Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Resolving the Region 1 Issue

On Monday, the band were playing at the opening of a new Tesco superstore. Because this meant getting up early in the morning, I retired to bed early on Sunday... only to find myself unable to sleep.

This proved to be somewhat annoying, but it did give me opportunity to deal with one of the issues that had been plaguing me for some days - I got up, dug out the instruction manuals for the surround sound amplifier and Sky+ box, and set to work.

I have thus been able to re-assign the various audio inputs on my amp so that they actually make sense again (that is, to watch the TV, you now set it to "TV" mode, and so on).

The other thing I discovered in all of this was that it was also possible to wire up my DVD player without any extra cables at all - the Sky+ box had an extra SCART input, and so I connected the DVD player through that. Sadly, the amp only allows full audio input from two sources, so we'll have to manage with stereo sound from the DVD player, but since it's only for region 1 DVDs that should be fine.

I even discovered that there's space to connect up the Playstation 2 in addition to everything else, so if we're so inclined we could even run that in parallel.

All in all, it was a bit of a triumph.

New PC

It's always fun getting a new PC. A chance to start afresh, with a clean slate, and without all the crud that gradually builds up in a PC as it is used. Nice!

Except that you inevitably have to then go through a long process of identifying the software you need and reinstalling that, of setting up all the preferences so that the PC is actually pleasant to use, and a whole load of other hassle. One of my particular favourites is the task of copying across all the vital data that has been built up over the years, which of course you don't want to lose.

Basically, the idea of having a new PC is great, the short-term process of getting a new PC sucks for a few days, and then actually having a new PC is quite nice - for a few weeks, until the novelty wears off.

Still, new PC! Shiny!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Last Game

After the fund-raising, I spent Saturday afternoon running the Star Wars game I talked about in a previous post. This was probably my last game before the wedding in April, and one that I had been looking forward to for some time. It was also one that I had put a fair amount of work into.

And it was okay. Not spectacular, just okay.

Sigh.

There were really two issues at work here that I think contributed to my dissatisfaction. The first, and probably most significant, was that I was just a bit too over-loaded on Saturday. I got back to the flat a mere ten minutes before the scheduled start time, and hadn't even finished getting changed before the first knock on the door. In hindsight, I should have given myself at least an hour to wind down from the fund-raising before trying to run the game.

The other issue is that RPGs are incredibly dependent on the people around the table. Ultimately, it doesn't matter all that much which game you're playing, or how exciting the premise is, or the nature of the setting, or the characters, or how well prepared the DM is. The majority of the enjoyment of the group will come from the people around the table.

At the legendary Hunter game of last year, we had a spectacular group, who really grabbed their characters, were excited at the premise, and who really ran with it. At the Christmas game, again, we had a great group round the table, who generated all sorts of craziness, bouncing off one another.

On Saturday, we were slightly hampered in that one player completely forgot it was on, and when called felt that he should instead use the time to study. And fair enough - actually important things must come first! The other three players took their characters and worked with them, playing competently... but there didn't quite seem to be that 'spark' that turns an okay game into a spectacular one.

(Plus, there wasn't much by way of plotting, sudden but inevitable betrayals, or general backstabbing as I had expected, and maybe hoped. But maybe there just wasn't the opportunity for it?)

Still, everyone had fun, which is the main goal. There were some lovely and iconic scenes. And, of course, they spotted the Ackbar/trap correlation immediately. I neither found myself running out of material, nor having large amounts of excess material prepared. All of which was to the good.

The lessons learned, I think, are fourfold:
  1. The 'magic' that turns a decent game into a great game can't really be manufactured, so all the DM should try to do is run a functional game, and let the players take care of the rest.
  2. There should have been more opportunities for scheming, and more overt opportunities for scheming.
  3. A game like that probably needs at least four players. Additionally, there are a couple of our players who serve as ideal "agents of chaos" - that's something this game could have done with a bit more of.
  4. I need to remember to give myself more time between activities in future. Starting the game while tired was not a good plan.

And that's that. Barring a sudden resurgence of the Saturday Game (which I don't now expect), that's my last game before the wedding. After the wedding, all being well, the next game will be the restart of "The Eberron Code". And then I potentially have a game to run in September, titled "Black Crusade: A Heresy of Angels". But whether that happens or not will depend enormously on how the next few months play out.

I do apologise

On Saturday, the band engaged in the worst fund-raising event ever. We had applied to the council for the right to do a "flag day" collection in the local shopping centre, which basically involved showing up in our kilts and standing around rattling tins for several hours. No playing, no entertaining the crowds, not even bag packing. Just hours of tedious standing.

And, of course, we didn't raise much money, certainly not enough to justify twelve people each giving up three hours out of their Saturday. Of course, this was pretty much inevitable. We're in that awkward period when the Janurary sales have ended, nobody has any money, and everyone is pretty miserable. Of course people didn't want to donate to a pipe band that, as far as they could tell, didn't actually play the pipes.

So, I'm sorry to the people of Falkirk for that imposition on your good name. We'll try not to do such an event again - it's not worth our while, and we'd much rather be doing something (almost anything) else.

(Of course, the ideal is to try to support the band through playing events. I suspect that might be nothing more than a dream - we'd probably have to play pretty much every week to raise the same funds. Still, perhaps between playing and the bad packing events that tend to be quite profitable...)

#9: "A Town Like Alice", by Nevil Shute (a book from The List, although, sadly, not a good one)

Bit of a cheek

As you probably know, I'm not a great environmentalist. However, I certainly agree that we should recycle as much as reasonably possible.

But, as I've said before, reuse is better than recycling, and not using something in the first place is even better still.

In particular, one of the things that I most object to is the endless flow of junk mail through the post, almost none of which is of any relevance. I find these particularly annoying - not only is there the waste of recycling the envelopes (which shouldn't be used at all), but there's also frequently a need to shred the letters themselves before recycling, adding a waste of energy to the offense.

I find it particularly galling when the spam mail comes from companies who have my email address. If they absolutely must send me this junk, they could at least do it electronically, and so generate less waste. (Frankly, I'd rather they just not send it at all, but that's probably too much to ask.) And the absolute worst, of course, are those companies who have my email address, do send me their junk electronically, and then feel the need to send me yet more junk through the regular post!

My bank are perhaps the worst offender of all in this regard. It seems I can barely go a week without getting an offer of a credit card, or a loan, or a mortgage, or house insurance, or... (And, infuriatingly, even if I wanted any of these things from them, it's almost always best to ignore their correspondence and use their online-only specials through Digital Banking. They're wasting all this paper to make me aware of offers I know about, don't want, and know are less good than their other offers!)

