hostile to the church.

Which is fair enough. I don't agree, but they're entitled to their beliefs. (And, for what it's worth, I'm less than impressed by the actions of the administrators at St Paul's - there's a reason I've been referring to them as 'administrators' rather than 'clergy'.)

But I have to ask: if you're so virulently anti-Christian, what exactly gives you the right to lecture the church for not supporting your pet cause? Especially since the Occupy movement haven't actually told us what they want, only what they're against - and hating the 1% is not a Christian attitude.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Getting Rid of the Kardashians

Every so often, some extremely worthy band of folk propose some sort of new legislation for our own good. A smoking ban. A fat tax. A carbon tax. Whatever. It's really quite infuriating, especially since these measures will almost certainly not actually fix the problems, but will just make like that little bit more miserable.

Well, if they are determined to 'help' us in this manner, here's one for them:

I would like to see a total ban on reporting 'lifestyle' stories about celebrities. It should be illegal to report of whatever Jordan is currently doing, on the sex lives of footballers, on Kate Middleton's latest fashion choices (or, worse, whatever her sister's bum is doing these days), on the irreconcilable differences that have caused Kim Kardashian's marriage to break down after 72 days, or any of this rubbish.

They should do it for environmental reasons. Think of all the trees that won't need to be pulped (note that recycled paper is better than non-recycled paper... but not using the paper at all is far better still). Think of all the energy saved because of all those TVs being switched off!

They should do it for feminist reasons. These lifestyle stories are put in magazines to sell to women. The entire industry (along with the fashion, cosmetics and diet industries) bases its business model on reducing the self-esteem of women. (And, worse, they hit you at both sides - firstly, they build these people up, provoking the sense that "I'll never be as good as her", and then they tear them down, encouraging their readers to mock the celebrities... only for the guilt to hit you, leaving you feeling even worse.)

But, most of all, they should do it because these stories, and the celebrities who thrive on them, are just bloody annoying. We should starve them of the publicity they need, so they are forced to either develop actual talent or, more likely, just go away.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Books of 2012

It has been a slightly odd year for books. Thus far I have read 28 books, and with a bit of luck I should finish another 10 or so by the end of the year. This gives a grand total of 38ish. Given that I read 56 books two years ago, and 100 books last year, this seems a rather paltry total. On the other hand, since this year will include both "Les Miserables" and "War and Peace", I don't feel it's too poor a showing. (I should finish "War and Peace" next Monday at the current rate - two days on public transport significantly accelerated my progress there.)

Next year will probably be quite an odd year in many ways, and I'm rather inclined to avoid setting goals at all - I suspect it will probably be best approached with a view to taking it as it comes and just muddling through. Which means that there won't be any reading target for the year.

Which isn't to say I don't have some notion as to how it will look!

I've now reached a point where I've almost completely stopped buying RPG books, and since I tend to read them as I buy them (or, in the past, sometimes not at all), there isn't really any great stack of books waiting to be read. That said, I will need to find an opportunity to read through the "Mutants & Masterminds" rulebook, as I'm planning on running that game briefly next summer. And there will be the usual trickle of "Pathfinder" books. Otherwise, I don't expect many RPG books to appear on the list.

But for the bulk of the year, I expect to be either catching up on, or simply reading the latest novels from, various authors and series.

The most significant of these is probably the "Wheel of Time" series, originally by Robert Jordan. Since Jordan's death, this has now been taken over by Brandon Sanderson, who has been writing the final volume - although that itself has been split into a trilogy of very thick novels (don't ask me how that works!). I currently have the first of these on my to-read pile, while the second was released in paperback earlier this month. The final volume is scheduled for a hardback release at the end of next year, so I won't finish the series until 2013 at the latest.

Next on my list is the "Soldier Son" trilogy by Robin Hobb. Truth is, I didn't particularly enjoy book one of the trilogy, but did enjoy it just enough to read volume two, which was marginally better. Since I hate leaving things partially done (especially trilogies after two volumes!), I have the third volume sitting in my to-read pile. (Actually, there's a decent chance that I'll read this by the end of this year; if not, it will be the first novel I start in 2012.)

And the third and final series that I want to get caught up on is the "Black Company" series by Glen Cook. This is a series I came to fairly recently, and has the advantage of being essentially complete - the author keeps talking about writing more, but never actually seems to do so. There are a total of seven novels remaining, but these days they are only available in compiled volumes - there are therefore three books remaining. The first of these is on my to-read pile (and scheduled to be read immediately after "War and Peace"); the remaining two are waiting for 2012.

Then there are the authors and series I'm caught up on, but who should be publishing new books in the next year. In most cases, they have already published the next volume in hardback, so it's just a case of waiting for the paperback. And so, in 2012 I should read through the next novel in the "Song of Ice and Fire" series, and the "Krondor" series by Raymond E. Feist, and the next novel from Bernard Cornwell, from Conn Iggulden, and from Terry Pratchett. (The other author I follow is J.V. Jones, but apparently the fifth and final volume in her "Sword of Shadows" trilogy won't be released in hardback until 2012, so I'll need to wait for 2013 for the paperback. And, no, don't ask me how that one works, either!)

