Friday, September 21, 2018

When to Stop Giving Presents

I'm in another of my decluttering phases, and so I'm once again pondering the question of gifts (birthday and Christmas).

You might wonder how these two are associated. It's fairly simple: for each Christmas and birthday there tends to be a number of presents received. In most cases, these are things I've specifically asked for, or in some cases things I haven't asked for but that I will use. But the truth is that there are usually a few gifts that won't ever really be used, and which therefore just take up space. (I'm sorry if that seems ungrateful. It's certainly not intended to be! But it is the truth.)

In an attempt to combat, or at least reduce this, one of the tricks that we tend to use is to ask the person what they would like as a gift, and then get that. Or we just cut out the middle-man, and go directly to giving the money. Which has a certain efficiency to it, but which also lacks most of the warmth of gift-giving. Besides, if I receive £20 from each of my siblings in June, but then give £20 to each of them at their birthdays, is there really any point?

Basically, what I'm saying is that my siblings and I should stop giving each other gifts, with the probable exception of birthdays for ages ending in '0'.

But there's a second, perhaps trickier thing to consider: with one exception we now each have children, ranging in ages from 12 to less than one. And this also leads to a lot of present-buying.

So the next questions are these:
  • At what age should we switch from giving a nephew/niece a present to instead giving them money to spend themselves? (Which may seem to lack warmth, but there comes a point where that's probably preferable to the recipient.)
  • At what age does that gift-giving just stop entirely?
  • Is Christmas different from birthdays for any of the above?
(Incidentally, I think the answers I'm inclined to advocate are: "thirteen", "eighteen", and "yes - between thirteen and eighteen you still get an actual present for Christmas".) Also, looking back, I think the convention I wish we had adopted had been that you keep receiving gifts until you start your first 'real' job. Which, conveniently, would have been at about the same age for pretty much all of us.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Their Own People

Back at the last Scottish Elections, some bright spark in the independence movement came up with a wizard wheeze: if everyone voted SNP in the constituency and then voted Green in the list, that would give the SNP a majority on the constituencies alone but also give the Greens a vast number of seats. In effect, this would allow independence supporters to choose both the government and their own opposition.

It was a fine idea, with only three small flaws:

Firstly, it was bollocks. Since neither the SNP nor the Greens could officially campaign along those lines (since the Electoral Commission would have some strong words - see point two), it just wasn't possible to get people to vote in the desired manner in anything like the required numbers. The outcome of this wizard wheeze was probably that the SNP dropped from a majority to a minority government, while the Greens advanced by two or three seats - certainly nothing like the outome that was envisaged.

Secondly, it was profoundly undemocratic. The wheeze was designed to take advantage of one of the weaknesses of the electoral system used for Scottish elections, and while a certain amount of gaming the system is unavoidable, antics of this sort really should be avoided. (As I said, the Electoral Commission would have had strong words had the Greens, or especially the SNP, given official support to this in their campaigns, for exactly this reason. And rightly so.)

Thirdly, though, what this wizard wheeze failed to consider is that the Green Party are not simply an adjunct of the SNP - they're their own party with their own manifesto, policies, and priorities. They happen to agree with the SNP on the topic of independence, for now, but that's all.

That third point is one that has been causing quite some grief ever since the vote - basically, every time the Greens fail to vote in lock-step with the SNP, they come under fire from SNP voters who gave their vote to the Green party. And so, when the Greens hold out for changes to the tax regime before agreeing the budget, when they vote to repeal the OBFA, and yesterday when they vote against testing for P1 children, they're seen as 'betraying' the SNP.

But, again, these are peripheral interests to the independence cause, and they're all matters where the Green party are simply following their openly-stated principles and manifesto policies. In short, they're actually doing exactly what I want to see from a political party.

(And, incidentally, I don't agree with the Green party on either repealing the OFBA (which was deeply flawed, yes, but desperately needed reformed and/or replaced; simply repealing it was a disastrous idea), or on the tests for P1 pupils. But that's my view; they're entitled to disagree, of course.)

Where I do take issue in recent events is with the antics of the Tories, Labour, and Lib Dems.

My view is that political parties should act pretty much as the Greens have done: determine your principles, work out your policies from those, and then vote accordingly. And do so regardless of who that means you end up voting alongside - taking the view that different people vote for things for different reasons, but that everyone is there for the good of the country.