Aaargh!

Anyway, on Sunday morning, I went through a batch of junk mail that had built up, recycling some, shredding others. This included yet another offer of home insurance from my bank. And, on the back of the envelope, bold as anything, was a Recycle reminder from my bank!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How Did I Miss the Signs?

I discovered yesterday that "Fringe" was on. Unfortunately, it seems that it returned two weeks ago, and I missed any of Sky's 1,000,000 adverts for this fact. So, I have now missed two episodes.

And, honestly, I don't know if I can be bothered to track down the missing episodes and watch them. Maybe I'll just let "Fringe" fall by the wayside, another show that I no longer watch.

It's a shame. The third season of this show was excellent, and the way it ended was brilliant. But they made some very significant changes in the fourth season, such that I just don't see a reason to care any more.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

...yawa raf raf yxalag a ni ,oga emit gnol A

The game that I'm going to be running on Saturday is a Star Wars game set in a "mirror universe", a concept that is actually much more familiar from Star Trek (although Buffy also used the concept to good effect). The idea is that things are much the same, but subtly skewed. In particular, the moral axis of the setting is skewed, so that what was once good is considered bad, and what was once bad is... well, worse, actually.

Unfortunately, I have found that while such a setting is enormously fun to envisage, and actually quite easy to develop as a concept, actually coming up with a single adventure to fit the setting is really surprisingly hard. The problem is not in coming up with an adventure, as such, but rather with coming up with one that is distinctly a mirror universe adventure, highlighting the major 'fun bits' of the setting.

Sometimes I ponder just how bizarre a life I lead, when these are the sorts of challenges that vex me.

Anyway, I think I've come up with something.

The characters I'm going to be using are a mix of the familiar and the new. The basic premise of the plot is that the characters are escorting the young and idealistic senator from Naboo, one Palpatine, to his new post on Coruscant. Officially, he's travelling in style, but this is of course a decoy. In fact, he's travelling on the Millennium Falcon, under the command of the mighty Captain Chewbacca, a disreputable space pirate if ever there was one.

The PCs, then, number five, although it looks like only four will be used (I don't know which four). The first of these is a disgraced ex-Jedi by the name of Maul, who acts as bodyguard for the senator in the hope of restoring his honour. The other Jedi is one Jane Kenobi, a near-clone (designation Omega Batch 1) of the deceased padawan of Qui-Gon Jinn. The three new characters are a sleazy Ortolan scoundrel/musician, a trigger-happy Rodian mercenary (they always fire first), and a bored soldier who dreams of seeing real action.

To reflect the twisted morality of the mirror universe, I've given each PC a reason why they should betray the rest of the party... and a reason why they shouldn't. I have no idea what they'll choose to do, which should be interesting.

Anyway, the adventure will open with the Millennium Falcon departing Naboo and entering Hyperspace. But it turns out Coruscant is not their destination...

Act One: Point Nadir

It seems that Chewbacca is running a job on the side, and so he takes the Falcon to the space fortress Point Nadir, a hive of scum and villainy if ever there was one. There, he delivers a shipment of deathsticks to Gardula the Hutt, a gift from his boss Jabba.

While in Point Nadir, the party have an opportunity to mingle with the scum, and perhaps engage in some villainy. In particular, various opportunities for betrayal raise their heads. Oh, and there's a bounty hunter...

As they leave, Gardula drops a bombshell - forces of the Alderaan Protectorate are in the process of bombarding the Wookiee colony on Endor, where Chewbacca's mate and children live. Naturally, the idealistic Palpatine wants to rush off and help, and Chewbacca is likewise keen to go (although as an exile, he is honour-bound not to step foot on the moon). But, what will the PCs decide?

Act Two: Endor

This act is, of course, entirely optional. If the PCs refuse to help, Chewbacca will reluctantly set course for Coruscant. But if they do that, there will be consequences, as he won't provide any help later.

Anyway, if the party go to Endor, this act is a simple rescue mission: Chewbacca drops them at a landing zone, they have to race through the forest evading both armies, and 'rescue' a near-feral Wookiee she-warrior in full battle regalia. Having extracted their target, they then have to race to their extraction point, and hope to goodness that the Millennium Falcon hasn't been shot down in the interim.

(There are various ways the PCs could make this easier for themselves. Notably, they could hire some mercs on Point Nadir. Of course, the danger with this approach is that that creates greater opportunities for betrayal...)

Act Three: Coruscant

So, the Millennium Falcon finally makes it to Coruscant. However, word of their cargo has leaked out. On approach, an Agent Ackbar of the port authority comes on the radio and apologetically redirects the Falcon to a different landing platform. (Agent Ackbar because... you know... It's a Trap!)

Anyway, the Falcon sets down, and it met by their contact, the sister and handmaid of th Queen, Kordé Amidala. She is flanked by guards clad in the livery of Naboo's allies, the Alderaan Protectorate.

But, of course, her betrayal is sudden and inevitable. We then proceed to a big set-piece battle featuring airborne skiffs (filled with troops from Haruun Kal, and led by Depa Billaba, the padawan of Jedi master Mace Windu), several floating platforms, possibly some 'rescues' by self-serving mercenaries, whatever final betrayals the party members want to spring, and potentially a high-speed chase through the skies of Coruscant.

Which should be fun.

Epilogue

I honestly have no idea where all of that is likely to go. There's a real good chance that the party will very quickly implode and wipe themselves out, or they might just cut through the plot in an instant. Either way, it should be fun. I hope.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to write a good mystery adventure

Back in October, I did a post on how not to write a good mystery adventure. Given that I am currently in the process of putting together an adventure for a game on Saturday, that may or may not be a mystery, I thought it would be a good time to post about how to put together a good mystery adventure.

I'm going to talk in terms of a murder mystery, but that's just a useful shorthand. Most types of mystery can be developed in much the same way.

Step One: Create the Characters First

More than most other types of adventures, mysteries are all about the characters, both living and dead. If there has been a murder, it is important to know who did it, how they did it, and why they did it. If the murderer discovered that his wife was having an affair and killed her lover in a rage, that's going to lead to a very different set of clues than if the wife was a long-suffering victim of domestic abuse and so quietly poisoned her husband over some months.

So, create the characters first.

Start with the murderer and the victim. Presumably, they knew one another, but what sequence of events brought them to a violent end? Was it the culmination of a long-standing hate, or was it a sudden reversal?

And then, create the characters around the central pairing. What friends and relatives did they have? What about co-workers? How did the local police interact with the two? (This last is particularly important, since if the PCs are investigating the murder, sooner or later they're going to have to interact with the local police. So, you'll want to know who they are.)

