Thursday, November 16, 2017

Experimental Cookery 2017: Sausage and Chestnut Pasta Bake

This one comes from the "Bake-off Winter Kitchen" cookbook which, it's fair to say, is not one of my most-used tomes. Indeed, it mostly gets used for the tomato sauce for pizzas, which isn't exactly challenging! So this week's experimental cookery was welcome, if for no other reason than that it gave some slight justification for keeping that book - there may need to be another clear-out soon, and a few of the lesser lights will no doubt go at that time.

Being a pasta bake, this meal wasn't exactly hard - there were a few minutes of prep, a few minutes of pre-cooking some of the ingredients, then it all got mixed together and put in a dish, and it went into the oven. Easy.

The resulting meal was also quite enjoyable - it's something I'll probably do again, though it doesn't exactly threaten any of my "nominated nine". My only slight criticism was that the recipe as given resulted in way too much food - even cutting the quantities in half (from 4 servings to 2) left a huge amount over. Still, this wasn't too terrible, as it saved LC from making lunch for the next day.

All in all, I think that was a winner.

#52: "Beren and Luthien", by J.R.R. Tolkien
#53: "Witch Wraith", by Terry Brooks

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Pining for the Golden Age

Just after the Brexit referendum there was a brief spell between David Cameron tendering his resignation to the Queen and Theresa being asked to form a new government. During that time, we technically didn't have a government, and the highest-ranking figure in Downing Street was Larry the Cat.

Any chance we could go back to those halcyon days? Because, frankly, no government is better than a bad government.

#50: "Pathfinder: Into the Shattered Continent", by Robert Brookes
#51: "Bloodfire Quest", by Terry Brooks

Monday, October 30, 2017

Germinal

As I noted in my previous post, at the weekend I finished the 49th book of this year, "Germinal" by Zola, which is a book from the list. After some consideration, I have decided that it is not the book of the year, but it is very good.

Like "The Grapes of Wrath", I found that it depressed and angered me in equal measure. Angered because of the manifest injustice depicted in the novel (although, it should be noted, it was decidedly, and deliberately, one-sided). Depressed because the novel, despite being more than a hundred years old, could very easily have been written about Thatcher's Britain... and removed from the context of a miners' strike specifically it could have been written about in-work poverty today.

(It also didn't help that it was clear, pretty much from the outset, that those who thought of themselves as the saviours of the strikers were manifestly not suited to the job, whether due to self-interest or simple naivety. Indeed, the person with the clearest vision of how genuine change might come about turned out to be an utter, utter bastard... which, yes, is about right.)

Even the supposedly upbeat ending is pretty depressing - the protagonist walks away hopeful that change is coming, and change did indeed come. Unfortunately, the name for that change was "the Russian Revolution", which didn't go so well.

So, can I recommend it? Well, um... maybe. If you're in the mood for a French novel about a doomed miners' strike, and all the poverty and despair that goes with it, I guess so. But if you like happy books, not so much.

Experimental Cookery 2017: Lemon Chicken

Somewhere in all the excitement of last week, I forgot to write up the latest Experimental Cookery. This was another entry from the Hairy Dieters' third book "Good Eating" (the green cover). By my count, this is the weakest of the books to date, possibly excluding their "Go Veggie" book (which I haven't tried), but it's still not bad - it's just that the one with the Yellow cover takes some beating.

Anyway, this meal was quick and easy to produce - just chop some ingredients, mix them in the right order, stir-fry a bit, and serve. All in all, it took about 30 minutes end to end.

And it tasted fine - this was another one that I'm sure we'll do again, though perhaps not right away. It's a good one to have in the repertoire, but not an everyday staple.

So, that's another win. I'm not sure when the next Experimental Cookery will be - I'm running a little low on inspiration right now. But hopefully not too long...

