Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Year in 2016

Well, thank goodness that's over! 2016 just sucked from start to finish. It was a bad, bad year.

And now I'll try to be positive and upbeat in my end-of-year round-up. Being nothing if not predictable, I'm sticking with the same headings...

My Year in... Blogging

I notice that this is the fourth-least bloggy year since I began here - 108 posts for the year, behind all but three previous years (one of which was the first 'year', which started in September!). That's not terrible, being an average of 9 posts per month, but I think I'll try to aim higher for next year. There just hasn't been much to write about!

My Year in... Work

There's an awful lot I can't talk about at work, including some stuff I can't even talk to LC about, which is far from ideal.

But of the things that I can talk about... it's going okay. Not spectacularly, or even hugely well, but it could be much much worse. And there's at least some prospect of it getting better in 2017.

There was no call to travel in 2016, but I fully expect that to change in 2017. I suspect I would have had at least one journey to make late in the year, but other factors meant I just couldn't go anywhere.

My Year in... Health

Most of the year was actually pretty good, verging on very good. And then the end of November saw things get much worse for a spell - another round of IBS just making things suck.

My Year in... Gaming

On paper, 2016 was actually a pretty successful year - I ran both Firefly and D&D games, hosted a good number of sessions, and as far as I know people had fun. And yet, I spent most of the year feeling dissatisfied with gaming this year.

Part of that is a growing move away from D&D 5e as one of my games of choice, part of it is down to too many pointless arguments on ENWorld (culminating in my walking away from the site), and part of it was just a general malaise with gaming in general. It probably didn't help that the Christmas Game had to be cancelled due to delays with the house move.

My Year in... Band

Band has been much like last year - it's been mostly enjoyable, though the bit of it that I least enjoy remains the competition season that is increasingly the band's raison d'etre. Our results in the competition season were deeply mixed.

One firm conclusion I came to at the end of the 2016 competition season was that even if I spent another season with the band, I wouldn't be using the buses except where it was essential to do so - for Forres, Ireland if the band goes, and probably for the World Championships. I just found that environment increasingly toxic as the year went on.

All that said, it is extremely likely to be a moot point - I fully expect to be leaving the band early in the New Year. I do feel I should at least try, to see if the commute is practical, but my distinct impression is that it won't be, for exactly the same reason it wasn't practical for me to travel to the BB in Chryston when I moved to Falkirk - yes, the journey can be done, but it sucks enough to spoil the event as a whole. So we'll see, but I really doubt I'll be there come February.

My Year in... Resolutions

As always, the wrap-up of annual goals, and setting of goals for next year, are handled in another post.

My Year in... Travel

This was a year of several short trips.

The first trip of the year was a long weekend down south to celebrate Grandma's 90th birthday (that is, dad's mum). That was a good weekend, and a good chance to get caught up with the various cousins. Good to see them again, especially at a happy event.

Then, in April, LC and I took our annual trip, this time to Arbroath. This trip is mostly notable for being almost entirely unmemorable - it was fairly cold and fairly wet, with relatively little to actually do thereabouts. Plus, the dates didn't really match up - due to a quirk in LC's school's holidays, the Easter break didn't include either our anniversary or LC's birthday.

This was then followed by a trip that was paradoxically both more enjoyable and sad - we spent a long weekend in Banff to scatter LC's grandad's ashes. That was a gloriously sunny weekend, and was strangely restful. Odd that that should be one of the highlights of the year, but there it is.

Our only trip abroad this year came in July, when we spent several days in Amsterdam. That was another good trip, and one I highly recommend. I also highly recommend the iAmsterdam card, which we found to be hugely beneficial.

And then August saw us spending a week in a place called Brighouse Bay in Dumfries and Galloway, celebrating Dad's 70th birthday. This was okay, but as with so many family events there's an inherent weakness in the system: they are (necessarily) geared heavily towards the needs of the children, with the consequence that those of us without children are left to our own devices. And when those devices include a visit to a genstone museum the amounts to "here's some rocks", that's not exactly ideal!

Finally, October saw us spend some time in London, on a trip that was most memorable for the chaos surrounding the house move. The highlight was our visit to the Harry Potter studios; the low-point was probably our visit to the Sherlock Holmes museum (it's fine, but not worth the price). Oh, and "Aladdin" was good.

My Year in... Faith

This was a poor year. I completed a third read-through of the whole Bible, but the honest truth was the most of it felt more like a chore than a pleasure, especially since it included two full repeats of the New Testament and the Psalms, which are by now very familiar texts.

The other issue is that LC and I currently find ourselves without a church: we've gradually moved away from the church in Chryston on the grounds that we'll want to find a new church in Livingston, but we haven't as yet achieved that. Which is not ideal.

So, this will need to be something I address in 2017.

My Year in... Love

There's nothing much to say here. For much of the year, we've been feeling the strain of being stuck in the flat, which has had the effect of putting everything else on hold. Plus, LC's commute has been far from ideal, and when combined with the extra-curricular demands placed on teachers generally, that has not been good.

So, that's another reason I'm welcoming 2017!

My Year in... Growing Older

2016 was the year I officially became 'vintage' (previously I was 'retro-chic').

Probably the single biggest highlight of the year was the birthday party that LC put together to mark that occasion, which I've talked about before. It was obviously good to see so many friends and family again, including some I've not seen for too long, and a good night was had by all. Huzzah!

My Year... Overall

As I said right at the top, 2016 has just sucked, and I'm not going to sugar-coat that. Unfortunately, some of the reasons it has sucked are either things that are ongoing or have left a legacy of problems that will continue to hurt us for the foreseeable future (Brexit, Trump). But in some areas, and in particular in some key areas, the problems that have dogged 2016 were particular to that time and circumstance, and so should not be repeated. Hopefully, 2017 will be the year we start to put things right again.

As with last year, this will be my last post of this year, so I'll end off by wishing anyone who still reads my nonsense a very happy New Year, and all the best for 2017.

End of Year Update on Goals

With the year rapidly coming to an end, it's time for the end-of-year wrap-up. And so my first post on the topic is the update on my goals for the year:

  • Weight: This goal hasn't just failed, but has in fact gone backwards. There are several good reasons for this, and also several bad excuses I might offer. But the bottom line is that the goal has been failed.
  • Books: I'll be posting a full list of the books I've read this year a bit later, so for now suffice it to say that this goal has been completed with some ease.
  • Games: Both the "Firefly: The Lost Episodes" and "Eberron: Dust to Dust" campaigns did indeed continue in 2016, thus completing this goal. In fact, both games came to their end, which was perhaps not ideal but was also not the worst thing. More disappointingly, the "Christmas Game" this year had to cancelled due to the stresses involved in moving house.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: I'm calling this a partial success - there's still some stuff to be done, notably concluding the sale of the flat, but we also have a reasonably clear road-map to the end, and we've made a lot of progress.

So...

Of the four goals, two have succeeded, a third that's a partial success, and one has failed spectacularly. Of the goals, by far the biggest was SSG#4, so that being a partial success sets the tone for the year as a whole - a partial success. Not bad, and not too much that could have been done to improve matters meaningfully, but not a total success. So, that's okay, I guess.

The failure of the weight goal, again, is a big concern.

The goals for 2017 will largely be about setting up "Part Five" - we need to get settled in our new home, we need to find a new church, I need to sort out what's happening with band and/or the game group, and so on. So it will be a bigger list than last year, but will also include a lot of goals that should complete fairly quickly.

So...

  • Weight: This is the same goal yet again: I'd like to lose a stone and a half next year.
  • Books: And, again, the same goal once more: 60 books. I also have my sublists picked out: 12 books from The List, 12 Pathfinder books, 6 Pathfinder Tales, 9 "Culture" novels (the series by Iain M. Banks), and 12 Shannara novels. However, this last is liable to be abandoned - I'm going to read the next trilogy in the series, and then take a decision.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: Simply put, I want to bring this to completion. As soon as possible, please!
  • Part Five: The House: As much as we like it, the new house isn't perfect - there are a couple of rooms we'll probably want to redecorate, there's definitely a need for some new or replacement furniture, and there are the remaining practicalities inherent in getting settled in. So, of course, we want to get that all sorted out this year.
  • Part Five: Church: As part of establishing ourselves in Livingston, LC and I will need to investigate the local churches and find a new 'home'. We've gone too long without a regular place of worship, so this will need to change.
  • Part Five: Band: For the first month after we move, I'm going to investigate the possibility of sticking with the band in Falkirk. Assuming that isn't practical (and I don't think it is), I'll need to investigate the possibility of moving to another band in Livingston. Or I might decide to step away from pipe bands altogether for a while. The goal here is to find an answer, without prejudging what that answer might be.
  • Part Five: Gaming: Likewise, I'll have to investigate the practicalities inherent in sticking with the Falkirk RPG group after the move - it might be better to instead network with other local groups. But, again, the goal is to come up with an answer, whatever that answer might be. It's also worth noting that I'm not setting any goal for actually running or playing any games; indeed, I have no intention of running anything (other than perhaps a rescheduled "Christmas Game") any time soon.
  • Super Secret Goal #5: This is very provisional at this stage, and may prove not to be a goal at all (I'll know in April or May), but it's included here for completeness. But don't tell anyone - it's super secret!

And that's that. Seven (ish) goals, mostly associated with constructing a foundation for Part Five from which we can move forward. To a certain extent, it looks like 2017 will be about tidying up the mess from 2016, which is no bad thing... 2016 was a very messy year indeed!

#71: "Volo's Guide to Monsters", by Wizards of the Coast
#72: "For the Love of God, volume two", by Don Carson
#73: "Holy Bible", by Various Authors (strictly speaking, a book from The List)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hmm...