Step Two: Fill in the Details of the Mystery

Okay, you know who committed the crime, and who was the victim. Now, fill in the details of how the murder occurred, the set of motives that led to this most heinous of deeds, and the set of clues that immediately resulted.

So, where did the murder occur? And how did the murder occur? Was there anyone else there?

Trace the key events leading up to the murder, starting either a day before the murder took place or the point where the murderer decided to act (whichever came first), through the preparations for the murder, to the point where the two were together, the murder, and then the next day or so.

Who saw the victim last (other than the muderer)? Who knew where he was going? Who might have seen the murderer acting strangely, either before or after the deed?

Consider the nature of the murder itself. All murders generate evidence of some sort, even if that is only the dead body itself. What did the murderer do with the corpse? Did he have clothes to clean or destroy? A murder weapon?

At this point, you don't need to fix specifics. All you need to do is generate a whole bunch of potential clues for the PCs to find.

Step Three: Prepare the Locations

It may seem a bit odd, but it is not until this point that you want to lock down the locations in the adventure. You'll want some nice, mundane locations: the hostel where the PCs are staying, the police station, the local church. You'll want some 'neutral' locations keyed to the victim and the murderer: places of work, their homes, the homes of their ex-wives or mistresses. And you'll want the locations tied directly to the murder: the lock-up where the deed occurred, the pit where the body is buried...

Again, you don't need to tie these down with specifics too tightly at this place. In many cases, these will just be 'stock' locations: the church may well just be a church, same as any other. You'll need a handful of 'flavour' details to bring the place to life, but not much else.

Step Four: Build the Web

Now, we get to put things together.

Start with the conclusion that the PCs need to reach. "Col. Mustard, in the Study, with the crowbar."

Now, determine the clues that they need to find to come to each of these conclusions. Here, you want to establish the minimal set of investigations to get from the start of the adventure to the finish.

But at that point, you might be tempted to stop. Don't!

You need at least three clues for each conclusion the PCs need to reach, and these shouldn't all be in the same place. Furthermore, you need various 'entry points' to the network of characters you have - knowing the Bob has been killed may well point the PCs to speak to his wife, but probably won't direct them to his mistress automatically. But if Bob's wife comments bitterly on "that woman", that may direct them to the mistress, and the clues she has.

And so, you get an adventure that looks like a web. It starts at a single point (the PCs arrive), and ends at a single point ("Col. Mustard, in the Study, with the crowbar."), but in between there are lots of different points, joined by lots of little lines, all marked with clues.

(And when you run it, the PCs are likely to jump all across the web, probably skipping off the lines quite frequently. That's fine - you just need to make sure you have enough to ensure they don't get stuck.)

Step Five: Take a Break

You've forgotten something. No, really, you have. And if you just leave it at that, either the PCs will get stuck, or they'll immediately short-circuit the thing and ruin your adventure.

So, take a break from your planning, for at least an hour and preferably for a day or more. Then come back to it, check the web again, check the characters, and try to think "what if..." And then plug the holes you find.

Step Six: Play!

Some more thoughts:
  • Remember, your players aren't Sherlock Holmes. They won't pick up on fine details unless you specifically point them out, and if you point them out then they're not really details so much as "big honking clues". So, make your clues fairly obvious and easy to find.

  • Everyone lies. In a mystery adventure, it seems to be quite common to have a whole bunch of "nice guys", and then one "shifty guy". That is, the regular folk are nice and helpful, while the murderer glows brightly under detect evil. Gosh, that's a tough mystery... So remember, everyone lies, and everyone has something to hide. The grocer maybe didn't kill anyone, but if he was also having an affair with the murderer's wife, suddenly he might seem a tad evasive. The local police are being awkward - did they have something to do with it, or do they just not want amateurs getting in their way?

  • Don't forget to include some "floating clues". Chances are that, despite your best efforts, the PCs will get stuck. If you have some clues that can be dropped in when they just "ask around", or do something you didn't expect, you can easily get them going again.

  • No matter what you do, there's still a real good chance that the mystery will fail. Either the players simply won't be able to figure it out, or they'll solve it in an instant, quite possibly by accident, and you're stuck for the evening. Ultimately, though, that's not that big a deal. Have the bad guy make a run for it, and turn the adventure into a big chase instead. Or just accept that sometimes things fail.


And that's it.

That Thing We'd Forgotten...

For the past couple of months, whenever I've been asked how the wedding preparations have been going, I've replied that either they're going really well, or we've forgotten something vital.

At the weekend, we discovered what we'd forgotten.

Some months ago, before even Lady Chocolat went off to Kenya on her great adventure, we had a meeting with the aunt of a friend of LC's, who bakes cakes. Thanks to a chance meeting, she had volunteered to do our wedding cake for us, which was a piece of amazing good fortune for several reasons. (Well, two: it means we get a cake from someone we know will do a good job, and we get to not pay "wedding cake" prices.)

Anyway, we left the meeting in good spirit. "That's that sorted out," we thought.

The person we were meeting, though, left with a slightly different impression. She thought we'd gone off to think about it. And, not having heard from us since, she assumed that we'd decided to go another way.

Oops.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. This all came to light when LC happened to make a phone call, and learned of the miscommunication. Fortunately, it remains possible for us to get the cake made as planned. We have another meeting on Sunday, just to finalise things.

So, that's another worry dealt with.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Scary

The organisers of the SPL will need to be careful.

At present, Celtic are 17 points ahead of Rangers, with 11 matches still to play. That is, Celtic are on 68 points, Rangers 51, with a possible 33 to play for. If Celtic can reach 85 points, they win the league. That is, they need to win 6 more matches, if Rangers don't drop any points.

However, two of the remaining matches are against Rangers, including the fourth of their next six matches. If Celtic win that, this simultaneously gives them 3 of the points they need and reduces the target by 3 points - they'll only need 5 wins in total.

And that's if Rangers win all of their games. If they were to draw any one of the next three matches, then it becomes even easier. Celtic would then need to reach only 80 points, racking up 4 wins.

With the last of those wins coming against Rangers on the 25th of March.

There is now almost no doubt that Celtic will win the title. Barring a collapse of epic proportions, the league is over. The only question is one of timing.

And, likewise, there seems little doubt that Celtic will win the remaining Old Firm matches of the season. By that time, Rangers' squad will be reduced from its already-minimal level. The big question would seem to be just how much of a thrashing Celtic will dish out.

But Celtic issuing Rangers with a major thrashing, at Ibrox, and winning the league in the process is a recipe for disaster.