However, that's frankly not how I see Labour, the Lib Dems, and especially the Tories acting. For them, just about everything seems to be seen purely through the lens of how to give the SNP a bloody nose. And so, the Tories call for nationalised testing of P1 pupils... and then once they are introduced they perform an immediate about face and call for them to be scrapped. Labour, meanwhile, have their crazy "Bain Principle", whereby they don't support anything the SNP propose.

But that's disastrous for our politics. Firstly, it's disastrous because most things in Scottish politics are in fact not about independence, or the prevention thereof. But if the unionist parties line up in a row to attack whatever the SNP do, that has the effect of turning our politics into exactly that - supporting independence becomes a matter of supporting everything the SNP do (even where they're wrong), while opposing independence means the opposite.

Secondly, it has particular problems in a minority government, where the governing party must cut deals in order to get things done. This worked really well in 2008 precisely because Annabel Goldie's Tories was reasonably pragmatic about making those deals, as were the Lib Dems. Thus, the SNP could cut this deal here, and that deal there, and it worked pretty well and led to pretty balanced governance.

But in 2018, things don't work like that. The Tories, Labour, and the Lib Dems are all manifestly not interested in making deals, while leaves the SNP with exactly one choice: the Greens. And that gives the Greens disproportionate influence, allowing them to pull the SNP government signficantly leftward. But... if people had wanted the Greens to have that level of influence, they would have voted Green in greater numbers. The effect of this is that the whole party is being skewed in a manner that the electorate do not want. And that's not a good thing.

Unfortunately, I don't see any of this changing any time soon. The reality is that the nationaist vote is fairly well united behind the SNP, but getting a majority in Holyrood without an actual majority in the country is extremely (and intentionally) difficult. But the unionist vote is significantly divided, such that neither Labour nor the Tories will be able to form a government without the other... and it's almost unthinkable that they would go into coalition together. Meanwhile, the independence issue is simply not going to go away (unless and until Scotland actually becomes independent, of course, but I'm not holding my breath). So the whole thing is going to remain a mess for a long time to come.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Baby Changing Facilities

One of the benefits of having travelled fairly extensively this year with Funsize in tow is that we've had several encounters with baby changing facilities. It's fair to say that some of these are better than others! However, I've generally been reasonably impressed with the provision of facilities - for the most part they've been there when we've needed them, and they've tended to be reasonably good.

That said, there is one thing that really annoys me when I encounter it...

In terms of provision of baby changing facilities, I take the view that there are three options, any of which are at least acceptable:
  1. Have a dedicated baby change facility. This is probably the best - have a single room set aside for the changing of babies.
  2. Place the baby change facility in the disabled toilet. This is probably the next best, in that it provides a single facility for everyone to use. However, it does have the downside that sometimes disabled people need to use the facilities, and sometimes when you've got to go...
  3. Duplicate the baby change facilities in both sets of toilets. Sometimes, this is the only available option. And it's fine, since it does provide facilities for everyone to use. However, it suffers from being inefficient, since you have a relatively little used facility in two places, and it also runs the risk that the real baby change facility is the one in the ladies' while the one in the men's is allowed to degrade...
And that brings me to the thing that really annoys me, and the option that I don't think is acceptable:
  1. Place the baby change facility in the ladies' toilets only.
Fortunately, we've encountered this only rarely, and only ever when we've been together, so we've never actually been caught out by it. And if it ever did happen, I'm confident (arrogant?) enough that I'd make no bones about going in and using said facility. But it's still something that continues to annoy me when I do see it. Partly because of the potential issues that might arise and/or the issue of children not being changed when they actually need it. But also because of what it says, and continues to say about gender roles - both that it is expected that mothers will be around to look after children and also that it is expected that fathers will not be looking after children, certainly on their own. But if we're serious about equality, both those assumptions must be challenged.

(That said, I'm not convinced we actually are all that serious about equality... but that's another rant.)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Winning Ways

The football season this year is shaping up to be rather more interesting than I had expected. I had expected it to basically be another procession - with Celtic having the best squad by far, the best manager by some distance, and the most money by miles, I'd expected them to more or less sweep everyone before them. And if there were signs of a meaningful challenge, I'd expected them to invest heavily to ensure it didn't happen.