I wrote two blog posts yesterday (one here and the other on the Imaginarium), and I'm not terribly happy with either. Maybe "Rogue One" didn't inspire me quite as much as I'd thought, or perhaps my desire to avoid spoilers robbed them of any substance.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rogue One

We didn't go to a midnight showing of the latest "Star Wars" film. In all honestly, I don't think that's all that surprising - I've actually only ever gone to three midnight showings: "Attack of the Clones", "Spider-Man" (actually, an advanced preview a week before the official release of this one), and "The Force Awakens". So it's not as if there's a long-standing tradition of my attending such showings.

But the consequence of not going to a midnight showing was that I actually didn't see the new "Star Wars" film for ages after it came out - Saturday to be precise. Which means I didn't even see it before it came out in America! Oh, the humanity!

Anyway, LC and I saw "Rogue One" on Saturday, in a 3D showing in a regular cinema. (I'm kinda hoping to find time to go see it again at the Vue, where they have the 70mm projectors - it was filmed in Ultra-Panavision, so I'm interested to see how that changes the viewing experience.)

It was worth the wait. I very much enjoyed "Rogue One", more indeed than I did "The Force Awakens". This was largely because it was something new - TFA felt very much like "Star Wars' Greatest Hits", which is all well and good, but is really less good than just watching, well, "Star Wars". Conversely, "Rogue One" was a very different type of a film - sort of "The Dirty Dozen" in space. Which is cool.

And, actually, I think that's all I'm going to say about that. Except to note a certain ambivalence surrounding two particular characters, who didn't quite fit right - every time those two were on the screen I was jarred out of the film by wondering "how did they do that?" (And, actually, there were another two that had that effect, though in their cases I knew exactly how it was done, and that also was a bit jarring!)

But, basically, I'm happy with that. It does seem that Disney is a good home for my favourite films...

#69: "The Ultimate Helm", by Russ T. Howard
#70: "The Salmon of Doubt", by Douglas Adams

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Taunted by My Own Joke

One of my two favourite jokes about the appeals of Falkirk is that it is really easy to leave (because of good motorway links to both east and west, and good rail links to Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stirling).

Turns out, not so much.

We had news this morning that we're now very unlikely to get moved before the New Year - the remaining steps are estimated to take just over a week, and the various offices effectively shut down between the 23rd of December and the 4th of January. (I hasten to note at this point that I entirely understand that - our offices do exactly the same thing, and for the same reason. Plus, as a matter of principle, people are entitled to a holiday.)

So that all sucks. Especially since it would have been very convenient to be moving during the ten day period when neither LC nor I have to go to work. But never mind - no point in dwelling on things that can't be helped.

(Incidentally, for those wondering, my other favourite joke is that Falkirk has both Lazer Tag and a bowling alley. I didn't say they were good jokes!)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A New Act of Union?

I see 2016 is ending as it began. In particular, we have had a much-hyped speech by a minor politician calling for a new Act of Union, recasting the UK in a federal structure. This is said to be necessary to prevent the break-up of the UK, has had massive media attention in Scotland (far out of proportion with what it deserves - I'm sorry, but as the leader of the third party in Scotland, Kezia Dugdale really is a minor politician, especially on the UK stage). The latest news on that front being that her plan has been endorsed by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, themselves former politicians.

The thing is: she's right. A revised Act of Union, and a federal structure for the UK may well be what is needed for the UK to stay together, and is probably enough to ensure that it does so.

But get back to me when Theresa May endorses the plan.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Reboot Revisited

Over the past couple of weeks, since my decision to retire Region One brought it to mind, I have taken the opportunity to re-watch my "Reboot" DVDs, partly out of curiousity as to how they hold up, and partly just for something to do. I made my way through series three last week, and then watched series four over the weekend. (Perhaps oddly, I don't have series one or two on DVD. But it practically became a different show at the start of series three, so that matters less than you might think.)

Well...

It's fair to say that the animation is very much of its time: "Reboot" was the first computer-animated half-hour TV cartoon, and it shows. And given just how far both computer animation and TV in general has come in the last few years, it really shows.

On the other hand, I'm not averse to watching old episodes of "Star Trek", or "Doctor Who", and "Babylon 5" remains one of my top sci-fi shows of all time, so bad effects aren't exactly a deal-breaker for me!

In terms of storytelling, I think those series of "Reboot" do still hold up, just about. And it's worth noting that the show does some things that I don't think I've ever actually seen anyone else do - including the literal end of the world while all the heroes are standing right there (which isn't even the end of the show - it's complicated). Plus, it really seems that, somewhere along the line, the writers forgot that they were supposed to be doing a kids TV show. That seems to happen to geeks a lot.

The bottom line is that I enjoyed it. Though I was perplexed, once again, that the show as a whole ends on a massive cliff-hanger. Personally, I think it would be better had it ended at the completion of the "Daemon Rising" arc, and the mega-happy ending that that implies, but never mind. "My Two Bobs" just didn't work for me, for several reasons... and then gave us that ending. A shame.

Unfortunately, having watched it again, it strikes me that "Reboot" is very much a show of its time, and not just in terms of the animation. Ironically, it is a show that itself probably shouldn't be rebooted. (Not least is the issue of Dot Matrix, whose name is a reference that was just about current back then but now is long obsolete. Though I suppose they could do a sequel-series many many generations further on...)

Anyway, that's that. I wonder now if I'll ever watch it again, or if "Reboot" joins "Babylon 5" and "Justice League Unlimited" on the list of great shows that are forced into the past by the technology?

#68: "Pathfinder: Dreams of the Yellow King", by Ron Lundeen

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Countdown to Part Five

If and when LC and I finally manage to get moved, it will be time for another rebranding of this blog: Part Four will come to an end, and Part Five will begin.

The major reason for that is quite simple: in some senses, we're still living in what was 'my' flat, whereas this will mark us moving into the first home that is truly 'ours'. This by itself marks a significant transition for us.

However, there's more to it than that: the start of each 'part' has been marked by a foundational change in life, marking a threshold beyond which nothing is quite the same again. And that's the case again here - although I'll be working in the same job, all my various activities outside of work will be at least changed if not stopped: band, the game group, etc. It's not a huge distance we're moving, but it's still a huge move.

And so, it will be time for a revamp. Who knows, maybe Part Five will have a different colour scheme?

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Guide to a Stress-Free Christmas

Every year, the media publish dozens of guides to a stress-free Christmas, in newspapers, lifestyle magazines, and indeed on TV. In truth, they probably do this because it's an easy way to fill up pages, but I'm also presuming that at least some people buy them, read them... and then find that they invariably don't work.

The reason they don't work is fairly simple: they're crafted by and for people whose profession is 'celebrity', and in particular by celebrities whose entire fame is built on maintaining that 'aspirational' lifestyle. So when Kirsty Allsop casually says that she likes to craft all her own decorations, that's effectively because it's her entire job to show scenes of domestic bliss at Christmas. The rest of us need to fit these things around everything else in our lives, which is not so easy.

But it is possible to get a guide to a (relatively) stress-free Christmas. The problem is, you have to assemble it yourself.

Here's how...

Year One

Like many useful tools, the guide isn't something you should spend hours writing once up-front and forever after leave unchanged. Like rarely allows the time to do that. Instead, it's better assembled a bit at a time and refined as you go on. The added advantage of this is that it becomes more valuable as time goes on.

So, in the first year, you'll be working without a guide, and assembling the guide as you go.

  1. First, created a folder on your PC called something sensible like "Christmas Guide". (Or, you could start a physical folder called the same, but I'm not going to do that.)
  2. Within that folder, create a first document called something like "Scrapsheet". You might also want to start a document called "Christmas Guide", but that can wait.
  3. Do whatever it is you do for Christmas as normal. The only difference is that as you go you should take a note of what you do, how you do it, and when you do it. And if something goes wrong, record that, too. Take these notes in the Scrapsheet.
  4. For things like Christmas cards you send and presents you buy, make lists of who you send them to and any relevant addresses.
  5. Make sure you record the whole process, from start to finish - that is, from the moment you buy the first present/send the first card/put up the first decoration right through to the moment it's all packed away again.

After Christmas is all done for the year, and at the first available opportunity, it's important to start building your proper guide.

For each of the major tasks, you'll want at least a page in your Christmas Guide. In each case, put down the details of what's needed, where the things you need are stored (for example, if your decorations are all in a big blue box in the loft, put that in the guide!), and any other useful information. In each case, assign a date to the task - either the date taken from the Scrapsheet or, if something went wrong with the task, some earlier date. Make sure everything that is recorded in the Scrapsheet gets transferred to the Christmas Guide in some form.

As you fill out the Christmas Guide, you should remove the corresponding notes from the Scrapsheet - don't have things recorded twice. Eventually, the Scrapsheet should be empty, at which point it should be deleted.

Again, for things like Christmas cards and presents (and also the big "Christmas shop"), you should probably start a separate document/spreadsheet recording useful information - the list of people to send cards with their addresses, the list of people to buy presents and any relevant price limits/likes and dislikes, and the list of things to buy.

Be aware that none of these documents will be perfect. They're not meant to be perfect; they're meant to be useful.

Year Two

For the remainder of that year, don't worry about Christmas until roughly the end of October. Then go access the Christmas Guide you wrote last year, which you'll now use to help you organise your activities.

This time out, you're using the Guide to help with Christmas, but you're also using Christmas to test the Guide. So go through the process, but don't trust the Guide to be correct - if you find that you've forgotten to record "put up the decorations" in the Guide, you should probably still do it! If and when you find a weakness in the Guide, do whatever you should and then fix the Guide.

At this stage, you should find that Christmas goes much more smoothly, but you'll probably also find plenty of things wrong with the Guide. Both of these are good things.