An apology

It seems I owe Virgin Media an apology. When I decided not to take their fibre optic upgrade, and to stick with their DSL internet, I fully expected them to go ahead and switch off my internet totally. However, as of last night, my internet was still working as before, despite a momentary worry on Saturday morning.

So, well done Virgin Media.

#8: "Return of the Black Company", by Glen Cook

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Could Not Be More Wrong

My car was ready for collection. The service department closed at 5:30. And I was at work.

So, I duly went on to the Traveline website to find out the bus times to get me there on time. And, as before, the bus I needed was the number 38 service, running every 20 minutes, and specifically the bus that left at 15:59 - this should give me 40 minutes at the far end to cover just over 2 miles, which should be easy using another bus or even walking.

So, I left work at five minutes to four, and walked to the bus stop. And waited. 15:59 rolled around... but the bus did not. This was not terribly unexpected.

The bus finally arrived at 16:09.

Now, the additional wait wasn't all that horrible, all things considered. It was just 10 minutes, and an relatively nice conditions. That said, it did mean that I ended up with only 25 minutes to cover those 2 miles, having missed the time that my connecting bus should have come. And, of course, it was too far to walk in that time. And so, I had to get a taxi, at a rather nasty premium.

Honestly, what is the point of a website giving bus timetables, if it is off by 10 minutes for a service that runs every 20? It literally cannot be more wrong.

(Also, the distinct smell of urine on the bus was rather unpleasant. I wasn't sure if that was some sort of clever comment, or if it was purely incidental that the bus was taking the piss.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Speaking of Fruit...

It is starting to look increasingly like my car is a lemon. Yesterday, after picking up the flowers, I found that the engine had become incredibly sluggish, with a serious loss of acceleration. That engine management light wasn't back on, but otherwise the problem was exactly the same.

Still, the car was driveable, so I brought it to work and then phoned the garage. They offered two choices: they could see it today, or I could wait until a courtesy car was available in two weeks. So, I chose to have it looked at immediately.

This proved to be a really good choice.

When I started the car in the evening, the engine management light was back on. And when driving the car to the garage this morning, I found I had almost no acceleration at all. Indeed, I thought the car was going to get me killed.

So, it's back in for repairs. I'm reasonably sure that it's going to be another occurrance of the same problem as before, and I don't really have any confidence that it's going to stay fixed this time, either.

We'd been talking about getting Lady Chocolat a car to use sometime in the near future. It's starting to look like we may need to replace my car fairly soon, too. It's turned into a very expensive, and very depressing, mistake.

Experimental Cookery 2012: Sechuan Orange Beef

For Valentine's Day, I performed my now-traditional task of cooking up a nice dinner for myself and Lady Chocolat. This year had a somewhat Chinese theme: we had mini spring rolls to start, followed by Sechuan orange beef, the recipe in "Chinese Food Made Easy" that I had until then most wanted to try.

The aforementioned "Chinese Food Made Easy" is apparently the second book written by Ching-He Huang, who works for the BBC hosting shows. I've had the book for some time, and it's really quite good... provided you can get the ingredients. Unfortunately, she does have a nasty habit of calling for some fairly obscure things that aren't easily sourced at the big Tesco in Falkirk.

Anyway, this was not the case with the Sechuan Orange Beef, which required nothing more obscure than an orange. Which proved to be easily identifiable in Tesco, by virtue of its colour. The cooking process was similarly easy - throw together a quick marinade for the beef, then cook the beef for a few minutes, cook the mushrooms, and serve with rice. Done!

The results were very impressive. Like the Teriyaki chicken of last week, this meal had a somewhat unusual taste, caused by the combination of meat and fruit. Still, it was very nice, and I can definitely see me making this again.

Please, no more...

Apparently, there's going to be a "Transformers 4". Also, it's apparently going to be a reboot of the series, presumably to allow them to rehash the origin story again, because that's really what we need.

Or maybe not. Because apparently Michael Bay has been signed on to direct. And although there is going to be a significantly different cast, Bumblebee and Optimus Prime will still be showing up (but will they be redesigned for the new movies?). Frankly, it all sounds like a bit of a mess.

But, you know what?

I don't care. "Dark of the Moon" has managed to do something that I didn't believe possible - it has killed any interest I have in ever seeing another Transformers movie. Please, just stop.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Oh no!

I was an early adopter of DVD, and actually still have (and use) my original DVD player. It was a very high quality model... back in 1999. And, of course, I had it modified to play discs from all regions.

With our recent TV upgrade, and with the acquisition of the Playstation 3, that DVD player is now obselete. Playback through the PS3 is much better quality, due to the upscaling. And, actually, playback from the DVD player just doesn't look great on the bigger screen. Plus, there aren't any spare connectors on the TV or the surround sound amplifier, which means that even using the DVD player is a bit of a pain.

Unfortunately, the PS3 won't play region 1 DVDs.

I had thought that that would be fine. Over the years, the studios gradually developed some good sense, and synchronised release dates across regions 1 and 2. Meanwhile, the BBFC gave up all pretense of actually doing their job, and started just aping the US ratings/cuts. This meant that there ceased to be any particular incentive to buy region 1 DVDs, and so relatively few of my DVDs are region 1. So, I could gradually let the DVD player slide into obscurity, and it wouldn't be an issue.

But...

Yesterday I decided that I would quite like to watch "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" again, only to discover that it is a region 1 disc. As is "Aliens". And "Terminator 2" (the "Ultimate Edition", no less... although there's been at least one more since), and "Highlander". The "South Park" movie is region 1, being the very first DVD I bought. So too, actually, are most of my "Transformers" DVDs.

Even worse than this, there are even a few DVDs that were either simply not ever released in region 2 (although, actually, I think "The Gamers" may be region-free), or have since been deleted and so cannot be replaced (the "Babylon 5" movie collection).

It turns out that although I have relatively few region 1 DVDs as a percentage of the whole, I do have a disproportionate number of good films on region 1 DVD. Individually, none of them really warrants being re-bought on blu-ray (or region 2 DVD)... but collectively, they represent quite a nasty loss.

Experimental Cookery 2012: Quick Brown Sugar and Spring Onion Chicken Teriyaki

Yes, I've changed the format of these posts, abandoning all of the so-called 'improvements' I made last year. It turned out that they were nothing of the sort - they just made the posts annoying and awkward to write.

This recipe was taken from Lorraine Pascale's "Home Cooking Made Easy". In the blurb at the start of the page, she advises getting all the ingredients ready before starting to cook; this is definitely a wise move, because although there isn't a lot involved in the process, once it's begun it's a sprint to the end, and you won't have time to dice, chop, grate, or otherwise ready the ingredients for the next step.