That accounts for between 20 and 25 of my books for the year, depending on how many I get through this year. The remainder of my reading for next year, if any, will probably be from The List.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Funding Education

I don't think the provision of free education in Scotland can last.

Under EU law, it is illegal for a member state to charge students from another member state higher fees than they charge their own students. What this means is that students from France, Germany, Greece, and anywhere else can apply to a Scottish university, and receive a free education. (Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, however, are charged fees, because the law does not say that you can't charge students from a different part of the same member state higher fees. I suspect this will be successfully challenged in the EU courts - in any case, it's a moral wrong.)

Scotland cannot afford to pay for free education for the whole of Europe. Even though it is right that education should be free, there is just no way this can last. (And, if the UK government were ever to see sense, and reverse their disastrous policy of fees, the same would apply - although education should be free, I don't see how it can be.)

So, what is to be done?

I think we should take a look at the way pensions work.

In theory, what happens is that people (and employers, and government) pay contributions into a pension fund throughout their working lives. These contributions then get invested by (in theory) very clever people, where they accumulate value over time. Then, when the person retires, they gradually withdraw that money over the remainder of their lives, giving them a decent standard of living.

(Now, it's worth noting that this system has been utterly broken by various forms of idiocy. People haven't been investing enough, those investments have been in truly hideous places, and the government has had a nasty habit of stealing the money that should have paid for tomorrow's pensions in order to pay for the budget of today. However, the principle at work is sound.)

In theory, then, a similar mechanism could be adopted to pay for education:
  1. At birth, the government should set aside a fund for each child, as Labour actually did with the "Child Trust Funds" idea.

  2. Over the next several years, a portion of National Insurance (or general taxation) income should likewise be taken and invested in these same funds.

  3. Over the 16-18 years that the child is growing and attending school, therefore, a nice little pot of money should be growing, invested in their name.

  4. When the student leaves school and proceeds on to university, college, an apprenticeship, or whatever other studies/training they do (including education abroad, if that is what they choose to do), the money that has been invested in their name is used to pay the fees for their education. (The money in the pot can only be spent on education of various sorts.)

  5. When the person reaches the age of 25, any money that remains unspent is re-absorbed into the general pot, and invested for the next generation of students.

  6. Universities (and colleges, and apprenticeships, and so on) should charge fees, at a level set by the government. That level should be set so that the 'Educational Fund' available to the average student is sufficient to pay for at least five years of further education, counted from the time at which it is needed.

  7. When people (under the age of 25) enter the country as permanent residents, whether from EU member states, as immigrants, or as asylum seekers, they should immediately be assigned their own 'Educational Fund', which would start to grow, from £0, as indicated in points 1-3. This would then probably pay for part of a training course, meets our obligations under EU law, but doesn't require us to fund free education for all-comers.

  8. It is likely that we should also bring in various educational grants as well, providing some sort of cost-of-living help for students from poorer backgrounds, to enable successful asylum seekers to afford an appropriate education, and so on.

And that's it. That way, universities (and other training facilities) are able to charge the fees that they say they need to in order to survive, our young people don't have to pay massive fees or take on huge debts, the system is properly funded, and we meet our obligations under EU law.

The major weakness in the system, of course, comes if the money indicated in points 1-3 is in fact not invested, but rather is used in the short term for tax breaks or to balance the budget - as has happened with pensions. Sadly, I don't know how to solve the problem of people!

Work is Obsolete

Back in the day, the shows that predicted the future would generally present to us a vision of the future where people would have to work for only a few hours, a few days a week.

What they neglected to tell us was that this future was no dream of a more leisurely society; it is in fact a nightmare. The fundamental problem: no company is going to pay people to not work. The model presented therefore only worked if the people who were then working for companies owned a share in that company, so that when the company automated the process, and they no longer needed to work, they would still benefit from the prosperity of the company. This was not the case, it is not the case now.

We now live in a world much like that described. In a great many industries, automation has rendered a lot of workers unnecessary. When cars are manufactured, there are still people involved in designing the cars, there are people involved in tooling up the robots to build the cars, and there are people involved in testing the cars. But what there are not are large numbers of people on an assembly line building cars - instead, you have a few people monitoring the robots as they do that.

In other jobs, the work is exported to countries where it can be done more cheaply.

And so, where are unskilled and semi-skilled people supposed to work? Tesco? McDonalds? Or are they supposed to remain permanently unemployed, and live off the state?

The problems with all three 'solutions' is money. The wages offered by the employers listed are pretty low, meaning that actually living on that income is difficult to impossible. Likewise, subsisting on benefits is no way to live long-term.