After Year Two

After the second year, you should find you have a Guide that is a pretty good record of what you do at Christmas, plus pretty decent lists of all the people you send cards to, all the presents you need to buy, and the list for the big Christmas shop. (Again, the key here is pretty good. They won't be perfect.)

This is now the point where you should start thinking about optimising the process.

Personally, I would compile four lists: things that you enjoy, things that you don't enjoy but 'have' to do, things that you don't enjoy and don't have to do, and things you don't do but might like to try. (For instance, you might really like Christmas dinner, not like wrapping presents but have to do it, not like putting lights on all the windows, and think you might quite like to make some decorations.)

For the things you enjoy: great! Don't change anything.

For the things you don't enjoy but 'have' to do: since these have to be done, try to minimise them. (In the example of wrapping presents, you could either adopt a policy of wrapping one or two every evening so that it's spread out into bite-size chunks; or you might decide to set aside one afternoon to just tackle them all and get it done. There's no 'right' answer to that - do whichever you think you'd hate least, or try both and then decide.)

For the things you don't enjoy and don't 'have' to do: Don't do them. It really is as simple as that. (And, indeed, note that in your Guide - "We've decided not to do this!")

And that opens up time for:

Things you don't do but might like to try: Set aside some time to try it out next year. If it works, great. If it doesn't work, well, now you know not to try it next year. (As a good rule of thumb, for each task you drop in the step above, you should be able to try out one new task here. So if you don't light your windows, you can try making some decorations.)

Year Three, and Beyond

With each additional year, you should pull out your Guide and use it to organise your process. As before, if you find the Guide is wrong, change it. But that should hopefully happen less and less as the Guide gets better, and the Guide should become increasingly useful.

An Additional Note on Christmas Cards

When the time comes to deal with Christmas cards, you should pull out your handy list of people and addresses. However, this list is more prone to change than most elements in the process, so bears some additional thought. So, ask yourself some questions:

  1. Do I still want to send a card to all these people? If the last time you communicated with them was when you sent them a card last year, the answer is "probably not". But that's your call - just be sure to ask yourself the question.
  2. Is there anyone else I need to send a card to?
  3. Are these the right addresses? If not, fix your list. But, hopefully, most of the list will remain accurate most years - and having a handy list all in one place should save significant time, even though it needs checked each year.

An Additional Note on Getting Started

It's quite likely that when you first start out in your own home you have visions of a 'perfect' tree with a tasteful abundance of decorations, of sending everyone handmade cards, of having a perfect turkey with too many trimmings, and so on and so forth. It's all wonderfully over-the-top, impractical... and actually impossible in year one.

My strong recommendation here is not even to try to do all that in year one. Instead, it's far better to do a very small set of things well, and then build up. So, maybe in year one you decorate the tree with a whole lot of borrowed decorations. Then, the year after, you substitute some of those for new ones, then a few more, and a few more, until you eventually reach your goal. Likewise, maybe in year one you do the cards and presents, but don't do the turkey at all (dine out!). Then, in year two, add the turkey, then the carol concert in year three, and so on.

An Additional Note on Changes

The big problem with using a Christmas Guide to get organised is that it can cause things to become rigid and samey. After all, if you're doing exactly the same things in exactly the same order every year, where's the spontenaity?

My recommendation here is to actually build the changes into the Guide - once you've got Christmas organised and working the way you like, start doing a "change one thing" - either each year, or every few years, identify one thing you'd like to try differently. And, that year, do that one thing differently. That way, you get the reassuringly comforting for almost everything, and you get the novelty of trying something new. (Of course, you might find you don't like the "one thing", in which case you know not to do it again. Or maybe you love it, and it becomes the new norm. Huzzah!)

Anyway, that's my thoughts on the Guide to a Stress-free Christmas.

#66: "N.E.W. Science Fiction Role-playing Game", by Russ Morrissey
#67: "Cold Comfort Farm", by Stella Gibbons (a book from The List)

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Mental Gymnastics

As we know, the A1 gold standard of gift giving is to find something that (a) the person would really like but (b) they would never buy for themselves. This is, of course, fiendishly hard to achieve, to the extent that I think it's probably not even worth aspiring to - it's something where if you just happen to see the perfect gift then you can celebrate, but if not it's better to go for "good enough" rather then seeking a perfection that may not even be available/practical/possible.

Anyway.

Each year for Christmas, my parents give each of us a sum of money with the expectation that we'll then go and purchase some suitable gifts to give to them to give to us so we can be surprised on Christmas Day. Or something.

Which led to me extensively pondering a key question this week: "what would I really like, but wouldn't buy for myself?" And then I bought it for myself.

It's been a strange week.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Dear Blogger...

I'm afraid I'm not keen on your new Dashboard. File that one under "if it ain't broke"...

Qu'vatlh!

We've had a delay in the house move. Actually, we've had two, one each on the buying and selling sides of the process. Which sucks - at present, our projected date for the move is now the 17th of December, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if that had to be put back again.

That said, I'm halfway inclined to respond to this delay by putting up the Christmas tree. Partly on the grounds that I fear we'll have another delay and still be waiting come Christmas, and partly on 'shower' logic - the principle that if you're waiting for a phone call, it will inevitably come just as you get into the shower. So putting up the tree should guarantee that we'd have to move immediately thereafter.

As might be expected, this is all hugely annoying. But I'm trying hard to take the view that it's really just an inconvenience, and that the important thing is to get all the various stages of the move successfully completed, rather than having to get them all done right now! - we've had a painful few months at the end of a really sucky year (that just keeps on sucking), but it is just a few months.

Anyway, that's where we are right now.

#65: "Consider Phlebas", by Iain M. Banks

Thursday, November 24, 2016

How to Win at Black Friday

I'm still not entirely sure how we can have "the day after Thanksgiving" without actually having Thanksgiving in the first place, but never mind. Once again, our stores have engaged in their pre-Christmas "let's have a sale" sale, with all sorts of wonderful bargains on things people mostly don't want. And, once again, we have a flurry of articles from newspapers decrying this, declaring that they're not really bargains at all, or whatever else. Which is their way of cashing in on all this consumerist nonsense without looking like they're cashing in. It's all quite clever.

But the truth lies somewhere in between: buying into this consumerist nonsense is a bad idea, but so too is adamantly refusing to get involved no matter what. There are, in fact, some good bargains to be had; you just have to be a bit savvy.

And the key question is this: would you have bought the item anyway, even at full price?

See, that's the thing: if there was something that you were going to get anyway (let's say a printer, just for a random example), then it may well be that you can find a good one at a much reduced price in the sale. In which case, it makes sense to go and get that item at this time of year, rather than, say, two weeks ago when prices were higher or two weeks from now when they're probably higher again.

(And so, really, the way to win at Black Friday is to ignore the advertising and the offers completely. Instead, if there's something you'd been considering buying, then maybe go look if there's an offer on that, and make a purchase. But look only at things you've been considering anyway, and don't get drawn in to other purchases.)

Speaking of which... it's probably time for a new phone. Though the big downside there is that the one I almost bought last time I thought about it was a Samsung, which I'm obviously now avoiding...

#64: "The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul", by Douglas Adams

Friday, November 18, 2016

Post-truth Politics?

Apparently the word of the year is "post-truth", which refers to the tendency of people to only seek out political news from sources they agree with, meaning they never see the other side, never have to deal with fact checking, and as such aren't interested in 'truth'. Which is, indeed, an issue.

Except... post-truth implies that there was a time when there was that interest in truth in politics. But I distinctly remember being advised at high school that newspapers had their agendas: some supported Labour, some the Tories, with the 'impartial' BBC using the newspapers to set the overall agenda.

And people would buy and vote accordingly: if you were on the Left, you probably bought the Guardian and voted Labour; if you were on the Right, you probably bought the Telegraph and voted Tory.

(There are several ways that the newspapers supported their agendas, often without lying. It's done by cherry-picking only those statistics that support your argument, by giving greater emphasis to some facts over others, giving more air-time/word-count to your preferred experts, and even by simply not reporting inconvenient facts. Actually lying is for amateurs.)

So how is that any different from now? People were still only seeking out the voices that agreed with what they thought anyway, they were having their opinions reinforced, and they weren't actually interested in 'truth'.

What has changed is that people are increasingly declaring "a plague on both your houses" and walking away from both Labour and the Tories. At which point they're also walking away from their previous newspapers... and finding there is no alternative. On the Right, there is no serious newspaper that supports UKIP. In Scotland, until about eighteen years ago, there was no serious newspaper that supported independence. In America, the same applied to Bernie Sanders, and indeed to Donald Trump until he secured the Republican nomination.

What's new is not that people have started looking only at the sources they agree with; what's new is that they've rejected the newspapers' versions of what is 'true'.

#63: "Spelljammer: The Broken Sphere", by Nigel Findlay

Monday, November 14, 2016

Remember Them? It's All About Us These Days

This year I once again played at the Festival of Remembrance in Falkirk Town Hall on Saturday and then again at the Armistice Parade in Falkirk on Sunday. Sadly, this was also the first year I found myself rather uncomfortable doing so. It really feels that Remembrance Sunday has completed its transformation from a sombre event of respect and remembrance into something decidedly... other.

I have three reasons for this:

Firstly, there's a enforced respect agenda that has been gradually creeping up on us. It started a few years ago when we started seeing various guests being lambasted for the horrific 'crime' of not wearing a poppy while appearing on the BBC in the weeks before the event. It has now expanded to the point where even the Cookie Monster is festooned with a poppy before appearing on the One Show. (I'm also more than a little uncomfortable that the BBC apparently gets a bulk order of poppies for this season, and puts one on all guests as a matter of course. Which means that it's actually not a show of respect for people to wear them; it's just an extension of makeup. If we were actually serious about the matter, guests would be required to provide their own poppies for appearance.)