#49: "Germinal", by Émile Zola (a book from The List)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Day 300: Update on Goals

And so we come to the penultimate update on goals for the year (the final one coming in the end-of-year wash-up):

  • Weight: Nothing to report here.
  • Books: By day 300 I should have read 49.3 books. I'm currently at 48.8 books, so I'm very slightly behind here. However, I'm more or less up-to-date on all the sublists, so that's okay.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: This was completed on the 4th of August. Hurrah!
  • Part Five: The House: We're now rapidly getting through the to-do list associated with the house. The redecoration of the two rooms is on hold, but the other tasks are proceeding apace, with new furniture gradually arriving, cables being cut and tidied (ish), and so on. So while there's still a lot to do, this is looking good.
  • Part Five: Church: We have now tried three of the local churches, and are planning to try two more, then try one of the existing ones again, and then make a decision. Right now, we're leaning towards going back to the very first church we tried, but that remains to be confirmed.
  • Part Five: Band: I have now joined the non-competing band that I mentioned at the last update, which should serve to keep me practicing.
  • Part Five: Gaming: I recently took part in my first game session of 2018, and have a couple more planned. My intention is to retain my ties to the game group in Falkirk, but keep my schedule relatively light, and it may be a very long time before I run a game again. Whether I continue to play after Tadpole arrives remains very much uncertain.
  • Super Secret Goal #5: N/A

The latter half of this year has all be a bit of a mess because of everything that has been going on, but I think the news is mostly positive. My expectation is that at the end of the year I will have completed two of the 'main' goals (and discarded a third), while of the "Part Five" goals two are now dealt with and another will be completed in the next month or so.

That leaves two: once again the "weight" goal will fail abysmally, while the work on the house will be advanced but probably not complete by the end of the year.

All in all, I think I can live with that.

#46: "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms", by George R.R. Martin
#47: "The View From the Cheap Seats", by Neil Gaiman
#48: "Wards of Faerie", by Terry Brooks

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The ReBoot Conundrum - solved

About a year ago, I posted that I had decided that it was time to get rid of my Region One DVDs, but that there was an issue with some few discs that couldn't be replaced with Region Two equivalents, most notably the series "ReBoot".

Well, the good news is that I have been handed a solution that works out great, and will allow me to keep access to those few discs that can't be replaced. Huzzah!

It's still my plan to replace those discs I had selected for that fate, and also to get rid of the number of discs entirely - although this same solution would work for all the Region One discs, I'm preferring to use it only as necessary, rather than default.

24 Legacy

I'm fairly late to the party, but I finally got around to watching the 'new' series of "24" over the weekend. It was interesting, but very flawed.

The big problem, I think, is that "24" basically became its own genre of TV. By which I mean that there are a number of things that have to be in a series of "24", without which the viewer would feel cheated, and the plot largely exists to move the story from one of these things to the next. So, there has to be a mole somewhere in CTU, there has to be at least one section where the main character goes off-book, there have to be political shenanigans. And so on and so forth.

What that means is that "24 Legacy" was pretty much just "24 by numbers" - do the one thing, then the next thing, then the next, and we're done. Add to that the pressure of having to introduce an all-new cast of characters and a reduction from 24 episodes to 12, and you've got problems.

But it's probably also worth noting that what made "24" so compelling, especially in the early years, was that it gave us something genuinely new, at least in TV terms - it was the show that would go to places that other shows just wouldn't. As the series progressed, and it became more and more self-referential, it also lost that edge. And a remake that does "24 by numbers" lacks the edge and, I'm almost shocked to say, becomes actually quite boring in places - you know that this has happened and we're at that part of the story, so what happens next must be...

Anyway, if you're a fan of "24" and liked "Live Another Day", you'll probably like "24 Legacy". If you're a fan of "24" who didn't like "Live Another Day", you probably won't. If you didn't like "24", you probably won't like this. And if you haven't seen "24" but like action series, you probably would like this... but would be better seeking out the original instead.