But the state can't afford to vastly increase the level of unemployment benefits. On the contrary, we really need to get that bill down, because we already can't afford it.

And make no mistake - if Tesco or McDonalds were required to pay their employees much more, they would promptly respond by automating those jobs and getting rid of the staff. In fact, this is already happening - in Tesco, witness the rise of self-service checkouts; in McDonalds, the cook processes are now so carefully specified that a robot could easily do them. The only reason things like shelf-stacking and cooking in McDonalds isn't automated is that it is still (just barely) cheaper to pay a kid minumum wage to do it.

(Likewise, the only reason Nike employ large numbers of people in sweatshops in Asia is that doing so is cheaper than automating the process. If they were forced to pay those workers UK-level, or even US-level, wages for their work, they would get rid of those jobs entirely, and automate the process instead.)

It's a rough situation, and it's only going to get tougher as automation becomes more powerful (we already have robot orderlies in hospitals - how long until every checkout assistant, every waiter, every flight attendant, and so on get replaced with robots?). And, of course, it's even tougher for that segment of our society who cannot readily elevate themselves from 'unskilled' to 'skilled' - and that's not to mention the likelihood that some skilled jobs are likely to become obselete with time (as with miners).

I don't really have any great point to make here, except perhaps to say this: make damn sure your kids get a good education because, unless the revolution comes, they're going to need it!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Adventures in Public Transport

My car died on me on the way to work this morning. Actually, this was really quite scary - I was pulling out into traffic at the time, when I suddenly found I had no acceleration available. Fortunately, there was nobody behind me, and I was able to reverse back out of the way of the oncoming vehicles. The consequence of this was that I was left without a car, and still needing to get into work.

And so, I was finally forced to do something I've long felt I should do, but never actually wanted to do - I used public transport to get to work.

The argument for public transport is undeniable. Man-made climate change is almost certainly a reality (I'm not 100% convinced, but definitely in the upper 90s), and even if it is not fuel prices are forever escalating. Plus, a decent public transport link stands a chance of turning the dead time spent driving into time I can spend reading, or otherwise use, at least to an extent.

And I live a mile from both a bus station and a rail station, and I work a couple of miles from an airport. One is in a medium-sized town, the other on the outskirts of Scotland's second-largest city. Surely there must be a decent public transport option?

Well, actually, no. I've investigated this before, and there is a link that is adequate for emergencies, but nothing else. It turns out to be a bit better than I thought (at least things seem to run mostly on time), but still...

The best way from home to work is by bus. There are lots of different arrangements, most requiring the use of at least two buses. The direct option is a pretty long and roundabout route, taking a bit more than an hour from getting on the bus to getting off. In theory, the indirect options are much faster... but unfortunately they require the interaction of multiple buses, which inevitably drags things out (as you get off one bus and wait for another).

The net effect is that the best route is actually to walk the mile to the bus station, get the X38, wait an hour, and then walk half a mile to the office. Unfortunately, the bus itself is extremely rattly and takes a very roundabout route (as noted previously) - the net effect was that reading was quite difficult, and I managed to get travel sick. All in all, not the best.

To their credit, the service is reasonably frequent. Between 5:30 and 6:30 (pm), there are almost 7 buses heading home. In the morning, there's a similar flurry of activity at the peak hours (which I missed this morning). So that's not too bad - I can basically travel pretty much when I would want to.

And the price is... well, the price is okay, I guess. A return ticket costs £8.10. Travelling by car probably costs about £6 each day, maybe a little more. I daresay there are cheaper tickets or passes available for folks who travel every day.

So, on two of the three counts that matter to me, the service is actually okay. I could live with the price (although it would be annoying to have to pay more), and the service is frequent enough.

But the duration of the trip is not good enough. Including the walk at each end, the journey probably takes an hour and a half. That's okay occasionally, but it's not going work on a regular basis - it would effectively mean giving up the band and the game, which is not something I'm willing to consider. It would mean extending my working day from 7:00 - 17:30 (wake up to returning home) to 6:00 - 18:30, which isn't acceptable - I refuse to live for the weekends.

So there it is. I'm actually quite glad that I was forced into taking the bus today, since it has forced me to seriously investigate the pros and cons. But it has merely confirmed what I was pretty sure of previously - that the public transport options aren't good enough to use regularly. To correct it, they will really need to put on a bus that runs from Falkirk Bus Station, along the M9 and then the A8, probably to Edinburgh Airport, and certainly to the centre of town. Basically, make the X38 an actual express service, rather than the same service as the 38 but with 'X' in front of the name!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Update on Goals

It's hard to believe that we're already nearing the end of October. It seems only yesterday that I was moaning that July was lasting forever! (Unfortunately, July was followed by two woeful months in August and September. October, by contrast, has been reasonably okay, except for one thing.)