But more troubling than even that is the horror show of the newspapers turning Remembrance Day into a stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn - he didn't bow low enough, or his poppy wasn't big enough, or was too big, or he dared to dance into the street (while talking to an actual veteran; the newspapers cropped the photo in order to invent an offense). It's disgusting.

Secondly, there's the rise of poppy bling. Apparently, it's not enough for our celebrities to show respect the same way as the rest of us. Oh, no, they have to show how specially special their remembrance is with their special bejewelled poppies, with larger-than-life poppies, poppy cufflinks, poppy ties, poppy hats, or whatever other show of one-upmanship they can event. Because they're special people, so they need to show their 'respect' in special ways.

But, thirdly, and most troublingly, it really feels that the remembrance agenda has become increasingly hijacked by the powers-that-be for their own ends, and in particular the glorification of our military and their ongoing adventures in far flung lands. Here's a hint: if you're painting a poppy on a plane or a tank, you're doing it wrong - unless your next act is to immediately scrap that vehicle.

I find myself deeply uncomfortable even writing this, because Remembrance Sunday is a serious and important event, or at least it should be. The First World War was a mad exercise in throwing away lives for no good reason, and we've not actually become much better. We still send our troops to places they probably shouldn't be, don't equip them properly, and then fail to care for them when they come home injured. It's all a disgrace, and if Remembrance Sunday even helps to keep that in check then that's a good thing. But I'm increasingly uncomfortable with what Remembrance Sunday (or, rather, everything that surrounds it) is becoming.

I think, unless something changes, my days of wearing the poppy are numbered. I'll continue to make my donation, of course, but as for wearing the symbol... As long as Grandad remains alive, I'll wear it in recognition of his service. But once he passes, it will be time for a rethink.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Tragedy of Trump

Over the last several decades, the world has become increasingly globalised. The trend has been for lots of jobs, especially in manufacturing and related areas, to move away from the UK and the UK overseas (largely to India and China, with South America and/or Africa next in line), and with lots of cheap goods to come from overseas into the UK and US.

And, taken as a whole, that's a positive thing - average standards of living have improved significantly, the economy has done well out of it, and lots of money has been made.

But...

The UK isn't just an undifferentiated blob of people who all benefit when "the economy" does well. Instead, we're a collection of some 70 million people, some of whom do incredibly well out of globalisation, some of whom do less well, and many of whom do incredibly badly. (The US is the same, just with bigger numbers.) And while millions of people in London do well out of globalisation, there are millions of people elsewhere who are doing badly. Indeed, in some cases it's a disaster that now engulfs three generations: one generation of workers lost their jobs during Thatcher's mad de-industrialisation programme, their children have therefore grown up in abandoned towns with few prospects, and now their children have damn little hope.

So when someone suggests that they can turn their back on the worlds, turn against globalisation, and things will be better, it's no surprise that that message gets traction.

And the Left, the Labour party in the UK and the Democrats in the US, who should be on the side of those people turned a deaf ear. They wrote them off as racists, or stupid, or a "basket of deplorables", or whatever else, and used this as justification not to listen.

Well, here's the thing: some of those people may well be racist, or stupid, or whatever else, but that doesn't mean they don't also have legitimate concerns. (And, whoever you are and whatever faults you might have, "I can't feed my family" is pretty fucking legitimate, as concerns go.)

And that's how we get Brexit in the UK, and President Donald Trump in the US. Those campaigns managed to persuade people they were listening, they sold them the message that they would champion their causes, and they reaped the benefits.

The tragedy of all this, though, aside from the fact that those results really have enboldened the racists, misogynists, and homophobes, is that it's all for nothing. Neither Brexit nor President Trump can do anything meaningful in the face of globalisation. It will still be cheaper to employ people in manufacturing in India and China (and South America and Africa) than it will in the UK or US - and would be even if the workers over here were paid a wage of zero. And, worse, the next round of automation is coming ever closer, which means another swathe of jobs is going to disappear. So people were persuaded to vote for Brexit/Trump in the hope that jobs would come back to improve their lives; what they'll get instead will be no jobs but an increase in prices, and worse lives. Again.

(Which is really scary, actually. If you're angry at the world, and you place your last hope in Brexit/President Trump, what do you do when that one last hope is dashed?)

Alas, while I'm reasonably sure of the fundamental underlying problem (that those jobs are going away, forever), I'm much less able to see a solution. Because I am convinced that that shift is indeed inevitable, which means we need to adapt to it, not fight against it. (See also Climate Change - sorry, it's too late, we've destroyed the world. So we'd better figure out how to live amongst the ashes.)

The bottom line, I think, is that we need a societal shift: the assumption that people will work for a living needs to go, we need to stop measuring people (and our own self-worth) by the jobs they do, and we need some sort of a universal income so that people can actually afford to live. None of which will happen.

As I said, it's a tragedy. (Only even that's not right. Marx noted that everything in history happens twice, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. Thatcher/Reagan was the first time; May/Trump is the second. So, really, this isn't the tragedy; it's the farce.)

#62: "Shy Knives", by Sam Sykes

Monday, November 07, 2016

Going Retro

Last week, LC and I watched "West Skerra Light", a horror/comedy produced by the BBC for Halloween. The show starts with one of the characters narrating a story to a bunch of kids at some sort of camp fire, during which he accuses them of being "too busy with your Game Boys." To which the child in question asks, "what's a Game Boy?" Which is, of course, both amusing and disturbing for its truth.

The other major task LC and I are involved in, of course, is the process of moving. In the course of which we've taken the opportunity to dig through a lot of our accumulated stuff and are gradually shedding a lot of dross - over the years we (mostly I) have accumulated a whole load of rubbish that should have been disposed of but which has gradually accumulated. So much of the weekend was spent shredding old documents - indeed, it remains an ongoing task, as I had to stop when the recycle bin was full.

In addition to shredding papers, though, we also dug out a couple of boxes of stuff that had been resting under the spare bed. In truth, those boxes had mostly lain untouched since I moved in, having mostly lain untouched in all previous homes. So, as I'm sure you can imagine, it didn't really have much of any value!

Funnily enough, though, it did contain not one but two Game Boy Advance units - both the original design and also the SD redesign - both still in working order, and with a bunch of game cartridges. Cue hours of retro-gaming fun... to be had at some later, more suitable, time.

(That said, I'm not entirely convinced that the GBA counts as "retro-gaming" - it only came out in 2001, which is a mere 15 years ago. That's only ten generations of computing power, meaning that current units are a paltry 1,024 times as powerful... yeah, okay, they're retro...)

The other surprising thing that I found at the weekend was a letter written by my great-grandmother to my parents some two weeks after I was born. Needless to say, that will be being kept.

#61: "Le Petit Prince", by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (a book from The List)

Friday, November 04, 2016

Tick

Last night I finished "Morgawr", the third and final volume in the "Voyage of the Jerle Shannara" trilogy, and my sixtieth book of the year. This therefore completes my second (of four) goals for the year - one more will be coming next month, all being well; alas, the fourth looks certain to fail.

Sadly, "Morgawr" is not a particularly good book, and indeed will probably be recorded as the weakest book I've read all year. This creates something of a dilemma for me - with such an agressive reading schedule, I've found it useful to follow a number of series to follow, and I'm running a little short. I had therefore considered getting caught up on the Shannara series, which I last read many years ago, and had therefore treated the "Voyage of the Jerle Shannara" as something of a test for the series. And it was going well enough - the first book was fine and the second better. But I really didn't care for the third...

So I'm now rethinking my strategy - I could stick with my plan of declaring the Shannara novels a sublist for next year, I could abandon them entirely (especially since the next trilogy is long out of print and potentially hard to find), or I could try the next trilogy and then decide.

#60: "Morgawr", by Terry Brooks

Thursday, November 03, 2016

A Matter of Principle

As a matter of principle, today's ruling that Parliament must vote on the invocation of Article 50 is dead right - one of the key principles argued in the referendum was that it should be the Westminster parliament that holds power in the UK, and this ruling reflects that.

However, as a matter of principle the MPs within the House of Commons really need to vote for the invocation of Article 50, almost regardless of their personal views on the same. (MPs from Scotland and Northern Ireland have something of a get-out clause here, in that they'll be representing the wishes of their countrymen, but that should be largely symbolic - they should be handily outvoted by the MPs from England and Wales.)

Because the job of MPs is to represent their constituents in Westminster. And while I don't like the result of the EU referendum, the will of the people of the UK was clear - it is therefore for our MPs to get on and implement it.

(What this does mean, however, is that Parliament can, and should, demand greater oversight of the process of Brexit - and, specifically, Parliament could insist on a 'soft' Brexit or could insist that the government not give sweetheart deals to some companies at the expense of the rest of us, or on whatever other conditions they want. Because while the result of the referendum was clear that the UK should Leave the EU, we did not vote on how this should be done. If the powers-that-be want a specific mandate on that one, they're free to seek it; otherwise, the mandate lies with our MPs.)

#59: "Tome of Beasts", by Kobold Press

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Christmas Strikes Back!

I'm not really keen on people calling for government bans on things that they happen not to like. By and large, I take the view that the biggest threat to our freedom comes from the governments that we elect, and where possible we should err towards being as permissive as possible - at least in terms of the laws we impose.

However, it has long since been clear that the shops either can't, or more likely won't, police themselves when it comes to maintaining the seasons and festivities. Indeed, in one case a store in London started advertising Christmas at mid-summer this year, from which it's a short step to everyone just advertising Christmas all year round, and then anything that's different about that season is lost.