Truth be told, this meal is almost ridiculously easy to prepare. Once the ingredients are all to hand, it's just a case of adding them all to the pan at the appropriate times, giving them the occasional stir, and waiting.

And the results were very impressive. Both Lady Chocolat and I managed to avoid food poisoning, it tasted very nice, and was quite different from other chicken dishes I've had in the past. That said, with so much sugar being called for in the recipe, I can't imagine it was very good for us!

The one refinement I would make to this, if I were to do it again, would simply be to reduce the heat at which I cooked the chicken. But that's my issue, rather than one with the book - the cooking times given in the book seemed awfully short, and combined with a very high heat they left the chicken a bit tougher than it should have been.

Still, all in all I can highly recommend this one.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dear cinema-goers...

Cheering and clapping at the end of a movie is an American trait. Being British, the protocol we are supposed to execute at the end of a film is to glumly file towards the exits.

If the film was particularly enjoyable, it may be considered acceptable to quietly remark on this fact to the person on either side, although this it typically best done using Facebook, Twitter, or other social media.

But the scenes of Friday night were quite unseemly, and rather let the side down.

(Yes, "The Muppets Movie" was really very funny in places. I rather enjoyed it. Indeed, it is now Jack Black's second-best movie, after only "School of Rock".)

#7: "Pathfinder: Tide of Honour", by Tito Leati

Prayer at Council Meetings

So, the Secular Society have managed to have a ban imposed on prayers being offered at council meetings in England and Wales, and now have councils in Scotland in their sights.

Bluntly, the simple fact that it was the Secular Society that brought this case was reason enough to tell them to sod off. Now, if it was someone who was actually participating that those meetings, that would be another thing, but this case was brought by fundamentalists specifically to cause trouble - and that should not be humoured.

And besides, the judge got it wrong - in this country we do not have any official separation of church and state. On the contrary, we have an official state religion. That being the case, offering prayers is not, in fact, inappropriate.

Now, having said that, we do live in a pluralistic society, and I have in the past noted that it is the job of our government (local and national) to operate in the interest of all the people, not just those we happen to agree with. So, that does raise the question: should prayers be offered at council meetings?

And the answer, actually, is "no, not in an official capacity". And it's that 'official capacity' that is rather important.

See, it comes down to the order of events. If the meeting is called to order and then the first item on the agenda is prayers, this effectively means that anyone attending the meeting is expected to be present for those prayers. In effect, those prayers are being imposed on council employees who have the right to believe differently (or not at all). Which genuinely isn't right.

On the other hand, if the prayers are offered first and then the meeting is called to order, then it's a different matter: that's just a bunch of council employees who happen to be in one of the council rooms holding prayers. There is no obligation on others to join, and they're not disrupting anything. (And the counter-argument "they should be working" doesn't work... find me a council employee who spends 100% of their working day on-task, without a single off-topic conversation, dealing with a non-work email, or other distraction. Hell, find me any employee anywhere in the country of whom that is true.)

In any case, holding prayers as the first item in the meeting (official or otherwise) is actually a really efficient use of time. As anyone who has to attend staff meetings, or review meetings, or, really, any kind of meeting can tell you, the moment you schedule a meeting to be attended by more than one person, you lose any hope of it starting on time. There is always someone who is late. Always.

So, schedule your meeting for 2 (say). Start the prayers at 2, sharp. And then, at five minutes past, when people are actually ready to start, call the meeting to order.

Et voila! The prayers are in for those who want them, the people who don't want them have an easy opt-out, and the time that otherwise would have been wasted (and it would, to pretend otherwise is a lie) has been used productively.

Done.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Should the England Manager be English?

Ah, a question that vexes the media every time a new England manager must be appointed. (We have similar discussions in Scotland, muted somewhat by the fact that we tend not to care very much. And I daresay other nations have similar considerations.)

Firstly, I should probably note that I have very little doubt that the next England manager will, indeed, by English. Basically, for the FA to go for anyone other than Harry Redknapp, after the failures of the Capello regime, would be too much of a risk - the only reasons I can see this not happening is if Harry doesn't want the job or if Spurs are unreasonable.

However, in general, should the manager of England be English?

Well, as things stand, the answer is "not necessarily". The job of the England manager is to deliver success on the pitch, as reflected in the winning of major trophies. The job of the FA is to find and appoint the person best able to do so. And it would be foolish, under those circumstances, to do anything other than look at all the options.

The perfect candidate for the job would seem to be someone who is English, who has strong communication skills, with excellent man-management and tactical awareness, and with a proven track record of management in several different leagues (ideally including the English and Spanish leagues - currently the two best in the world).

Of these qualities, "being English" is the least valuable. Frankly, they should go get Jose Mourinho.

However...

I'm more or less convinced that the actual answer to the question is "yes, of course the manager of England should be English".

Here's the thing: international football is not about who has the best players, necessarily; it is about who has the best team. And it's really hard to argue that the manager isn't a very large part of that - how can you argue that Alex Ferguson hasn't had a massive impact at Manchester United, or that Martin O'Neill hasn't had a huge impact at Sunderland (even when using the exact same players who were underperforming before)? The manager is hugely important, probably at least as important as any single player.

To that end, I'm inclined to think that the rules should be changed - that the manager (and anyone else with access to the dressing room and/or dugout) should have to follow the same eligibility rules as the players.

But that's a consideration for a slightly different world. As with so many things, the FA should be working to the rules as they are now, and not artificially restricting themselves to only English managers if better candidates are available.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Lake House

We watched "The Lake House" last night. Dear me, it is a terrible film.

Now, to be honest, it was always off to a rough start. Firstly, it stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.

Now, Keanu Reeves is a bad actor, but he has been in some good films: "Speed", "The Devil's Advocate", "The Matrix" (and perhaps the full trilogy). I also liked "Through a Scanner Darkly", though that was only sort-of him. Oh, and of course the "Bill and Ted" epics. But those are pretty rare in a career of mediocre films. (In fact, he's worse off that even Arnold Swartzenegger, who is also a bad actor, even worse than Keanu in fact, but who somehow has found a knack of appearing in a lot of good films.) Still, it could be worse - it could be Patrick Dempsey.

And Sandra Bullock also also a bad actor. She has also been in some good films: "Speed", "Demolition Man", and... um... Still, it could be worse - it could be, um, Eva Longoria? Sarah Jessica Parker? Jennifer Lopez?

So, put the two together, and it appears that you need a speeding bus to save matters. Funnily enough, there is a bus in "The Lake House", but...