Anyway, it's long past time that I did another update on my goals for the year:
  • Super Secret Goal #3 - This is done. Thus far, I haven't annoyed Lady Chocolat enough for her to reverse her decision, which is good!
  • Blog more - This is well in hand. However, I would like to get to 999 posts by April 11th next year, just in time for Part Four, but that looks over-ambitious.
  • Lose weight. This is well in hand.
  • The band got promoted last year, which meant that our goal for 2011 was to attain promotion again. This proved to be far too ambitious, and so this goal is failed.
  • The situation with the Saturday game is now basically resolved - we're going to try to get together for as many games as possible between now and the end of March, after which we're calling it a day. We might try to get together for the occasional game after that, but it won't be a regular gathering (or attempt at the same).
  • Write something - this is in progress, although not in the manner that I expected. (Curiously, I find myself in the process of writing a D&D 4e adventure... which is odd.) Due to the nature of the writing project, I won't be able to link to it or post it here. Still, that's a goal achieved.
  • Relax more - This is done, and proved problematic. The issue was that as I relaxed, I took my eye off the ball in a number of areas, which meant that the problems in August/September were magnified by many other things going wrong at the same time. This leads to the bizarre situation that I am now working harder to keep track of everything, and yet at the same time am actually more relaxed than I was when I was allegedly relaxing!
  • On books: I'm now in the last 200 pages of "War and Peace", and should be finished that by the time Lady Chocolat returns from Kenya. I'm up-to-date on the Pathfinder books. I have, however, abandoned my read-through of the 1st Edition hardbacks, as they proved not to be terribly interesting.
  • I have now painted three out of four batches of Orks, and have put the first coat on the fourth batch. Additionally, I have painted all but one of the other figures that were waiting to be done. I need to find some time to apply varnish to several figures that are otherwise complete, need to re-undercoat the one remaining "miscellaneous" figure, and then need to actually paint that one! All being well, I should finish all of these around the end of November.
  • On the wedding preparations: These are either well in hand, or we've forgotten something important. As far as I'm aware, the biggest thing that is yet to be done is for me to book the wedding cars, which I'm intending to get done by the time LC returns.

And that's it. Three done, one failed, and six ongoing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Who do you work for, again?

Yesterday, the House of Commons were obliged to debate the question of whether or not we should have a referendum on pulling out of the EU. And, in the course of doing so, they very neatly displayed one of the major things that is wrong with politics in this country.

For the record, I'm not in favour of leaving the EU, and nor do I think having a referendum is actually a good idea, but that's another post for another day.

However, the government have put in place this ePetition system, where if people get enough electronic signatures on an issue, the HoC are required to debate it. Enough signatures were gathered, and so debate it they did. Sort of.

The thing is, what actually happened is that the three party leaders each used a "three-line whip" to instruct the various MPs on how to vote. Thus, the MPs went through the motions, had the debate, and then duly went and voted against the referendum. Done.

(As I understand it, the 'whips' work like this - each MP is issued with a schedule of the events for the day/week, including the various votes to be taken. The whips will indicate their party's position on the various measures, and then underline the issues based on how important they are. The more times something is underlined, the more important it is, with three lines being the most important. Hence, a "three line whip" means "you will vote this way, and we really, really mean it.")

And so, the net effect from yesterday is that it mattered not a jot what the people of this country want - David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and Ed Miliband have collectively decided we can't have a referendum, and that's that.

But I never voted for Dave, Nick or Ed. In fact, I was never given the opportunity to vote for any of those three. My MP is Eric Joyce. (Okay, I didn't vote for him either, but that's not the point.)

His job is to represent me, and the other people living in my constituency. His job is most definitely not to meekly accept the dictates of Ed Miliband and vote for whatever he says.

(Now, that doesn't necessarily mean he should always do what the majority of his constituents want. That's not how a representative democracy works. However, it does mean that he should represent us and our interests, regardless of what Ed may want.)

And the same is true of all the other MPs up and down the country, of all parties. Dave, Nick and Ed are not running a dictatorship.

I think this is one of the most fundamental things wrong with our democracy - the central parties have acquired too much power and do not properly represent the will of the people. And people sense this, hence the growing disillusionment with politics in this country.

I think three things need to change:
  • It needs to be written into law that an MP must maintain his or her primary residence within the boundaries of the constituency for three years prior to the election. (A grandfather clause is probably required for the incumbents, both for when this law is brought in, and also in the event of boundary change. But it should apply only to the incumbent, and only if they maintain the same primary residence.) Note that this, at a stroke, eliminates one of the worst excessive of the expenses scandal as well - the practice of 'flipping' the primary residence for tax reasons becomes impossible.

    (It does, however, create problems for MP-couples, such as Balls/Cooper or Harman/Dromey. Frankly, I have no problem with that - too many of our MPs live lives completely isolated from the real world. Anything that cuts down on that is a good thing.)