So I think the government needs to step in: shops should not be allowed to advertise Christmas until after Halloween, to advertise Valentine's Day until after Christmas, Easter until after V-Day, "Barbecue Season" until after Easter, or Halloween until the last weekend in September.

I believe that way they always have something they can advertise as being 'seasonal' but at the same time we have a nice, distinct separation between events. And, crucially, we don't have Christmas colonizing all of the seasons. (Though, in fairness, I would definitely go to see a sequel to "The Nightmare Before Christmas" in which marauding elves seek their revenge for Jack's ill-fated invasion attempt in '93.)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Calling Time on Region One

As part of our decluttering exercise prior to moving, at the weekend LC and I had another cull of our DVDs. This involved identifying a number that could go to a charity shop, and another number that, being Region One discs, were no use to such a shop and instead had to go to the bin. (Of course, either of these could have gone to Ebay to recoup a little of the money spent. But since the goal is to clear some much-needed space, and to do so quickly, we didn't take that option.)

In the course of doing that job, I came to the conclusion that it's long since time that I abandoned Region One entirely, much as I abandoned VHS a number of years ago - ever since we moved to the Playstation 3 as our primary means of DVD playback, the writing has been on the wall. (Actually, there's a strong argument that both DVD and even Blu-ray are already obsolete as well, and should be phased out. But that's another discussion for another day.)

What that means, I think, is that in the course of the move (probably while unpacking at the far end), I'll take the opportunity to sort out the Region One discs from the rest. These will then be divided into three sets - discs to be replaced with Region Two equivalents as soon as possible (eg "Die Hard"), discs to be discarded at the next cull (hopefully, there won't be too many of these - they should have been culled already), and discs that can't be replaced.

From there, there's an easy next step and then a harder next-but-one step. The easy step is to simply spend the money to replace the discs in the first set. Yes, it's a little galling to have spent money on a DVD of "Die Hard" only to spend more money on another disc and then throw away a perfectly-good disc... but it's not that much money, and so it's not that big a deal.

But the next-but-one step is harder, because that's a question of doing something with the discs that can't simply be replaced: things like "Reboot", which was never released on Region Two, or the "Babylon 5 Movie Collection" which is long since out of print. (The latter can be replaced, but only by replacing the entire series.)

The reason that one's tricky, then, is that those are DVDs I would very much like to replace but can't. And for the exercise to have any great meaning, I really do want to get rid of them, and the player as well. So it's tricky.

(Annoyingly, I did once have a bit of software that would have allowed me to rip those DVDs onto computer files, and go from there. I actually never used it for that purpose, but only to use my laptop as a multi-region player. Alas, that software went with the laptop some years ago, and is no longer available because the 'ripping' function was of questionable legality.)

Anyway, I guess the difficulty of that next-but-one step really depends on how many DVDs we're talking about - if it turns out that the two I've mentioned are the only ones, I'll probably take the hit and replace "Babylon 5" and abandon "Reboot". But if the list is significantly longer, maybe I'll hold onto them until the player finally gives up and I'm forced to make a final decision.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Changing the Clocks

I can't say I'm a particular fan of the twice-annual ritual of changing the clocks. Frankly, it's an absurd practice to spend most of the year with our clocks all set to lie to us in the strange notion that this gives us more daylight at some time of the year.

On the other hand, I suppose that ridiculous practice is marginally better than the 'fix' we see endlessly proposed in the newspapers every time the clocks change; specifically, to keep the country on "British Summer Time" (or, as I prefer to call it, "Liar's Time") all year around.

(The reason it is a lie is that time, like everything else, needs to be measured from a fixed reference point. And since the seasons change, meaning that sunrise and sunset aren't fixed, time is measured from the point where the Sun reaches its highest point over the horizon, which we call 'mid-day'. (Which is also why we divide the day into AM and PM.) Moving the clocks forward during the summer means that the Sun reaches its highest point at 1pm, not at 12 noon, which is incorrect. And since that's done deliberately, it's a lie.)

Anyway, if we must persist with this crazy ritual, could I please make two wee requests of clock manufacturers?

  1. Firstly, could you please make sure to put the buttons for adjusting the time somewhere easily accessible on the device, and could you also make sure to include single buttons for both adding 1 hour and subtracting 1 hour? Having to step through 23 hours, and having to do that for each of three or four clocks last night was just annoying. And having to take a clock apart to access the buttons and then having to step through not just 23 hours but 47 to get past the "24 hour clock" options was especially galling (IKEA, I'm looking at you).
  2. But, actually, since we're talking about new clocks, could you also please make sure to make these easily networked, so that they can pick up the time, and time changes, from a central point (or time server)? The "internet of things" is mostly a nonsense gimmick and waste of time, but this would be a case where it might actually make our lives just a little easier.

(In case you're wondering: no, this post is not entirely serious. The one thing that is is that we can't keep the clocks moved forwards throughout the winter - here in Scotland, the mornings are just too dark for that to be feasible, and it gets worse the further North you go. And it's really not practical for the schools in Scotland to instead move their start and end times instead - even if they could coordinate this, when they can't manage to coordinate holidays so that children and those of their parents who are teachers can holiday together, there would be the problem that everything else would be out of alignment.)

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Seasonal T-Shirt Rant

I notice that today's Qwertee offering contains a Halloween-themed t-shirt. And it's a very nice t-shirt, which I would probably buy if it wasn't black (I have too many - it's blue, white, or grey I need to replace).

Also, for Christmas last year, I got an extremely nice Christmas-themed Yoda t-shirt.

There's just one tiny problem with both of these: there's only a small window in the year when it's appropriate to wear a seasonal t-shirt, and by the time said item is/was/would be in my possession, it's already too late!

What I mean is this: from the time of ordering a Qwertee t-shirt and actually receiving said item there's a delay of roughly 2 weeks. That's fine, it's just how long it takes. But two weeks from now is the 11th of November, while Halloween is on Monday. Meaning that I wouldn't actually get to wear my exciting Halloween t-shirt until next year.

And, likewise, the lovely Yoda/Christmas t-shirt I got last year was enjoyed for a matter of hours before it was lovingly put away, not to be seen again until the 27th of November this year, or thereabouts. (Actually, it will probably be later, due to the house move, but not really Yoda's fault, that is.)

So, anyway, that's the Seasonal T-shirt Rant.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Day 300: Update on Goals

And so, day 300, and the final update of goals before the end of the year.

  • Super Secret Goal #4: Things are changing really fast on this one - two weeks ago, I was settling in to being in the flat for another six months at least, and then in the space of a week we had a viewing, received an offer, found a new house. It looks like we'll be moving out by the end of next month, but not moving in until the middle of the month after. So, suddenly, it's all looking good... but is all likely to change again by the time you read this!
  • Weight: This goal hasn't worked out at all, and I'm going to end the year having gone quite badly in the wrong direction.
  • Books: Conversely, this one is going extremely well - I'm now within touching distance of the goal, with two months still to go. I'm estimating a total of 73 books for the year, well above my goal, which is nice.
  • Games: The "open tabletop" I mentioned in my previous update proved to be a non-starter, while the "interesting development" I mentioned also turned out to be a non-event. Also, the "Dust to Dust" campaign came to an unexpected end on Tuesday, which was somewhat amusing as I actually had a solid plan for the end-game for the first time. That just leaves the "Christmas Game" for this year. But given the house move, it's not clear whether this will be postponed, hosted by someone else, or take place in the new house - my bet is probably on it being postponed, but we'll see...

So...

It looks like it's going to be a mixed bag for the year. One goal will be completed and exceeded with some ease. A second goal will succeed, although it's worth noting that it wasn't really properly formed - strictly speaking, it was complete the moment I had one session each of the two named campaigns. Still, I'm pretty happy with that. And a third goal will be completed, but perhaps in the most chaotic way possible. We'll need to see.

On the other hand, it looks like one goal will have failed spectacularly, and that's squarely on me.

Still, all in all that's rather better than I expected to do even just a few weeks ago, so that's good.

And there it is. The next update will of course be the end-of-year round up.

Sampling Theory

We've bought a house.

Well, okay, that's maybe a little premature. LC and I have received an offer for the flat (which we're going to accept), and we've made an offer on a house (which has been verbally accepted), and so if everything goes according to plan we'll be moving very soon. Which is all good.

But this post is not really about that, but rather about the process that we usefully applied to find the house that we're hoping to buy. Here's how it works:

In an environment where there are lots of options available, and you're not sure how to go about narrowing the field and then choosing, especially when it's a huge buy and you want to be sure to get "the best" option... don't.

The truth is that there are probably too many options to ever properly evaluate them all, and even if you were able to do that you'd almost certainly end up with analysis paralysis and so not be able to choose between the inevitable trade-offs. There's probably no such thing as the 'perfect' house or the 'perfect' car, or whatever. (And even if there were such a thing, your needs will inevitably change with time. So even if you did get the perfect item, it wouldn't stay perfect for long.)

So, what is useful is to try to identify a representative sample of what's available: pick five or six properties of about the right size and spec, and go and see those. (It's also a good idea, if possible, to throw in one or two 'odd' choices, rather than going only for the obvious ones. So while you might not initially be thinking of a new-build or a bungalow, it's maybe worth viewing at least one.)

As you do the viewings, consider two things. Firstly, does the property in question meet your requirements (both the immediate ones and the ones you expect for the future). If not, it can be discounted immediately. But do note that that's requirements, not preferences - that's actually quite important! Secondly, how does this property stack up with the best we've seen so far?

One other thing: you should make sure to view all the properties in your sample, even if you happen upon one that's great with your first attempt. Basically, you owe it to yourself to get a real picture of what's out there!

Once you've viewed all the houses in your sample, you have hopefully identified a property that is both the best in the sample and that also meets your requirements. (If you haven't found any that meet the requirements, or you're really not happy even with the 'best', you'll need to identify a new sample and/or a new area, and keep looking. That's a weakness in this process.)

