Monday, February 19, 2018

If Now Is Not The Time, This Is...

As a matter of principle, I take the view that the question of gun control in the US is a matter for citizens of the US. It's not really my business.

But...

Every time there is a mass shooting in the US (about three times a week), the response is on the one hand to send thoughts and prayers, and on the other hand to declare that this isn't the time to discuss gun control. And then the media cycle moves on, and somehow "the time" never quite seems to come around. And then it happens again, and all the same things get said... and the big discussion never quite happens.

Some of the survivors of the Florida shooting have now called for an end to this cycle. They've accepted that now isn't the time... but they've also set a date. Good for them.

Here's the video:

Day 50: Update on... Stuff

Normally at this point in the year I would put together an update on my goals for the year. However, having only one goal fixed makes that somewhat pointless, so instead here's a more general update on various things:

Books: Normally, by day 50 I would be targetting just over 8.2 books read. As of last night, I have read 7 books exactly in 2018. It would be more, but "Against a Dark Background" really slowed me down. (Funnily enough, it was an Iain Banks novel that also nearly derailed me last year.)

Anyway, that's no big deal, since I didn't set that goal for this year. Instead, my target was to get through the remaining books on the British side of The List. And on that front I have read 2 of the entries, leaving a further 9 (or 8, given that "Hamlet" is a duplicate). So, in theory at least, I'm right on target. That said, the two I've read are probably the shortest two of the options, so it gets harder from here...

Band: It has been a bit weird going through the winter without practicing heavily for a competition season. That said, joining the new band has motivated me enough to keep practicing, which is good. And it has been going well, though it has been a little disconcerting that I've now twice found myself left in charge of the practices. Which wasn't quite what I'd intended...

Gaming: Just as I was taking part in my final Pathfinder game, a new game kicked off at work, which has been interesting. The format is quite limiting, with us only having one hour to play per week, but it's better than nothing.

Weight: As noted elsewhere, I have been attending the gym twice a week since starting back at work, which has been tough. I have also lost about half a stone, which normally would be great... except that that mostly puts me back where I was at the start of last year. And since getting back to that point it has stalled. Grr.

Blogging: I've been finding it rather difficult to find good topics for the blog, and as a consequence I haven't maintained the post rate I would prefer - the Imaginarium is not far from my target, but one has fallen quite short. Must do better!

And leaving the most important until last...

Project Tadpole: Still waiting. Otherwise, you would have heard about it by now!

And that's basically that. See you in seven weeks!

#7: "Lolita", by Vladimir Nabokov (a book from The List. Also, ick.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Black Panther

LC and I went out to see the latest Marvel film last night. And it's good.

The recent Marvel films have tended to go one of two ways - either they take a very offbeat tack (Guardians 2, Thor 3), or they tell a fairly straightforward story in an unusual way (Dr Strange). "Black Panther" falls into the latter category - at its heart is a story of family drama, set in a fictional African kindgom where natural resources have given them super-tech.

And Wakanda is pretty cool, but where the film really shines is in the cast - Chadwick Boseman had a key part to play in the success of "Civil War" (providing the emotional heart of that film while Cap and Tony are busy tearing each other apart), and he's great here too. I would say he carries this film, but that would be unfair on the others.

Opposite Boseman, we have Michael B. Jordan playing another grieving son. He was great in "Creed" (itself far better than it has any right to be), and he's good here, filling the character with a great deal of menace and danger, and yet still not being entirely one-dimensional.

(Edit: When I wrote this post I hadn't yet realised that Ryan Coogler was the director of both "Creed" and "Black Panther", which explains a great deal. That's a name I'll have to look out for in future.)

And then there are the women: the bodyguard, the spy, and the scientist (Dania Gurira, Lupita Nyong'o, and Letitia Wright, respectively). Very varied roles, very varied characters, and all great. Plus Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker in small but significant roles.

(Even Martin Freeman did well. I really didn't like his character in CW, but they did a good job of turning him around here. He's not a good guy, as such, and he's not a bad guy either. He's somewhere in the middle, which is cool.)

Looking past the cast, there's the set design which is new and unique (at least in the MCU), and the sound, which again isn't quite like anything else in Marvel films to date. Good stuff.

I do have two slight quibbles. The first is that, again, we have the big CGI battle to end the film - the trappings are different, but it's still just pretty cartoons going against one another. Unfortunately, I'm not really sure how you get around this - they did a pretty good job of setting up the competing agendas that led to the big fight (again, as in CW), but once you get there it's still a lot of sound and fury.

The other was that at times I found the fight scenes hard to follow - the camera seemed to do a twisty-zoomy motion that gave things a somewhat dreamlike feel, but also made it hard to keep track. It wasn't as bad as "Transformers", probably because nothing is, but it was still far from ideal... especially when there were a lot of characters wearing very similar uniforms running around.

But those are quibbles - the strengths of this film are very strong. Chalk up another winner for Marvel.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Waiting

There's not much going on in our world right now - we're mostly just waiting for Tadpole to make an appearance. We may or may not get a chance to see "Black Panther" before this happens. (I'd kind of hope not, but it's not up to me.)

It's funny how much harder it is to wait for things when you don't know how long you'll be waiting. After the fiasco with the sale of the flat, you'd think I'd be used to it by now. Oh well.

In the meantime, the latest books:

#5: "Pathfinder: Tower of the Drowned Dead", by Ron Lundeen
#6: "Against a Dark Background", by Iain M. Banks

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Hmm, that's odd

I find myself lined up to pipe at a wedding in June of this year in the USA. As a consequence of this, I thought it would be quite nice to play something suitable American for the event, and while the "Star Spangled Banner" doesn't work terribly well on the pipes (due to the range of notes available), "America the Beautiful" should indeed work.

Or so I thought.