  • The selection of candidates must be done by the local party without interference from the central party. This practice of parachuting in favoured candidates to safe seats is a disgrace and must be stopped. Likewise, Labour's policy of all-women shortlists is undemocratic and unacceptable. The local party should draw up their shortlist, and then nominate their candidate. (And it must be illegal for the central party to block campaign funds for a candidate they don't like - otherwise, the central party will retain too much influence.)

    (Unfortunately, this is likely to set back the process of making parliament more diverse by several steps, as the loss of all-women shortlists reduces the number of women candidates, at least in the short term. This is extremely unfortunate. However, we can either have an undemocratically-appointed diverse parliament or we can have a democratically-elected parliament with no guarantee of any diversity. We can have one of these. I choose democracy.)

  • Within parliament, the whips must be stripped of any sanction. They can continue to indicate the preferred vote of their respective party leadership, but they should not be able to do anything about so-called rebels. Remember, MPs work for us and should be representing our interests, not those of Dave, Nick, and Ed, so who exactly are they rebelling against?


(We should also probably have some legal way of removing our MP if he ceases to represent us properly. However, in practice I suspect such a thing would be unworkable - either recalls would be so common as to prevent parliament from operating, or the required conditions would be so strong that they could never actually be used.)

That's what I think, anyway.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A New Song

This should amuse Welshy...

At band last Thursday, the Pipe Major presented us with some new music. Apparently, we'll be learning a new 'song', one more complex than the norm. Instead of all playing together, we'll be learning this in four parts, which get put together...

Yes, the band are going to be learning Pachelbel's 'Canon', or at least the rather poor approximation that is possible when you only have 9 notes available.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Okay Alex, you win

I have changed my mind on Independence.

For me, there were always two arguments against independence. The first was the matter of my family ties to England. Naturally, this argument remains unchanged.

However, the second argument was economic - I didn't see how an independent Scotland would be at all better off, especially in the current global environment. And given the nature of my job, it seemed likely that I would have to move to England to find work. While I have nothing in principle against living in England again, I didn't want to be forced into doing so.

Unfortunately, I have gradually become disillusioned with the government in Westminster to a point where the economic argument can no longer hold. George Osborne is quite clearly incompetent - although the argument for cuts was extremely strong, he's managed to implemented them in exactly the worst way possible, hurting a lot of people for no benefit, and he now clearly has no Plan B.

Meanwhile, we've had the government launch yet another interventionist war in Libya (that seems to have gone okay... but how long until the civil war?), and we've had yet another betrayal on tuition fees for students.

That in itself wouldn't be a deal-breaker, if I saw any hope on the other side of the house. But Ed Milliband is a lightweight, of no more substance than David Cameron. Worse, he's surrounded by most of the same people who were so disasterous in the last years of the Labour government. Their record on the economy was equally horrible, their record on civil liberties was nothing short of a disgrace... and don't get me started on Harriet Harman.

And, of course, it was the Labour government who took the almost unforgivable steps of first introducing tuition fees, and then adding top-up fees (this latter passed only with support of Scottish MPs, when it was properly an England-only matter). Basically, they opened the door for the current government to devastate our future.

So, given that I would rather not vote than vote for any of the Big Three parties, given that the current government have turned out to be a complete disaster, and given that the current arrangement is still the best available option of a really bad bunch, and given that I see no hope for change... the argument for independence has become overwhelming.

And frankly, England should be joining us.

(I will note, however, that I reserve the right to change my mind again, should circumstances change. In politics, making a U-turn is regarded as a bad thing. In real life, it's called rational thinking.)

#29: "Empire of Silver", by Conn Iggulden

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dear Hollywood

Next time you want to do a "Three Musketeers" movie, please could you have someone actually read the novel and then adapt that? Don't just have someone watch the old film versions and then steal the 'best bits'.

To be honest, "The Three Musketeers" is actually rather amusing in places. Other places are just stupid, and then there are bits that are worse. And it's really very noticable - the closer the film is to the novel, the better it is. The further it gets from the novel, the stupider it becomes.

But the thing that was really annoying was that they were clearly stealing large bits of the film from the Keifer Sutherland/Charlie Sheen version of the movie. Now that's also quite an enjoyable, if stupid, movie, but it's certainly no adaptation of the novel. In fact, in several places it's actually closer to "Star Wars" than anything else - to the extent that I was able to predict several parts of dialogue on my first viewing of that film.

"The Three Musketeers" is a great novel, one of the best I've read. (I'm not so fond of the sequel, though!) And it probably is ripe for a proper remake - although the Michael York version is pretty definitive, it is also very old, and now largely forgotten. So a new adaptation could be good, without the need for lots of invention by inferior writers.