Having identified your candidate, then, you should proceed with checking if it's still available, making the purchase, etc etc...

However, if you find that that doesn't work out, for whatever reason (in our case, because we couldn't sell our flat in time), then the thing to do is to go back to the search and keep identifying and viewing properties. But your goal now is quite simple: find one that is at least as good as the best in your sample. And as soon as you find one, that's the one to go for.

The reasoning here is that the best property you found in your sample probably isn't, in fact, the very best property that's available. Instead, it's an indicator of the best-fit properties. That means that there is almost certainly at least one, and perhaps several, that are as good or better. So all you need to do now is find one. (And you stop looking as soon as you find one, because that way you have the satisfaction of getting the best-fit from all the ones you've actually seen - it's not like there's a "one that got away" that was better.)

Of course, it's not an absolutely flawless method, and it does mean that there's probably a better match out there somewhere. But it has the benefits of giving good results, of doing so in a manageable amount of time, and of not showing you better options that you then leave behind.

Well, it works for me, anyway!

#56: "Notes From a Small Island", by Bill Bryson (a book from The List)
#57: "Spelljammer: The Radiant Dragon", by Elaine Cunningham
#58: "The Night Manager", by John Le Carré

Friday, October 14, 2016

Here We Go Again

It's fair to say I'm not hugely enthusiastic for a second independence referendum. Had the powers-that-be actually delivered the things they solemnly vowed to deliver, and had England not engaged in the monumental self-harm that is Brexit, the issue would have been put to bed for a generation.

However, the people of Scotland voted to stay in the UK by 55% to 45%, and voted to stay in the EU by 62% to 38%. And after the Brexit vote it very quickly became apparent that we can't have both - neither the EU nor the UK government have any interest in any sort of a "reverse Greenland" deal that might see Scotland retain both unions.

That being the case, someone has to choose which to preserve. And while you can argue many different ways about which mandate supersedes the other, the bottom line is that there's a choice: either we the people decide what we want, or some group of our elected politicians decide what we want for us.

In that case, better that it is us. That way, we get what we actually want, and not what someone else decides that we want.

So, yeah, a second independence referendum is necessary.

(And, actually, it's those who would prefer to stay in the UK who should be calling for a referendum. Because 56 of Scotland's 59 MPs, 68 of 129 MSPs, and 3 of 6 MEPs support independence. If it's down to Scotland's elected politicians, it's independence.)

Of course, there are all sorts of potential issues along the way.

Firstly, the required bill would need to pass the Scottish Parliament, which is by no means a sure thing - in theory, the SNP and the Greens together should be enough, but there's always a suspicion that the Greens may decide that now is not the time, and block it. (Of course, in doing so they would consign themselves to electoral oblivion, so it's doubtful they would... but it is possible.) There's also the question of whether the Presiding Officer would allow it, since it has always been debateable whether the SP has the competence to pass such a bill. And while in the long-term it's probably that it would indeed be deemed valid, time is rather critical here.

Secondly, there is the question of whether Westminster would be on board. Again, I doubt it's practical for them to block a vote forever, but they could certainly delay one, when timing is fairly critical. (There's also the possibility of this having to go through the courts, which would also take time...)

But, ultimately, I think this can be resolved one of three ways:

  • The best option is for Westminster to concede the validity of the vote, to arrange another Edinburgh agreement, and let things proceed sensibly. This was the approach David Cameron took last time, and as a matter of principle it was the right one. (Of course, what they also should have done, either in the previous agreement or in the post-referendum settlement, was to formally devolve the right for the Scottish Parliament to hold future referendums with a specified cool down period between them. But I digress.)
  • The next best option would be for Westminster to try to block the vote. I suspect the consequence of that is that, eventually, there would be a vote anyway, and that such a vote would inevitably lead to independence - because a Tory government telling Scots that they don't get to decide for themselves won't go down well.
  • The worst option is one I've discussed before, where Westminster simply refuses to engage - they refuse to have anything to do with the referendum, then declare the turnout too low for the result to have any validity, and thus leave us in a complete mess.

Needless to say, I really hope they go for the first of these, but given the immense competence of the current government, I'm fully expecting the latter.

But perhaps the biggest question I have is about the No campaign itself - who leads it, and what sort of an argument can they put forward?

The problem is that all the leading lights from last time are utterly discredited: Labour in Scotland have imploded; and Darling, Brown, and Murphy have lost all credibility up here. So the best candidate I can see to lead the campaign is Ruth Davidson... but, again, a Tory leading the campaign to keep Scotland under the control of a Tory government we didn't elect and widely hate isn't going to go down well.

And then there are the arguments... But most of the old ones are now useless - every promise that was made has been broken, and every threat that was made has come true anyway. (Well, except the loss of the pound. But that has been devalued so thoroughly that that threat is now a hollow one.) They can't even argue that independence would cause uncertainty, since Brexit has already done that.

Just about the only ammunition they have is the price of oil and the question over which currency Scotland would use. Which are fair enough, but I really question whether they would be enough. Especially since the Yes campaign (a) have known they need answers to these questions and (b) have had two years to come up with them.

So, I guess we'll see.

(As for me: I'll be voting for independence again, unless something very significantly changes in the meantime. After all, the reasons I voted Yes last time haven't changed, and indeed have become much, much worse. And all the reasons I had some doubt last time have become very significantly eroded in the last two years. So no change for me.)

An Update

Dear Microsoft,

I appreciate that sometimes it will be necessary to update my PC for security reasons. I further appreciate that applying those updates will sometimes require restarting my PC. And I even appreciate that some updates will take longer than others to apply.

What I don't appreciate is that you don't tell us beforehand when a 'restart' is expected to take a particularly long time, leading to my PC being out of action for an hour and three-quarters when I have better things to be doing than watching your largely-illusory count of the percentage completion.

And I really don't appreciate it when the counter gets to 100%, the PC restarts for the final time, I log in, and then have to wait another five minutes for a painfully slow "we're getting your PC ready" presentation. If you still have work to do, your update is not 100% complete.

(Even more galling still is that, as far as I can see, the net effect of the updates has been to cause my PC to run 10% slower than it did previously. Gee, thanks!)

Just an idea: maybe in future you should consider giving an estimate of how long a 'restart' is expected to take?

#55: "Pathfinder: The Thrushmoor Terror", by Tito Leati

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Drawing a "Must Win".

I didn't bother to predict that Scotland won't qualify for the World Cup. I figured that was obvious. And, in all honesty, in the group where we're third seeds and where only one team goes through (and that will be England), it's probably acceptable for Scotland to fail to qualify.

But we need to be targetting second place in the group, and we really need to achieve a minimum of third place. Because as long as Scotland remain third seeds in qualifying groups, we'll always be finding ourselves in groups with at least two better teams in the groups with us, in groups where only one or two teams qualify, and it will always be an uphill struggle. We really need to be working upwards, with a hope of getting into that group of second seeds, and then maybe we're in with a chance. Maybe.

But in addition to that, what Scotland really need to be doing is routinely beating any of the teams that are 'worse' than us, and doing so both home and away. And in the current qualifying campaign, that means Slovenia, Lithuania, and Malta. (And I mean no disrespect to any of those teams, hence the quotes around 'worse'. It's not as if there's any evidence of us being any better than Slovenia, for one.)

So last night's draw against Lithuania is a failure. Indeed, that draw is probably worse even than the 1-nil loss we narrowly avoided - the late goal, and the point that it brings, is probably enough to mask the obvious deficiencies in our play, and delay some much-needed corrective action. A shock defeat would have enforced that be done immediately.

I should note that "corrective action" doesn't necessarily mean a change in manager, largely because I don't see who we could replace Strachan with who would be better. But it does mandate a change in approach. The fundamental issue seems to be that Strachan is excessively loyal to players who may have served him well in the past but who are just not doing the job now. Coupled with a seeming reluctance to play actual goal-scorers - an absurdity in a must-win game.

(Amusingly, the team he played last night is probably the correct team for Tuesday's match away to Slovakia, when a defensive approach is required. I therefore expect the team to go out attacking, and lose the match.)

And I suspect that's all there is to it - no need to change the manager or to change the squad, just change the approach. Against the stronger teams, it's right to go for a defensive approach and try to nick something; but against the weaker teams, go out and win the match.

Not that it really matters. We won't be qualifying for the World Cup in 2018. And unless they just let everyone in, we won't be going to the Euro 2020 party, either. In fact, I'll go one further: Scotland (or, rather, Scotland's men) won't be at a major football championship this side of independence.

(And, yeah, it's possible that independence may never come. In which case, there's only one way I can see us ever being invited to the party.)

#54: "Storm King's Thunder", by Wizards of the Coast

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Experimental Cookery 2016 #7: Slow-Cooker Chicken Tagine

This is an odd one: it's from "The Hairy Dieter's Fast Food", which promises to be a book of 30-minute recipes, yet this one took eight hours to cook. But that's okay - the meal only really took 30 minutes to prepare; it then just sat in the slow cooker for a very long time.

And the meal was quick and easy to prepare. I did adjust it slighty, because of the nature of our slow cooker - I took the opportunity to sear the chicken a little before layering everything into the cooker. But that was only a small additional step.

And, yeah, it was good. Not the greatest meal ever, but certainly enjoyable - enough so that we'll certainly have it again. Just one modification, I think, though - we'll probably have rice next time, rather than couscous.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Long Week. A Very Long Week

Well, thank goodness it's Friday!

Last week was a very long one - LC and I had spent the weekend in Nottingham visiting my gran, and so hadn't really rested too much, then things were extremely busy at work, and so I found myself staggering towards the weekend. And then, just as I was about to leave for the weekend, I was called into a meeting to discuss a crisis situation on another project.