But it hasn't been the case. Firstly, Celtic failed to qualify for the Champions' League group stages (which I'd expected - with the recent rules changes I don't expect a Scottish club to get there for a very long time). Then they lost their best player right at the end of the transfer window, with no real opportunity to get a replacement. (And, yes, they got a huge amount of money for that player, and yes, they had already brought in someone in the same position. So, business-wise it was rather spectacular; but in terms of the play on the field, it doesn't seem to be going so well.)
The upshot of that is that Celtic have had a poor start to the season. As, indeed, have Aberdeen and Rangers. This leaves Hearts as league leaders with some cushion, and indeed sees Livingston flying high despite having just been promoted.

Now, it's worth noting that we are only five games in, and I fully expect things to shake out quite quickly - I'm still expecting Celtic to get their collective act together, go on a long run, and win the league; and I'm still expecting the top six to be made up of some combination of Celtic, Hearts, Rangers, Hibs, Aberdeen, and one other (probably Kilmarnock). That order, incidentally, isn't entirely coincidental, but is also not quite a prediction!

But I can see three key points of interest in the next 33 games...
  • Will Rangers and Celtic both end the season with the same managers as they began them? And, if so, will they start next season the same way? (Previously, I would have thought the only real prospect of Celtic making a change was if BR got an offer he couldn't refuse. I'm increasingly thinking that threshold might be dropping.)
  • What will the gap between first and second be?
  • Will Rangers manage a win over Celtic this season? (Or, in the case of a cup match, will they manage a win in the regulation 90 minutes?)
I still think we'll end the season with painfully little change - I think the pundits were basically unanimous in predicting Celtic for the title at the start of the year, and I think they were right to do so. But I do think that a change in manager for Celtic, or a final winning margin in the single figures, will make next season one to watch. And if Rangers do manage their first win in years, then that will be doubly the case.

Tasks For The Weekend

Over the weekend I finished off the decoration of the main bedroom, which involved drilling four holes and fastening the hooks for tidying the curtains. That was a good job well done. I also fixed the same issue in the nursery, and took the opportunity to patch a number of small holes in various walls - mostly places where things had been screwed into the wall but where the screws had been removed. (Those will need sanded and some paint applied...) I also started the task of scanning-and-shredding my old RPG papers.

The tasks for this weekend are intended to cross three of our rooms from my revised to-do list, all from the upstairs of the house. There is one big task, and then three minor tasks, one nice-to-do, and one continuation task. Specifically:
  1. Fix the shower seals. This is now the highest-priority task remaining.
  2. Have a clear-out in my wardrobe. This will involve a cull of clothing generally, but will also include going through the three boxes stored there (again) and discarding some stuff. In particular, those BB training materials I mentioned before will be for the chop.
  3. Have a clear-out of the medicine cabinet in the en suite.
  4. Have a clear-out of the medicine cabinet in the main bathroom. (You could argue that these are the same task. However, as the to-do list is now sorted by room, they're listed separately. It's also worth noting that there's not a lot needing done here, it's mostly just a matter of tidying up and taking stock.)
  5. Continue scanning and shredding the old RPG papers. I made a good start at the weekend, but it's important to keep the momentum up.
  6. If possible (which it probably won't be), get a cover for the barbecue and get that packed up for the winter. If this doesn't happen this weekend, it probably needs to next week.
Obviously, six tasks is a pretty heavy load, especially for a weekend where I'm determined to take things relatively easy (after several hectic weeks). However, the first of these is really quite important, while the next four are all pretty small in scope. Indeed, it's not impossible that I'll get some done before the weekend.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Cool, but disturbing

A few days before our trip, my phone popped up with a notification: had I considered downloading a map of Antwerp? Well, as it happened, I had already done so (and indeed language packs for French, German, and Dutch, and an Antwerp App), but it was quite cool to see that it was pro-actively suggesting ways to make life easier - indeed, the biggest pain of our trip to the US would have been averted by exactly such a mechanism.

On the other hand, it's rather disturbing that my phone popped up with a notification concerning a trip that I had booked entirely on my PC (and, indeed, using Firefox - I actually prefer Chrome, but it doesn't seem to work right on that PC). That means that my phone is reading and, perhaps more worrying, understanding my emails as they come in.