Still, I did enjoy the bit in Versailles. Firstly because it reinforced the notion of the "Versailles Triangle", but also because the film is set in the reign of Louis XIII, and Versailles was build by his son, Louis XIV.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ah, the Incompetent Man

We're three episodes into "Terra Nova" now. I'm giving it six before I decide whether to stick with it or not. Thus far, the signs do not look good. The first episode was quite good, the second less good, and the third worse. It seems they've spent their entire budget on (fairly poor) CGI dinosaurs, leaving them nothing for script, cast or any of the other things that would make the show good.

But the third episode also featured a scene that really got on my nerves.

The two main characters in the show are a husband and wife team. As per standard TV rules, the wife is a hyper-intelligent driven career woman/perfect mother. The husband is a cop. Now, meaning no disrespect to cops, that pairing of 'superwoman' with 'ordinary guy' is pretty overdone, and frankly annoying as hell.

Still, I suppose it wasn't too bad. In that first episode they did establish that he really wasn't any ordinary cop, as he broke out of one max-security facility and then broke into another, all within the first twenty minutes of the show. So, fair enough, I guess.

Anyway, 'ordinary guy' is fair enough. Nothing wrong with 'ordinary guy'. Just as long as they don't make him incompetent...

So, we get to the third episode, where the superwoman wife has to work late at night, leaving her husband to cook dinner and look after their three kids.

Can you guess where this is going?

Yep, sure enough, he proved to be incompetent. This guy who can effortlessly break out of, and then into, max-security facilities found himself bamboozled by the impossible task of cooking dinner for four while handling the needs of three kids. Apparently, he is trained in the use of a frying pan, but only as a means of defence against cartoon creatures.

In the end, his (again, hyper-smart) daughter took pity on his panicked state, and cooked dinner for the family.

Actually, come to think of it, I'm not sure which is the more offensive lesson there: "men are incompetent", or "women, despite whatever skills or intelligence you have, your place is in the kitchen - because men can't".

Either way, it's pathetic.

No, you don't need more information

Whenever the powers that be ask the people what they need to solve some vast an unsolveable problem, the top answer that always comes back is "we need more information".

How do we cut down on teenage pregnancy? Kids need better sex education to give them the information they need to make informed choices.

How do we cut down on obesity? Parents need more information about what goes into products, so they can make informed choices.

No. Rubbish.

People in the UK in 2011 have easier access to more and better information than at any previous time in history. Kids today know more about sex than Casanova and Lucrezia Borgia combined. Parents need only look at the packaging of food to gain a wealth of information about what is in it - all the ingredients are listed and there's a breakdown of calorific and nutrition information. And if there's anything you don't know, Google makes every question an easy question.

"We don't have enough information," is an excuse, and it just is not true.

The issue with teenage pregnancy is not that kids don't know they shouldn't be having unprotected sex. They know, but when the time comes they choose to take the risk rather than not have sex at all. Or they just don't think at all. Or whatever. It's not that they don't know, it's that they don't think.

For the overwhelming majority of people, the solution to obesity is simply a matter of "eat less, move more". That's it. There is no magic bullet, there's no special combination of foods that will do the job better. (And where there are foods we should eat more or less, that's well known too - nobody can reasonably claim not to know about "5 a day".)

These are hard problems to fix, either because there's no simple solution or because the simple solution requires time, dedication and discipline (and, frankly, is really quite painful).

But "we don't have enough information" is a lie, and it's a lie that is told to avoid taking responsibility for actually dealing with the problem.

Twitter Woes

I have next to no time whatsoever for Twitter. Frankly, I consider it a medium fit only for rabble-rousing, inanity, and fawning over celebrities.

Even Twitter's great 'success' is really nothing of the sort: Stephen Fry was able to get action taken about an injustice that was about to be perpetrated, but not because it was an injustice but because he is Stephen Fry. The storm that was kicked up was not from people who had been aware of the issue and took action. In the best case, it was from people who didn't know about it, learned about it, and then took action. In the more common case, it was from people who didn't care to know about the issue until Stephen Fry told them, then they (maybe) learned about it, and took action. But in the distressingly common case, it was taken by people who didn't know or care about the issue, but who took action because Stephen Fry told them to. Had a random Joe Bloggs twittered about the same thing, there would be absolutely no chance of action being taken unless some celebrity just happened to learn about it and re-tweet, and that applies regardless of the rights or wrongs of the issue at hand.

In other words, this was a case where two wrongs just happened to make a right.

Unfortunately, I have just inherited the role of webmaster for the pipe band, and one of the key duties that this entails is maintaining the Twitter feed, so I'm stuck. I guess I have no choice but to regularly inform the world that I had a sandwich for lunch, or something.

Or at least, that's the plan. In order to confirm that I've taken over the account, I need to log in. But I can't log in because I'm not registered. And I can't register because I have an account associated with my email address already! I can't confirm that the band's account is now associated with my email address, because the band's account is now associated with my email address.