The upshot of which was that I ended up working all day Saturday and also Sunday morning.

And so I came into this week with a huge amount to do on my own project, plus needing to provide support on this other project, as well as all the other routine things that make up my working week. It's fair to say it has been a tough one!

Once again, we come to Friday, and things look to have calmed down somewhat. Now, if I can just make it through the next four hours, and then home...

About a Second EU Referendum

It's fair to say I'm not keen on the idea of Brexit, and it's also fair to say that I would support having a second EU referendum if there is a material change in circumstances. 'Cos, you know, I'd rather not go.

However, what I can't support is the lunatic suggestion, put forward by the Lib Dems and now by Labour, that we should have a referendum on the Brexit deal.

The problem with having such a referendum is one of timing: there obviously can't be a deal until we've negotiated, and we can't have formal negotiations until Article 50 has been triggered. The issue with that is that once Article 50 is triggered, there's no mechanism for us to take it back - two years after it's done, the UK will leave the EU.

I think the Lib Dems and Labour envisage the people being given a choice between accepting the (inevitably bad) deal or staying in the EU, and the people therefore rejecting the (inevitably bad) deal and opting to stay. But the choice that will actually be on offer will be between accepting the (inevitably bad) deal or leaving the EU with no deal in place. And faced with that choice, it's likely that the people will opt to reject the (inevitably bad) deal, and so end up with the only thing that is worse.

Great work, you guys!

To be honest, I'm not sure I'm surprised at the level of incompetence being put on show here. After all, it's hardly reasonable to expect senior pro-EU politicians to know how key bits of EU treaties work, is it?

On the other hand, it's rather distressing to think that the Tories are an utter shambles on the topic of Brexit, and about to drive the country off a cliff, and they're still more competent than the alternative.

#51: "Spelljammer: The Maelstrom's Eye", by Roger E. Moore
#52: "Software Systems Architecture", by Nick Rozanski and Eoin Woods
#53: "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child", by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Update on the TV Situation

Annoyingly, or amusingly, the TV started working again this morning, which meant I was worried that the engineer might arrive, decide nothing was wrong, go again, and then it would fail. Fortunately, this has not been the case - there's definitely a fault, and it's definitely with the dish. Unfortunately (again), the dish is now completely inaccessible, which is a nuisance.

So...

We're going to get a whole new dish installed, in a rather more accessible location. The old dish will remain in place, but be removed from use. This is one of the more expensive options, but still not too bad, and it does mean we'll be back in action today.

Perhaps more to the point, we won't have to explain to potential viewers that while there are satellite connections, they don't actually work. Though I suppose we might have to explain why there are two dishes...

Still, it will be good to have this all sorted out and done, and all in time for the Bake Off. Huzzah!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

And Another One's Gone

Last Monday, the Pipe Major let me know that the band had decided not to take a break after the AGM after all - we'll instead take a, much shorter, break in October. I can't say I was ecstatic at that news, but I said that was okay... but I wouldn't be able to make it to the practice yesterday. Which was fine.

Yesterday, when 7pm rolled around, I looked out the window and saw the members of the band all standing around the hall where we practice. Apparently, the other guy who has a key was also not able to make it and so they were locked out. So I quickly went up there and opened up, then returned home.

But not before talking to one of my learners, who had come to say goodbye. She's moving on to another band, making this two learners I've now lost in the last two weeks.

The reason for this departure is actually nothing to do with the piping side of the band at all. Unfortunately, though, she has a brother who was a learner drummer with the band, except that that was a largely theoretical proposition - apparently there have been difficulties getting someone to actually sit down with him to actually teach him to play. And so they've looked for another band where he can get taught, and that means my learner needs to leave too.

It's fair to say I'm a little dismayed at that, not least since this learner had just started to break into the band, having played at the march-past at the last two competitions, and been earmarked to play at the Armistice parade in November (and then every non-competition event thereafter).

It would be nice to think that losing all these people might cause the powers-that-be to consider whether they're maybe not going about things the right way - that's now a piper, two learner pipers, three drummers, and a learner drummer that we've lost in the last two months, so something's obviously not right. And especially when the fix for this issue is both easy to achieve and something we really should be doing anyway - we need to assign a dedicated person as the drumming tutor for our learners, with a named backup for those nights when that person isn't available.

Alas, I no longer believe there's any real hope of that. Introspection is not one of the band's strong suits.

No TV

On Sunday, a band of heavy weather crossed Scotland, hitting Falkirk around 8:30pm. At the time, LC and I were travelling home from our weekend away, and so we missed the weather. However, our digibox was busy recording two programmes: the fifth episode of "Victoria" and the second part of Andrew Marr's "Scotland and the Battle for Britain". (The first part of this was quite interesting. The second wasn't worth bothering with. But I digress.)

Anyway, when the weather hit, it must have dislodged or otherwise damaged out satellite dish, because when I switched the TV on on Monday to see what was on, I found there was literally nothing on - every single channel had "Bad or no signal". And the two recorded programmes had both failed after just over half an hour.

All of which is rather annoying. Amongst other things, it's annoying because if it was just us, I would simply abandon the satellite dish entirely, and switch to Freeview - we'd probably want a box that was able to record, but otherwise there's nothing to recommend Freesat over Freeview. But since we're moving home, anyone viewing will probably want the satellite working, and so we probably should get it fixed.

It's all a bit of a nuisance, really.

On the other hand, it's really quite telling just how little there actually is on TV in the first place, especially once you consider the option of just using iPlayer and/or All4 instead.

#50: "Starspawn", by Wendy N. Wagner

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Thanks a Bunch

By scheduling the next Celtic/Rangers match for the 31st of December, rather than the far more sensible 2nd of January, the powers-that-be have chosen to sacrifice the New Years' celebrations of a million people in the central belt of Scotland for the convenience of Sky's English subscribers (for whom the 2nd isn't a public holiday; it is up here).

The best case scenario is that everyone stays home, their nights ruined. The worst case scenario resembles a war zone. That 99.9% of fans don't cause any trouble isn't much reassurance when there are tens of thousands of them. (And given the spike in domestic violence at a 'normal' meeting between the two clubs, that 99.9% estimate is hugely optimistic.)

This decision is a disgrace.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Competition Season 2016 Wash-up

Despite my rather downbeat last post, I have mostly enjoyed this competition season. For the most part, the days involved have been fairly enjoyable, with only the first and the last being really problematic.

In terms of results, things have been very mixed but overall quite disappointing: on the one hand, we had our best performance at a Championship for years, coming 7th at Forres. On the other hand, failing to qualify at the British Championships, the Worlds and, especially, at the Scottish Championships was hard to take.

The minors have also been a mixed bag, with a number of prizes won in the middle of the season, but with a poor start and a poor finish.

More than anything, I've felt that this season has just been too long. Normally, we've attended the World Championships and then one more event, and then we're done. (Indeed, in previous years, we've simply stopped after the last Championship.) This year, we've carried on for a full month after the Worlds, attending two competitions (and would have done a third, had it not been cancelled). But the motivation basically disappeared after the Worlds; I would much rather have simply stopped.

What has been more unfortunate, though, is the number of people we've lost over the course of the year: following the first competition we lost one of our more experienced pipers (a shame, but he had to go), then later due to a falling out we lost another piper, and then one of our best drummers. And now two more drummers are leaving. And I think it's likely that more will follow. That kind of slow bleed of talent makes it incredibly hard to actually get anywhere, but I don't really see how we can stop it.

On the other hand, this may well be best filed under "not my problem". Because if we ever get moved, there will be a decision to make about whether to carry on with the band or not, and right now that's looking like a no-brainer. And in either case, I'm very strongly considering opting out of the buses for any competitions next year... in which case, I have to question why I'm paying all that money for buses I don't feel I can use - maybe I should then just opt out of the competitions altogether?

Anyway...

The band has its AGM on Thursday, after which we're taking a full month off. After which I might feel differently, one way or the other.

Innerleithen Highland Games 2016

And so, the competition season ends. Thank goodness for that.

The last competition of the season was largely unremarkable - we went, we played, it was fairly disappointing, we waited, and we came 7th (8th for piping, 3rd for drumming, out of 9). And then we came home.

The voyage home was a fairly unpleasant experience, because quite a few people got very drunk because it was the last competition of the season, and quite a few more got very drunk because Rangers and Celtic were playing. But at least this time it was just noisy, and not actually scary.

And that, I think, is all there is to say about Saturday.

#48: "Pathfinder: In Search of Sanity", by F. Wesley Schneider
#49: "The World According to Garp", by John Irving (a book from The List)

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Day 250: Update on Goals

We've reached day 250, so here's the antepenultimate update on goals for the year:

  • Weight: This one remains something of a disaster area, but has at least moved slightly in the right direction since the last update. Still bad, though.
  • Books: At this point I should be on the verge of finishing up book 41 for the year. I actually passed that threshold back in August - I have completed 47 books. I'm also up-to-date or ahead on all the sub-lists for the year.
  • Games: The "Dust to Dust" campaign continues, despite an earlier wobble. In fact, I came within a heartbeat of giving it up. But the most recent session was a success, and it now appears to be back on track. There are also musings on a second, "open tabletop", game, though my gut feeling is that that won't actually happen (because people saying they're interested doesn't necessarily translate into an actual game). And there's also been another interesting development, though it remains to be seen if that will come to anything.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: This goal suffered an horrible setback at the start of last month. Basically, our plan to move first and then sell or rent the flat turned out to be a non-starter. We've now dropped the price of the flat in the hope that that will spark some interest, but for the moment we're stuck here.
  • Band: The competition season is now all but finished, and it has been okay. The results, especially at the Championships, were not what we would have hoped, but the season was mostly enjoyable for all that - one incident on the bus home from the first competition notwithstanding. There's now a lot of work to be done before next season, though it's doubtful whether I'll still be around by then, to say the least.