I'm not sure whether to be really impressed or horribly concerned by that development. Probably both - it's like having a super-fan who just wants to cater to your every whim... and who is quite willing to tie you to a bed and break your ankles to achieve it...

The Recent Tasks

At the time of writing, I have made progress on five of the six tasks I identified for my holiday. Three are done: the trip to Antwerp, the haircut, and the seasoning of the bagpipes. Another of these, the decoration of the main bedroom, is all but done - there is still one small job to be done, which I will complete this weekend (tomorrow?).

Of the remaining two tasks, one has proven to be more difficult than expected - the repair to the wardrobe door. Here, I had identified a possible fix that should work, and after considerable annoyance and effort I did indeed complete that fix. Unfortunately, I quickly found that that fix really didn't work right, which puts me more or less back where I started - it's okay for a temporary solution but would be a bad permanent one... and I don't see a good way to properly fix it.

(Annoyingly, the 'real' fix is both simple in concept and annoyingly hard in practice. Ideally, what I'd like to do is remove the damaged part (now parts) and instead fit an identical replacement part. Simple... if you can get your hands on an identical replacement part (or parts). The annoyance comes in trying to find those replacements - there's no sign of what the part numbers are or where they were bought from. Worse, I suspect they were originally bought as part of a kit, potentially from a company that has since gone out of business. So those "identical replacements" might not even exist, and certainly might not be for sale on their own, massively complicating a simple task.)

The last task is probably the most important, and is also on the schedule for this weekend (but may well slip to next weekend), which is to fix the seal on the shower in the en suite. Over the past year this has started to leak. Only very slightly and only on rare occasions, but enough to demand action. I have therefore got the required materials to effect a fix... I just need to find the time.

So, that's three done, one on the verge of completion, one that may be abandoned in an unsatisfactory manner, and one to do. Which is a... poor result.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Past Lives

I joined the Boys' Brigade in 1982 at the age of six. I then spent several years with the company, first as an Anchor Boy, then the Junior Section, the Company Section, and as a Senior. Finally, I took the KGVI training course and became an officer in the company. I served for a total of 23 years, leaving in 2005 due to my move to Yeovil.

(I briefly made contact with a company down in Yeovil, but in the end decided not to get involved - they were looking for Junior Section officers while I preferred working with the Company Section or Seniors. I also briefly considered resuming my service after my return from Yeovil, but again decided against due to the travel that would have been involved.)

I enjoyed my time in the BB, but the fact is that I haven't been back in thirteen years now, and indeed I won't ever be going back - that chapter is done.

However, over the course of five house moves between 2005 and 2017, I carted a box of BB training materials with me, ignored and indeed unknown. It was only fairly recently that I even discovered I had these books, while clearing out some other boxes. And these are materials that were old even when I got them; they must surely be completely obsolete by now (though, knowing the BB, maybe not...).

The upshot of that is fairly simple: it's time to let go of that past life. The materials that I have are of no value, to me or to anyone else; I can't claim to have any sentimental attachment to them, as I didn't even know I had them; and they will never see use again. Getting rid is really a no-brainer. (The only thing stopping me is time - it's one thing to identify these for disposal; it's another to actually clear them out...)

But that's an easy "past life" to get rid of. Doing the same for pipe band materials dating back a similarly long time (and with a similar usefulness or value) will be rather more harrowing. And clearing out RPG ephemera from my school and university days will be a whole new level of difficulty. But we're getting to the point where it needs to be done - all this clutter from past lives is starting to impact on the quality of the life we're living now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Retiring the Tablet

A few years ago, I invested in a Hudl 2 tablet from Tesco, largely because it was quite cheap and relatively powerful for the price. And it was quite useful... for a while.

The truth is, though, it really didn't last long before outliving its usefulness. And as soon as I invested in a smartphone it immediately became obsolete - there's nothing I would use the tablet for that I wouldn't use the phone for instead. (And equally, while there are some things I wouldn't use the phone for, for those things a PC is still the tool of choice.)

The upshot is that the tablet has now been retired from use. It's not that we're getting rid of it (yet), and it's certainly not that we're going to upgrade to the latest model. It's just that that form factor turns out to be a solution that doesn't really have an associated problem. Which feels wrong, somehow, and yet... not.

#44: "Pathfinder: the Six-Legend Soul", by Amber E. Scott