And all this for a service that I really don't want to use!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Redecorating the Fortress of Solitude

It's fair to say that the standard of the decoration in the flat is somewhat basic. Other than a couple of paintings hung in the kitchen and one in the spare bedroom, the walls are generally painted a plain and neutral colour. And that suits me fine; I don't exactly spend my time staring at the walls.

However, over the last few months I've had to face the prospect that this is going to change. After all, fair's fair; once Lady Chocolat lives there, she does indeed have a right to redecorate. Within reason, of course.

It's that "within reason" that's important. What does it mean? Well, in list form:

  • No spending money, since we don't have any.
  • No potpourri.
  • No cushions.
  • No potpourri.
  • Whatever other entirely unreasonable and arbitrary things I think up next.

But other than that, and provided nothing actually changes, it's all good.

Oh yeah, and we will redo the bathroom, just as soon as we can. "Barely adequate" is about the right description there.

(There are many obvious disadvantages to LC being in Kenya for the next month. One of the few advantages is that I can quietly negotiate the new status quo without risk. Tee hee!)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tyranny of the To-do List

Lady Chocolat is currently in Kenya, in what represents possibly the single worst wrong turn in the whole history of bad directions. Apparently, it's likely to take her some six weeks to find her way home.

In the meantime, I have a little quiet time to catch up with a little light reading. And other tasks.

Actually, LC has left me with a list of things that need to be done, some with more urgency than others. Much of this is wedding-related, and fairly unimportant. We dealt with almost all of the big issues before she left, leaving the booking of the wedding cars as the biggest remaining task undone.

I have finally dared to venture into a hairdressers and made an appointment to get my hair cut. Frankly, I'm dreading Friday.

I have finished Volume Two of "War and Peace", which is good. At this point I am taking a short break to read Conn Iggulden's latest novel, "Empire of Silver", which is a great read thus far. And then I'll get back to the third and final volume of WaP.

The third batch of Orks is proceeding apace. This weekend I finished applying the shading and highlights to the flesh, and started on the major blocks of colour in their clothing. This batch should be finished in a couple of weeks, and then I can start on the final batch. I'm now very stronly leaning towards stopping painting again once these figures are all finished - I'm not enjoying these last batches as much as the previous ones.

A couple of months back I rather foolishly agreed to do some writing for an online project. I'm not sure that project is going anywhere, as a couple of people have already dropped out, but in any event it is my intention to finish my part of it, and then quietly drop off the radar there. It seemed a good idea at the time, but has turned out to be just another diversion I don't really need.

And the next thing that I'll probably need to tackle is the task of updating the band's website. Our previous lead drummer set up the site, and did a good job of maintaining it, but with his leaving it makes sense for us to bring the maintenance in-house, which of course means me doing it. (Although we'll be discussing that at the committee meeting tomorrow - there's a possibility we'll instead decide to contract with him to continue maintaining the site.)

I'm sure I was supposed to have some free time around about now?

How (not) to write a good mystery adventure

The group for the Saturday game managed to actually get together this week. We had The Talk at which it was discussed that as of April the group is essentially done. We discussed possibly ways forward, but I don't think anything will come of it.

Anyway, that's by the way.

The game on Saturday wasn't great. Our characters were agents of the Inquisition, seeking out signs of heresy on a far-flung outpost of the Empire. So, we arrived, made our introductions, and started investigating the strange goings-on.

The investigations didn't go well. We spent several hours absolutely convinced we were missing something desperately important, because there seemed to be absolutely no connection between events. There was a sense that we urgently needed to put the mystery together... and absolutely no clues as to how we should do that.

At length, we found the heretic and dealt with him, but we did this via the cunning expedient of just waiting around until things got out of control, and then just mopping up.

It turned out that we hadn't carefully avoided all the clues that would have helped us solve the mystery sooner. It turned out that there was no pattern to events, and that it was just a bunch of stuff that happened. And, to be honest, we caught the bad guy more because we were just itching to cause some trouble, rather than because he actually hame himself away.

Still, success!

The key problem here is in the way the adventure was written (it was a pre-gen adventure, so not the GM's fault). And the crux of the problem lies in one of the key differences between fiction and a game.

When Sherlock Holmes investigates as crime, he walks into the room, finds all the clues that the author wants him to find, comes to the conclusions the author wants him to come to, goes to the next location, and repeat... Because the author controls everything, he knows both who committed the murder, why and how, but he also controls all of Holmes' thought processes, the steps of his investigation, and so on. Moreover, he can give Holmes as many or as few clues as needed, include red herrings or irrelevancies, or whatever else, safe in the knowledge that Holmes can just jump to whatever conclusion is needed, no matter how flimsy the evidence was.

In an RPG, this just isn't the case. There's no guarantee that the PCs will even look for the clues, much less that they'll look for them in the right place. Even if they do think to look where clues are to be found, there's no guarantee that the dice will be kind enough for them to actually find the clues.