Actually, even before getting to a discussing the stars, perhaps we should rewind one step further: it's a romance. Not a "romantic comedy", but a straight-up romance. Which isn't too bad - dropping the so-called 'comedy' generally improves matters. But still, it's not a good sign - give me a good action movie, or horror movie, or comedy, or drama, and I'll be happier. I don't mind romance, and actually like well-done romances, but they're not my favourite.

Anyway, onwards...

So, the plot revolves around a magical mailbox, that allows the two-way transfer of letters across two years. Exciting! And so, K&S 'meet', and exchange a whole bunch of letters, and they go on walks 'virtually' together, and stuff. Aw, cute!

With one small problem. See, movies need dialogue. And when the two main characters don't meet, how do you deal with that?

Well, "The Lake House" works out a clever and interesting way to resolve this: it completely ignores it. So, our two characters, who communicate only by letter, have carefully interleaved dialogue by the magic of split-screen.

Which, of course, makes no sense at all. Perhaps they should have chosen a different communication method - the superior "Frequency" makes use of magic short-wave radios, perhaps "The Lake House" could have had a magic Bluetooth headset, or internet chatroom, or similar?

Anyway, never mind. The plot unfolds, and it quickly becomes apparent that tragedy is looming. They agree to meet in the future, but Keanu stands Sandra up (the cad!). Something must have gone horribly wrong!

And this is the point where the film departs from all sanity. At this point, Sandra decides to call the whole thing off. They failed at the very first hurdle; it's obviously not to be. Never mind that there could be hundreds of reasons for him not showing.

But, actually, it's sillier than that. See, we have these things called telephones. So, rather than simply calling things off, she should instead have said, "here's my number; call me." Done.

Oh well, never mind, it's film logic.

So, she stops writing to him, and the plot continues to unfold. There then follows a scene in the 'past' in which he comments that he "has to find her".

Now, let's apply just a moment's thought here. He stayed in the lakehouse before renting it out to her. She then stayed in the lakehouse for quite some time. Shortly after she left, they made contact. But, in any case, he has her forwarding address.

Hmm, how will he find her? Shall he (a) go visit her at the lakehouse, where she now lives, or (b) wait until she's left the lakehouse, and then go visit her there? If only there were some way for him to find her!

("But she'll think he's a crazy stalker!" you say. That's fair enough, except for two small details: firstly, he's already shown, earlier in the film, that he is smart enough not to freak her out with time-travel nonsense. Secondly, if he absolutely can't do that, he has proof. "Go look in that box in the attic. See all those letters, written in your handwriting?")

But, anyway, he doesn't do this. Instead, he waits until the one date where he knows exactly where she will be - on Valentine's Day she will be in a particular square when an unknown man dies in her arms, thus prompting this whole adventure. So, off he rushes to that square, and a date with a speeding bus.

Again, what?

Now, true, there's no way he could have known that the "unknown man" would be him. After all, the odds are stacked strongly against it. But then, if you know something has gone horribly wrong, and you know there's a speeding bus, why would you go to the one place you know holds risk, especially when you know where she will be on every single other day in the calendar, since you have her address?

Anyway, it all turns out okay. See, in the future, Sandra realises that the unknown man was him (apparently, despite being devastated by the death of the unknown man, that kicked off this whole adventure, she never bothered to find out his name previously...). So, she rushes out to the lakehouse with one final letter, warning him off. And they all live happily ever after...

So, we have at least two paradoxes:

- Firstly, the death of the unknown man sends Sandra back to the lakehouse, where she first discoveres the magic mailbox, and kicks off the whole adventure. But now, the unknown man never dies, so she doesn't go, so...

- Secondly, Keanu misses their planned date because he died at the square. But, because he misses the date, Sandra calls the whole thing off. This prompts Keanu to rush off to the square to become the unknown man.

I dunno, maybe I'm being too harsh and over-thinking the film. After all, they get to the kiss at the end, right? And that's all that matters, isn't it - the happy ending?

Oh, yeah, I forgot one more thing - Sandra's other boyfriend is a nice(ish) lawyer type, who basically does no wrong during the whole film. He's just a bit dull. And he puts up with a lot - there's the time she kisses another guy at the surprise party that her boyfriend has organised for her (yay!), then he becomes the "consolation prize" once she decides Keanu is a non-starter, and then he gets dumped again for this same guy.

Still, happy endings all round, right?

Ted Mosby was Wrong

The Rebels determine the flaw in the Death Star by analysing the plans. That is, the flaw appears in the design, not the implementation.

Ted Mosby was wrong - it was the architect's fault, not the contractor's.

(And, yes, I'm aware that I'm responding to a drunken argument made by a fictional character about a fictional device in a fictional universe. I'm just not sure I care.)

Fab

I must admit, I didn't see it coming. I had thought that Fabio Capello would simply go through the motions for the remainder of his contract, see the team through a lacklustre Euros competition, and walk away rich, and on to some other high-profile job. I could just about see the FA sacking him, as he was pretty clearly just marking the time, but I really didn't see him resigning.

Perhaps there was some deal struck behind closed doors?

Anyway, this is probably good news for England. They can now either appoint Harry Redknapp (it must be him, surely?) as their new coach, or appoint an interim manager until Harry is freed up to take the job on full time. Either way, they can then spend the next several months talking about a 'crisis', a 'short term solution', or whatever else they need to do to lower expectations at the Euros. (Which should reduce pressure on the players, and might therefore enable them to actually play to their capabilities.)

Then, if they do well at the Euros, they can hail the genius of their new manager, or players "playing out of their skins", or whatever. If they do poorly, they can blame it all on the previous regime, comment on the less-than-ideal timing, and talk about "building for the future". It's a no-lose situation.

Basically, this is a good thing for England, and can only help them going forward. Plus, given the result of Redknapp's trial yesterday, the timing really couldn't be much better.

Shame about Capello, though. You would have thought he should have been able to do better. But he just seemed to lose all interest in the job after the World Cup. Which is a shame - the performance at the World Cup was really surprising in how badly it compared with qualifying, and despite that England only lost to a Germany side who were one of the outstanding sides in the tournament. I would have thought he should have had the wherewithal to correct the mistakes and go forward.

Incidentally, I happen to agree with Capello over the Terry thing. If he was to be stripped of the captaincy, surely that was a matter for the manager to decide? After all, the captain is supposed to be the leader on the field, which makes it a footballing matter. Plus, I'm not at all convinced there's actually a better alternative out there. That is, after all, why he was (wrongly) given the captaincy back in the first place.

Follow-up to my Previous Post

Obviously, if I'm doing a calculation based on the circumstances, and those circumstances change, the outcome will change also.