Given that "24 Legacy" has been cancelled, of course, much of this is moot. But since they're apparently working on a new form for the show, some further thoughts:

  • I don't agree with the argument that "24" needs Jack Bauer. Jack was a great character, but other great characters are possible, and there's no reason the format needs him.
  • However, "24" does need two core elements in order to work: it absolutely must keep the real-time aspect (and, for goodness sake, don't cheat - if it takes 20 minutes to drive from A to B in the real world, it should take 20 minutes in the show, no matter how inconvenient that is); it is absolutely must have the full 24 episodes. If you can't commit to both of those, don't bother.
  • If you're doing a reboot, do a reboot. Name-checking Edgar and having Tony re-appear was quite cool, but it also meant that "24 Legacy" was inviting comparison with a vastly-superior original.
  • When constructing any new series, the first thing to do is throw away the playbook. As I noted above, the great joy of "24" was that it showed us something we hadn't seen before, so do that... and that means showing us things that "24" hasn't shown us before as well. So subvert those expectations.
  • Everyone should be expendable. And by 'everyone', I mean everyone. By series six or so of the old show, Jack and Chloe had achieved plot immunity, which meant that the peril they faced in the course of their adventures was inherently lessened. The moment that happens, and a character's life becomes safe, that character absolutely must be killed off. Then deal with the fallout.

That's what I think, anyway.

A Matter of Genetics

I should probably apologise for another post about Scottish football so soon, but something has really been bugging me since Sunday's match - specifically, Gordon Strachan's comment that part of the issue is genetic, in that Scottish players are on average smaller than most other Europeans. (Well, except those minnows of the footballing world, Spain, of course. But since they never win a match I guess we can discount them as being irrelevant...)

Bluntly, Scotland's problem isn't a matter of genetics; it's mostly a matter of mindset.

Scotland seems to delight in "glorious failure" - we consistently do almost well enough. And when the inevitable failure comes, it gets chalked up as another glorious failure, a mark of progress. Or, of course, we point to some singular bit of ridiculous bad luck, or a woeful refereeing decision, or something, and blame everything on that.

This applies to football, to rugby... and to most other areas as well. Even our history is littered with glorious failure, even such as William Wallace or the Darien Scheme. (And that's a ridiculously high-level summary.)

(Incidentally, Andy Murray is the exception that proves the rule. I'll get back to that.)

The problem with glorious failure is that it is, ultimately, still failure. And since winning and losing are both habit forming, that's a big problem.

But the genetic argument is nonsense, as evidenced by, yes, Spain. And the argument that we're making progress is likewise nonsense - by that metric, we've made more progress than just about any other country on the planet. Odd that we still keep falling short.

But back to Andy Murray. For years, he was yet another Scot who displayed all the traits associated with glorious failure - he'd keep doing quite well, but then he'd come up against Federer or one of the other big guns, and then he'd lose. Only he wouldn't lose every time. In fact, he was quite capable of beating Federer except when it 'mattered'. But on those occasions... glorious failure.

And then he hired Ivan Landl as his coach, and within a very short time he was Wimbledon champion, and things went from there. Lendl's main impact on Andy Murray's game? It was about the mindset of a champion - Andy Murray already had all the tools he needed to win, he just needed a few tweaks to his game... and a shift to his expectations from "I'll try" to "I will".

(Incidentally, that's why Murray was right that Mauresmo was a perfectly fine choice of coach. No, there wasn't really much she could teach him about the game, but then that was true of just about anyone he could have chosen. But she undoubtedly knew what it took to be champion, and it was that mindset, more than anything else, he needed. Alas, it didn't work out, but that doesn't mean the selection process was wrong.)

So, as I said once before, a long time ago, the problem with Scottish football is that we expect to lose in the big matches. And we grind out draws in the must-win matches, or we otherwise fall short.

Sunday's score against Slovenia was a good result - 2-2 against tough opponents, away from home, where the opposition hadn't conceded a goal on their home soil? Yeah, that's a good result.

The problem was that we needed to win, not draw, and we should never have been in that position to start with - the damage was done much earlier in the competition when we scraped a 1-1 draw against Lithuania at home. That was the must-win match, and we blew it.