Even once the PCs have found clues, it is by no means certain that they will have all the information they need to work things out. And there's no guarantee that the players will come to the conclusions that were expected, especially given the penchant of players for latching on to irrelevant details, and especially if there is a red herring in their somewhere.

Unfortunately, while most adventure writers realise these crucial differences between fiction and games, they tend not to be very good at adapting for them. Too often, adventures can become stuck because a single vital clue is missed, or because the author expects the players to follow a particular chain just as Holmes would, or because the author decided to be clever and put a false trail in the adventure.

I don't have a lot more to add here, not least because most people who read this blog have little interest in writing mystery adventures for RPGs (but also because most of what I know I've lifted from the work of other people on the subject). Still, here are some handy rules of thunb:


  • Make clues easy to find. Generally, if the PCs look in the right place, they should find the clues.
  • Have a number of 'floating clues' - if the PCs just generally investigate, or "ask around" or whatever, let the roll, and on a success give them a clue.
  • Give at least three clues for each conclusion you want to PCs to reach. This assumes they'll miss one, not realise the significance of a second, but finally 'get it' on the third.
  • Don't build your mystery as a chain of events for characters to follow. But then, that should really be true of every adventure!
  • Don't include red herrings. The PCs will find their own irrelevant details to obsess over, will come to all sorts of wrong conclusions, and will generally do this bit for you. There's no need to muddy the waters further.
  • Provide some sort of 'escape hatch' for the GM to use for those cases where things just go horribly wrong. Otherwise, the players are likely to get really bored once they find they simply can't solve the puzzle.

And that's pretty much that.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Cutting Precisely the Wrong Amount

The UK has major economic problems. That's not exactly news. We have a very large and growing debt, with ever-growing interest payments that need to be made. We also have a very nasty deficit - we're collectively spending more money than we're bringing in.

So, those bright sparks in the government have hit on a solution. They've decided that the way to improve things is to cut everything in sight. Every department will take a cut, loads of jobs will be cut, services will be cut. That way, we'll spend less money, and everything will be well.

Well, fair enough, I suppose. Of course, it will be absolutely awful for people who rely on those departments, and jobs, and services, but the truth is that we just can't afford them. And if it fixes the long-term problem...

Well, except...

It turns out that the cuts aren't reducing the debt, which we knew, but they aren't even reducing the deficit. All they done is reduced the rate at which the deficit is increasing. The problem is getting worse, just slightly more slowly than before. (We're still heading over a cliff, and can't steer away. Rather than actually use the brakes, they've just eased off on the accelerator a bit.)

In other words, our oh-so-wonderful government has managed to hit on precisely the wrong level of cuts to impose. They've managed to make life much harder for a great many people, without actually doing anything to fix the problems.

Muppets.

Either cut enough to actually fix the problem or, if that is judged too painful (since people do, after all have to live here), then cut nothing and just content yourselves with whatever minor efficiency savings you can make.

But cutting just enough to really hurt people, and make them really hate you, without actually doing anything to fix the problem? That's utter madness.

#28: "Pathfinder: Night of Frozen Shadows", by Greg A. Vaughan

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Conversion to Energy Saver Light Bulbs

According to Google, I have never discussed Energy Saver lightbulbs on this blog before. I am more than a little surprised about that, since I was sure I would have noted my disgust with them at some point.

Oh well, this makes my conversion all the less spectacular.

My problems with Energy Saver bulbs have traditionally been two-fold. The first is that they give out a vastly inferior quality of light, making it impossible to read by these bulbs. The second is that they take forever to warm up, during which time the inferior light level is even more inferior. Yes, it's inferior to an inferior thing. That's pretty bad.

However...

The light bulb in my bedroom blew some months back, and given the EU's decision to ban effective lightbulbs, I was rather stuck. And so I headed out to Homebase, rather than the more traditional Tesco, in search of a new bulb.

It took some time, but eventually I identified the brightest Energy Saver bulb they had on offer, and proceeded to spend an absurd amount of money on two of them. These were promptly installed in both the bedroom and the spare bedroom, leaving only the living room with a traditional bulb. (The rooms I don't use were fitted with Energy Savers some time ago, if for no other reason than that I don't use them. The spare bedroom had had an Energy Saver fitted, but the bulb was faulty and so needed replaced.)

The upshot is that these new bulbs are just barely less effective than the 100W bulb that was fitted (they claim to be equivalent to 90W), and they heat up in less than 30 seconds, rather than the six hours that is traditional for Energy Savers. I find this to be an adequate substitution for the traditional bulbs that are now banned.

Of course, I've only had these bulbs installed for a few months. I have no idea how well they'll last, and degredation has also been a problem with Energy Saver bulks in the past. Still, for now they're good enough.

In conclusion: provided you are willing to spend absurd amounts of money on the highest quality Energy Saver bulbs you can find, Energy Savers are an adequate substitute for, and almost as good as, the traditional bulbs they have replaced.

Truly, I have been converted.