Both this week and next week, for example, the Tesco shop has moved to Sunday, as I have a limited-time voucher that is good for £5 off my bill. Likewise, I will be attempting to handle the cleaning of the bathroom this Sunday, as Tuesday is Valentine's Day. (And while I could readily move it back to Wednesday, moving it forward to Sunday will make for a much more pleasant Tuesday, will it not?)

And, of course, after April anything and everything may change.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Why Monday is Tesco-day

Each week, I go to Tesco on Monday evening, on my way home from band. I clean some section of the appartment on Tuesday evening (on a four-week cycle, so it all gets done once a month). And I do my washing on a Thursday.

Contrary to popular belief, I don't do these things at those times each week because I am "set in my ways". There is, in fact, a good reason why these tasks get done when they do.

The reason for doing the weekly shop when I do is a simple matter of geography. Tesco lies rather neatly between the appartment and the school where practice takes place. It is open 24 hours, and is nice and quiet later in the evenings. So, I can go in, do what needs to be done nice and quickly, and get out. And, since it's en route, I can do this without expending any more petrol than I already would. It's just efficient, in terms of time, money, and environmental impact. Genius!

My thinking on the other two tasks is slightly more involved, but bluntly it comes down to this: I don't want to have to do these chores on the weekend. I want to spend my weekends doing things I'll actually enjoy, and that list does not include washing, ironing, or cleaning. So, since they're not going to be done at the weekend, this leaves four possible times, being Monday through Thursday evenings. (Friday evening is part of the weekend, so is discounted.)

Monday is unavailable, of course, since I'm at band and then doing the Tesco shop.

Thursday evening is likewise mostly tied up with band, giving just a little time before and a bit more time after. But after band I definitely don't want to be getting in to any big tasks, nor do I want to be generating a lot of noise. So, cleaning is not an option, both for the effort required and because of the hoovering (on three of the four weeks). But doing the washing is actually an ideal task for this time, since it involves a few small bits of work with lots of waiting before. So, I put one load on before I head out to work or between work and band, then a second load immediately after getting home for band, and then the third load after I've made ready for bed. It all fits very, very neatly into the allocated time. (And, on those weeks where there is ironing to do, this also fits neatly into the time when the second load is washing - ironing lags behind the washing by a week, but that's fine since I have plenty of clothes.)

That leaves the cleaning, and both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. In truth, either would be absolutely fine for this purpose. And, indeed, when I have a game on on Tuesdays the cleaning is moved to another day. But when it is not, Tuesday gets the preference. Why? Well, for one simple reason: Lady Chocolat is otherwise engaged on Tuesday but we frequently see one another on Wednesdays. So, I make use of the 'dead' time to dispatch a task that needs to be done.

(Also, the band committee meetings take place on one Tuesday of the month. These last just long enough to render the evening not much fun, but also leave just enough time to fit the cleaning in to what remains. Again, very neat.)

Yes, this means that it's a routine, and it means that I can rattle off what I'm doing on any given day some months in advance. But so what? This way, all the tasks that must be done get done, and they're timed so that they have the absolute minimum impact on the things that I want to do. I'm at something of a loss as to how that could possibly be described as a bad thing.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

One Final Post on Birdsong

Yeah, go read the book.

The second part of "Birdsong" is pretty much just as good as the first - it's well made, it's decently acted, and it's really quite surprising what they can do on a TV budget these days. I don't really have any complaints, mostly. But...

The book is just better.

Right, I'm now about to delve into spoilers. So, if you haven't seen the show or read the book, and don't want to know, skip the rest of the post. Other than noting another completed book, there's nothing more here for you.

The big problem with "Birdsong" on TV comes close to the end. See, one of the key points in the story is that Stephen, our hero, is noted as being scared of being underground, scared of birds, and yet he finds himself forced underground by the circumstances of the war. And, near the end of the book he finds himself trapped deep underground by an explosion.

Now, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the key feature of being underground that most of us don't truly appreciate, is that it is not dark down there; it is DARK down there. And, in the specific context in the novel it is also cramped, and narrow, and deeply scary and unsettling.

But TV and films have real problems with representing darkness. This is hardly surprising, since they're visual media, and if you can't show something, you have problems.

And so, in the second part of "Birdsong", when Stephen finds himself trapped underground, everything is strangely lit up with an ambient grey light. He has no problems moving around, and although the actor tries really hard, there's just no sense that he's trapped, and terrified, and desperate. "What larks!" as a character from another book would say.

I also take a little exception that they short-changed the ending a little. In both the book and the adaptation, Stephen finds himself trapped and decides to set off another explosion to try to win his freedom. Fair enough - desperate situations sometimes require desperate measures.

In the adaptation, this desperate plan works. Stephen is able to climb his way to freedom, comes out in a pit, and nearly picks a fight with some Germans before learning that the war is over.

In the novel, on the other hand, his plan doesn't work. Instead, he neatly brings the tunnel down on himself even further, trapping him for several more hours, almost completely immobilised. All he can do is make some small, feeble noise...

Noise which is heard by a squad of German tunnellers who think it may be being made by one of their own (actually, the brother of one of the tunnellers, and a man Stephen has actually shot dead some pages earlier). They dig through, and rescue him. It's a deeper level of desperation than the adaptation manages.

Anyway, that's "Birdsong". Definitely the best of the three adaptations I watched this winter, but still lacking when compared with the book. And, seriously, go read the book. It's good.

#6: "Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition", by Steve Kenson

Monday, February 06, 2012

Season's End?

So, Rangers were knocked out of the Scottish Cup yesterday. I didn't really see that one coming, although perhaps I should have.

And with that, it really looks like the season is over. See, it wasn't just them getting knocked out that was important; that was just one match and not really all that important. But the manner of the defeat was really quite shocking. Bluntly, Rangers deserved to be beaten, were lucky to lose only 2-0, and were made to look frankly ordinary by a Dundee United team who played well but who are, also frankly, not particularly strong themselves.

So, Rangers have now been knocked out of four competitions since the start of the season. They are a point behind in the league, with Celtic having a game in hand. They've allowed Celtic to close a very large gap in the last couple of months. They've sold their top goalscorer (and best player), while their next top scorer is injured. And they're playing really badly.

Surely Celtic can't fail to win the league from this position?

From Rangers' point of view, there are two questionable bright sides to all of this. On the field, they are now in a position where the only thing they have to worry about is the league. There are no cup matches to worry about, so they will have at least some opportunity to rest their players. Given the size of the squad, that should be welcomed. And, likewise, now that the transfer window has closed, there's no longer a risk of losing the few top players who remain.