For us to make real progress, the mindset has to change. We should treat every match as a must-win match, and when we're playing the supposedly 'lesser' teams, especially at home, we need to deliver that win. Get in the habit of winning, and success will follow. And stop talking about 'progress' when you mean 'failure'.

Incidentally, that's why my threshold for us achieving qualification is independence - not because independence has anything directly to do with football, but because of the question of mindset. A country that does not have the confidence to believe it can run itself is not a country likely to have the confidence to compete on the world stage. And while a lot of people voted against independence for a lot of reasons, the bottom line is that an awful lot of people accepted that we were just too poor to give it a go. There is a positive argument for the union, but that wasn't the argument that won it - "what currency will we use?" was the refrain.

Of course, it's possible for the football team to adopt the winning mentality without the country following suit, but I just don't see it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dear BT Sport...

Look, I understand that you would like feedback, and don't mind you contacting me with the occasional survey.

But...

When I've been working on your survey for 10 minutes and the status bar says I'm only 22% of the way through, then you're taking the piss. Frankly, if I've been working on your survey for 10 minutes, that's already too long. A survey should be five minutes or less.

Experimental Cookery 2017: Beef Stroganoff

In theory, I really like beef stroganoff. But I say "in theory" because all of my attempts to make it have met with abject failure - indeed, to the point of leaving me quite ill at times. Plus, it's not something I get to try very often; being a mushroom-based meal, it's not something LC will even try.

However, LC was late home last night, which meant I was left to fend for myself. And I had recently found yet another take on it, this one from the second "Hairy Dieters" book, so...

As always, the meal was quick and easy to put together, rendered only slightly more awkward because I forgot to put the rice on until late in the process. But that was okay - the sauce also took longer to thicken than I'd expected, which allowed me to bring it all together.

And the result was fine. Not the greatest thing ever, but a massive improvement on previous efforts, and no signs of food poisoning. So that's a win... sort of. That said, I'm not sure I'm really keen to try this again. It was fine, but not exactly the greatest thing ever.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Wish I Could Say I Was Surprised

The worst thing about supporting Scotland is the hope. After a very poor start to our qualifying campaign, the team somehow managed to turn it around and get themselves into a position where two wins in the last two games would win them a play-off spot, and then they managed a jammy last-minute winner in the first of those two matches. (Well, I say 'somehow'. But the answer is actually fairly simple: Scott Brown came out of retirement.)

Of course, I've predicted before that we weren't going to the World Cup, and indeed that we won't be going to any major tournament for the foreseeable future. (Well, unless they change the rules and just let everyone in.) But I did kind of expect the team to manage a win - and then get drawn against Italy, pull off a remarkable 0-0 draw in the first (away) leg, and so know that they only needed one heroic performance, at home, to get through... and then be denied at the last gasp in truly outrageous style. Because Scotland specialise in failing in the most painful way possible, and the was about as bad as I could come up with.

But even that was not to be. About a week ago, Scott Brown got injured and had to pull out. Faced with that, and faced with two very tough games, the manager decided to revert to "tried and tested" players - relying on experienced heads to keep it together to see him through.

Just one problem with that: those players had indeed been tried and tested. Unfortunately, in that testing they had been found wanting. If the definition of madness is trying the same things over and over and expecting different results... well. (Of course, he could have gone with young new, in-form players, and we still wouldn't have qualified. See above.)

So, what now?

Well, we try again next time. After all, you have to, don't you? And we'll need a new manager - Strachan did a mostly decent job, and it's hard to see who would do any better, but he's had two attempts and two failures, so we need to try something different.

Mostly, though, the answer is "nothing". I'm sticking with my prediction: unless they change the rules to massively expand the number of teams that qualify, or unless we amalgamate the leagues and the national teams to compete as Team GB (or UK), Scotland won't make it to either a World Cup or a European Championships this side of independence (and if we never become independent, that means never).

#45: "Pathfinder: The Lost Outpost", by Jim Groves