There's no getting away from it: this has been a hard, hard year, and a pretty disappointing one in terms of my goals. Fundamentally, our inability to get moved to a new house is just a killer, and it feels that everything else is necessarily on hold until that gets done. Which just sucks.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Peebles Highland Games 2016

After a few weeks away, the band resumed our competition season at our penultimate competition of the year.

Unfortunately, it proved to be another disappointment, and showed exactly the same failing as at the World Championships - our summary sheet could have been two words long: "bottled it".

During preparation, everything was going mostly okay. But, more than that, we also got a chance to hear most of the other bands, and they were very much there for the beating. But we misjudged things just a little, such that many of our drones were getting too wet before we went on. Still, that's no excuse. Sadly, the performance just wasn't good. We should be better than this, but the evidence is sorely lacking.

Anyway, our of ten bands we came eighth, being ninth in piping and third in drumming. A very disappointing result, and a disappointing performance.

On a happier note, Saturday was the first time one of my students got a chance to play with the band. This had the oddity that she was intended to play at the march past, but due to a mix-up we actually missed that entirely (oops!). Fortunately, though, Peebles have a parade through the town after the march-past, so she did get a chance to play, which was good. There's still a lot of work to be done there, but at least she's made a mark.

Anyway, only one more to go, at Innerleithen next week, then the AGM the Thursday after, and then a nice long break. Huzzah!

#47: "Antrax", by Terry Brooks

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Experimental Cookery 2016 #6: Desperate Dan Beans

This one comes from Tony Singh's book "Tasty", and is one of the first things that leapt out at me from that book. It's little more than a base of onion, garlic, ginger, and chilli cooked with baked beans, but it was rather nice all the same. Recommended.

And that's that - short and sweet this time.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Well, That Was a Short Season

Rangers' draw at Kilmarnock last night puts Celtic in an odd position.

On the one hand, there's no doubt that Celtic will win the league, and quite handsomely - Rangers are clearly in no position to mount a significant challenge, and having three clubs serving as nearly-men (Rangers, Hearts, Aberdeen) actually means less of a challenge than just one (as they're more likely to take points off one another than any of them are to take them off Celtic).

But, equally, Celtic have essentially no chance of doing anything in the Champions' League - Barcelona and Manchester City will be the two qualifiers from the group, and Borussia Mönchengladbach will take third place (and the Europa League spot). That's not the worst thing, as Celtic have done extremely well to get where they are, and get to enjoy some great European nights, but that's all. The bookies are giving better odds of Celtic ending with 0 points than they are for them qualifying.

So, here's the tricky question: if Celtic are basically nailed on for the league and also near-certain to go out of Europe, why bother spending money strengthening the squad? That's a really poor investment of resources.

Of course, there's potentially an argument for investing so that qualification for the Champions' League group stages next year, and that does make some sense. And it's especially important as next year is probably the last year a Scottish team even has a chance of qualifying. (The rules have changed, such that out of 32 qualifying teams, 4 each will come from England, Spain, Italy, and Germany. This leaves only 16 for everyone else, almost certainly meaning at least one more round of qualifiers, with the last against yet-harder teams. And Celtic just barely scraped through this time. But that's another rant... short version is that the sooner we get a proper European League, the better.)

The other unfortunate consequence of all this is that there's now virtually no interest in this season's football - the Premiership is all wrapped up, Falkirk don't seem to have even started in the Championship (shame, that), and so that just leaves two cup competitions to care about. And, sad to say, I don't, not really - cup competitions come down more to who has a bad day than they do to who is the best.

Still, it was nice while it lasted. Ish.

#46: "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency", by Douglas Adams

Thursday, August 25, 2016

End of an Era

Many moons ago, back when I started university, I bought for myself a CD/cassette/radio player. This was allegedly portable, but the sheer size of the thing made a mockery of that claim. But that was fine, since I never really wanted it for that purpose.

And it's done me sterling service in the past twenty-two years, and most especially in the last seven when it has sat atop our fridge and provided music in the kitchen. But it had certainly started to show its age - the radio reception was patchy at best, even with the aerial extended (and that aerial was also becoming increasingly fragile), and there appeared to be a loose connection somewhere - in CD mode it sometimes managed playback through both speakers, sometimes through only one, and sometimes none at all. (And this wasn't a "have you tried turning it off and on again" problem - the loose connection would move around, such that audio would come and go.)

So it was finally time for a replacement, and so yesterday I went and purchased a new, much smaller, CD/radio/other player. Which is considerably better since the radio is digital and so has better reception, the system has actual presets, which means we can change the channel without risk that we'll never ever be able to find our way back (you wouldn't think that would be an issue, but...), and the CD player actually works. Plus, it also has the ability to play back from both SD cards and USB keys, which is certainly nice to have. The only real downside, and it is a pain, is that the whole thing isn't wireless - I'm increasingly of the opinion that if we're going to have an "internet of things" then we really should get on with it! (But the wireless ones were vastly more expensive for no huge gain, so...)

But this does mean that we are now, finally, and for the first time, completely without the ability to playback cassettes. Granted, we haven't wanted to do so for some years, and I'm not even sure we even have cassettes left, and besides cassettes are long obsolete (of course, that's also true of CDs, DVDs, and even Blu-rays), but still...

Anyway, that was the big excitement of last night.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wasted

I probably shouldn't have enjoyed Channel 4's comedy "Wasted" - it was aimed squarely at twenty-somethings and heavily featured youth culture and drugs that I've never been interested in.

But when you have your very first scene accompanied by "The Touch" by Stan Bush, you're hitting an awfully specific reference. And after that I pretty much had to watch the rest. Plus, Sean Bean's cameos were great.

The show to which it is most comparable (and indeed a comparison that many reviewers made) was to "Spaced", the show that gave us Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Jessica Hynes. And there's some truth in that, especially with the many references to pop culture (typically "Game of Thrones" and "Lord of the Rings" rather than "Star Wars" and "The Matrix"). However, that's perhaps a little unfair - such a comparison unfortunately makes "Wasted" a less-good "Spaced"... but that's largely because "Spaced" had some of the funniest moments I've ever seen - with the end of the second-last episode in particular being genius.

So, anyway, that's that. I now await the inevitable news that it won't be returning for a second series.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Just Cruel

They say that you shouldn't allow mobile phones and similar electron devices into the bedroom. The reasons for this are actually pretty solid - not only is it really easy to get drawn into these things, and indeed get emotionally wound up by them so that it becomes hard to sleep, but apparently the blue light they generally emit also makes it difficult to sleep.

On the other hand, my alarm clock died on me some time ago (unreliability being the single worst failing such a clock can have), and I didn't really feel it was worthwhile spending money on a new one when my phone has a perfectly good alarm on it. And since that's the main use I actually get out of my phone...

Besides, there's no huge harm in that, since my phone is so very basic that it's easy just to ignore it.

At least, it is apart from when spam callers decide that it's a good idea to phone at 11:30pm. Frankly, that's just evil.

So it looks like I'm back in the market for a new alarm clock after all, after which I'll be instituting a ban on phones, tablets, and the like in the bedroom. Because enough is enough.

#44: "Spelljammer: Into the Void", by Nigel Findlay
#45: "Pathfinder: Hell Comes to Westcrown", by Ron Lundeen

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How to Gain Confidence

Right now, there's a gap between what the band can do and what the band actually does. The reason that the band failed to qualify for the final on Saturday, put simply, is that when we went onto the competition field some bottles crashed, and the play just didn't live up to the preparation.

And it's a fairly consistent thing: everything sounds fine in practice, but when we go out for performance it's noticably worse, when we go out to compete it's worse again, and when we go out to a Championship it's worse still.

The downside to that is that there's not a huge amount you can do about it in practice. As noted, when we're practicing things sound fine, because everyone's in their comfort zone and the confidence is high. It's when the pressure is on that the confidence goes... and you can't practice for that pressure situation without the pressure, for obvious reasons.

Simply put, confidence is gained by doing difficult things well. So you do the practice and the preparation, because that gives you the very best chance, but then you have to go out and perform. And then you have to do it again, and again, and again. And, likewise, you go out and compete, and hopefully each time you compete you get better, and you gain confidence, and so you get better, and so it goes. (And that applies in pretty much every field. To gain confidence, do difficult things well.)

There's a flip side to this, of course, and it's a killer: confidence is much easier to lose than it is to gain. Because if you go out to do the difficult thing and it doesn't go well, that's going to hurt. And it's going to hurt more if someone proceeds to gleefully point out all the ways it didn't go well. And it's going to hurt even more if that "someone" is the person who should be building up the confidence instead of knocking it down.

It's fair to say I get quite frustrated when I push a learner forward to play with the band so they can gain experience and confidence, only to have the powers-that-be in the band proceed to tear into them for every single little thing. If they weren't making mistakes, they wouldn't be "learners". Grr.

And since I'm on a nearby topic, here's how to give criticism. Firstly, you want to 'sandwich' your criticism: you want two positive comments and one constructively-negative one. Start with a positive, then the constructively-negative, then finish with the positive. The positives can be nice and general - "yeah, that was pretty good". The constructively-negative needs to do three things: (1) it needs to be specific, (2) it needs to highlight not just what's wrong but also how to fix it, and (3) it needs to hit the highest priority. If there's a whole mess of stuff needing addressed, tackle the most important once first, then tackle the next one. (And don't do the "round robin" of picking one the first time, then something else the second, something else the third, and then back to the first. That has the double-whammy of both confusing people and giving the impression that they just can't get anything right.)