Off the field, there was something of a scandal broke last week about loans taken out on future season ticket sales. Between that and the sale of players, it looked like Rangers should have vast reserves of money available to strengthen the squad, and yet... nothing. However, that looks to me like the owner is probably in the process of building a large financial cushion for the club. If they lose the ongoing tax case, that money may well prove to be enough to prevent administration. If they win (or lose, but not badly), it would of course put them in a great position for next year.

There's a lot of anger amongst Rangers fans at the moment, but that looks like it could actually be an upside - yes, they've sold the season (and perhaps the next few), but if it secures the future of the club then surely that's worth it?

Better than I Thought

Given the surprising lack of a repeat, I made time to watch the first part of Birdsong on iPlayer before it expired. I still have the second part on my Sky+ box waiting to be watched.

The experience proved to be much as I had expected - several times during the show the system stopped while it buffered the next few minutes for viewing. And, somewhat surprisingly, putting it on pause for several minutes didn't help. It seems that iPlayer doesn't buffer any more than a few moments in advance.

But my absolute favourite moment was when, close to the end, just as we were getting to the climactic events that would set up the second part... the system declared that I didn't have the bandwidth to continue streaming, and just stopped. Yay!

In the event, I just reloaded the page, started viewing again, and skipped to the same point as before, so it wasn't a huge hardship. It was something of a pain, though.

As for the show itself, I rather enjoyed it. I certainly didn't have any difficulties hearing the dialogue; I'm not quite sure what all the complaints about 'mumbling' were all about. It certainly seemed to be a rather closer adaptation than either "Great Expectations" or "Treasure Island", which was good. Though I think I would still recommend reading the novel instead.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Ah, who am I kidding?

On Friday, being a little bored, I looked up the Star Wars blu-rays on Amazon. Apparently, they cost £43 for the set of all six films. (There are sets for each of the two trilogies, but that's just inefficient.)

But George Lucas has messed around with them yet again, adding a new girly shriek for Darth Vader in RotJ. And besides, I already own two copies of the Holy Trilogy on DVD - do I really need a third?

But, honestly, who am I kidding. Of course I'm going to get them on blu-ray, just as I am of course going to re-buy the Lord of the Rings trilogy on blu-ray (Extended Editions only, of course).

Even angrier...

I got an exciting telesales call this afternoon. It started innocuously enough, just a "survey". As soon as the guy started asking if I wanted to be phoned with some offer or other, though... beeep!

Oh yes, the new policy was working well.

Except that he called back promptly. He swore blind that this wasn't a telesales call - would I please continue.

Anyway, we proceeded with his 'survey', since that seemed the best way to get rid of him, right up until the end when he needed to confirm my first name. Could I please tell him? No, he didn't quite get that, could I try again? Could I spell it? He was really sorry, he just couldn't make it out...

At this point I really lost interest, and told him so. I then hung up again...

A moment later, the phone rang again. This time, it was Amil, the supervisor. He was terribly sorry, but the original guy was new, and...

I cut him off at this point. I stated that I didn't mind that the guy was new, but I had absolutely no intention of continuing the conversation....

Amil came back, protesting further...

"I'm done with this conversation. Do not call back." And I hung up again.

Unbelievably, the phone rang again. Amil started to speak...

"We're done!" I snarled, and hung up. For good measure, I proceeded to unplug the house phone.

So, if you're thinking of contacting me, my mobile is the best way for the time being.

Bastards. (No, not you.)

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Angry

I really should learn - absolutely any time a telesales person phones, no matter who it is or what the offer, I should just hang up. No mess, no listening out of politeness. The moment they mention a product, service, or whatever.... beeeeeep!

Tonight's offender are Virgin Media, from whom I've been getting my broadband for some years (and quite happily, too, I should add). On the 19th, I received a call from one of their agents - would I like to pay less for vastly upgraded bandwidth?

Well, yes, I thought, I would quite like that. But, on the other hand, the one thing I most certainly didn't want was any disruption to my service, so...

Anyway, he insisted on putting in an appointment for the installation, just to secure it. (Yeah, right.) And then we got to discussing things.

Then things went crazy, and I had to ask him to phone back. He agreed... and then didn't.

On Monday, I received a call from the engineer, wanting to come do an installation. At this point in time, I was feeling awful - I was actually at home, having taken the day off work, but I didn't want to bother. Besides, I'd not yet received the contract; no, he couldn't come.

They then rebooked me for the 8th, despite me telling them not to do so - I hadn't received the contract, so couldn't agree to an installation. Besides, by then I had decided to cancel, since I wasn't up for the hassle.

The contract arrived today, dated from the 19th (!). The prices on the contract were different from those quoted on the phone (!!). And the contract noted a 7-day cooling off period... from the date when the "order was placed" (that is, the 26th !!!).

Needless to say, I'm not happy about that. I've since phoned and cancelled. Slightly surprisingly, they didn't put up any fight. So, that's okay.

Of course, the next thing is that they'll switch off my existing broadband service. I can practically sense the instruction making its way over to BT OpenReach... (Which would be typical. The one thing that I absolutely did not want, and can't really handle at this stage...) Of course, I might be wrong.

The moral of the story: beeeep!

I Should Drive a Taxi

Last night I was made aware of the stunning similarities between "having a blog" and "driving a taxi". It was something of an eye-opener, to say the least.

My absolute favourite, though, was when our driver said that he would make it a requirement for anyone coming here to live that they be able to speak "fluid English".

Ill

Yes, I've been away. I've been feeling pretty rotten the last few days, and haven't really been able to muster much enthusiasm for blogging. I'm still not at my best, but am feeling considerably better.

Fred Goodwin

Whenever there's a political or economic scandal, there's a game I quite like to play called "spot the scapegoat". In general, I've found that the powers-that-be will try really hard to identify a single individual, make them the villain of the piece, shift all of the public's anger onto that one person, and then try to "draw a line under the issue".

With the scandal over MPs expenses, the nominated scapegoat was Jacqui Smith. Because she was already very unpopular, and because her offenses made for a good story, she was thrown to the wolves. And fair enough - I'm not suggesting for a moment that she didn't do wrong. But was she really any worse than any other MP? And yet, can you name any other MP that was named and shamed as a result of this? The guy with the moat? The three MPs who were actually charged?

With the banking crisis, the nominated scapegoat is Fred Goodwin. Again, I'm not in any way defending his actions, or suggesting he should not have been stripped of his knighthood. But when the media is busy reporting on this shocking (and, frankly, irrelevant) event, and when we have another round of "why did he keep his pension" over the next few weeks, I have to ask: what are they using that media storm to conceal?