The thing is, while I've found sheet music for the tune easily enough, and although that music seems to match up with the way I'd expect the tune to be played, all the videos I've found of people playing the tune are at odds with this - there's a High-A being played where the sheet music shows a High-G. And as a consequence it all sounds really weird, and obviously wrong.

I suppose it's possible that Sinatra just sang it wrong, and that the tune should indeed have that High-A. But that really doesn't feel right, given how obviously wrong that High-A sounds in that context.

I dunno. It's just odd.

Anyway, the upshot is that I'm going to learn it the way that the music says, and if anyone questions it I'll just blame Frank.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Experimental Cookery 2018: Chicken Noodle Stir-fry

This one also comes from Jamie's "5 Ingredients" book, which I strongly suspect will be the more-used of the two cookbooks I got for Christmas, but which hasn't had quite the impact I thought it might. I had to replace the brocolli in the recipe with green pepper (as I can't eat brocolli), and I also added some spring onion as a garnish because I figured why not...

The meal was, as anticipated, very quick and easy to put together. I think it took about 20 minutes from end to end, which is pretty good for a week-night (the book claims 16, but I don't entirely trust the cooking time for the chicken, and I did include time for washing and chopping the veg before I applied heat to anything).

The result was mostly fine, but way too salty. I suspect that's a matter of having too much black bean sauce in the mix. However, I'm not particularly inspired to have this again too soon - it was fine, but I have a number of other chicken/noodle dishes in my repertoire already, and this doesn't do anything to displace them.

Still, a worthy effort for the second of the year.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Washing Machine Down

Our washing machine died yesterday. It looks pretty serious - my guess is that it's the main board that has given up the ghost, which is theoretically fixable but probably not worth it. However, this isn't a disaster, as we already have a new washing machine, which we bought for the flat a couple of years ago. So, really, all that's needed is to take out the old washing machine, put the new one in its place, plug it in...

Unfortunately, that's where the next problem comes in, because the washing machine and tumble drier in our utility room aren't plugged in to the wall at all - some bright spark decided the thing to do was to wire them in directly. (I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I can't find the offending post...) So what is needed is a multi-step process - first, pull the appliances away from the wall; switch off the power in the house; unwire the existing appliances; wire in a new socket; switch the power back on; lift the old washing machine into the garage and bring the new one into the house; plug the new one in. (And much the same for the tumble drier.)

And, alas, the washing machine, at least, is too heavy for one person to lift by themselves.

So it's all a bit of a nuisance, especially since we're in a position where we can't easily make plans, and where I don't get home until after it gets dark. And, of course, it's now a job that can't really wait - we can just about make do without a washing machine for a short period, but it's really not for the best.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Tiny Victory

On Sundays at the moment, Channel 4 have a show "The Biggest Little Railway in the World" which, really is one of those shows that exists because they have holes in the schedule so they find some colourful characters, set them an absurd challenge, package it all up with some historical context, and call it good. Anyway, it's a relaxing way to waste some much-needed time, so that's fine.

Anyway... (Oh, and spoilers, I guess...)

LC and I have been watching the show since about mid-way through the first episode, and it's been interesting. I'm particularly enjoying the engineering challenges. It's all a bit odd, but it's good fun.

However, last night's episode was filled with the tragic moment when the team lead decided that the Age of Steam would have to come to an end - they were taking too long servicing the steam locomotive, so that they weren't going to meet their target. So he replaced the steam locomotive with a battery-powered one that, while obviously more efficient, just wasn't as good. New is not always better.

Anyway, that was the way of things for about a quarter of the show - they'd shifted from steam to electric, it had all gone modern, and that was that.

But then, triumphantly, they brought back the steam engine! This seemed mostly to be due to stubbornness - the team lead had to go check in on another team, so the lead engineer (who was then in charge) brought back the steam locomotive because, let's face it, it's just better. (Seriously, that seemed to be the argument - we like steam, so let's have it. Huzzah!)

But what's most interesting, and the reason that I'm bothering with this post, is that Tadpole seems to particularly enjoy this show (it's probably the music). And at the exact moment when the steam locomotive was restored, Tadpole chose to dance the Dance of Celebration!

Thus proving two things: Tadpole is a person of taste and discretion, because steam is indeed better, and Tadpole is clearly going to be an engineer when she grows up. Huzzah again!

Unless she decides to do something else instead, of course.

(Also, the pronouns aren't a clue, because I don't know. I may need to edit this post in a couple of weeks to change them.)

The Day of Sorrows is Upon Me

For the past several weeks, the Tesco list has had "Irn Bru?" on it, as a consequence of the impending change to the ingredients. Until this week, a check of the bottles has revealed that we were still on old stock, and so I've gradually built up a supply (as each week I have bought enough for two weeks).

Yesterday, reading the bottle revealed the horrible truth that we were now on the new stuff. So that had to go back on the shelf while I completed my shop in dismay. (In the end, the story had a happy ending - it turned out that while the bottles were new, they still had cans that were in the old recipe. Score one more for the good guys!)

Which means that we've come to the crunch time. Things can go one of three ways: either the sales figures will hold up (or even improve), and the new recipe will be here to stay; or they'll drop by a reasonable amount, but not enough to force a rethink, and the new recipe will be here to stay; or sales will plummet and they'll fairly quickly have to reverse the decision (as happened with New Coke). I hate hoping for something to fail, but...

On the larger topic, I do understand why this measure has come about. The impending Sugar Tax left Barrs in a tricky spot. They had three choices: they could swallow the tax themselves, and devastate their profits; or they could pass on the tax to customers, and see a large hit in sales; or they could do what they have done.

What they couldn't do, unfortunately, is just reduce the sugar content without adding other sweeteners. The Sugar Tax is a binary thing - you pay nothing up to a threshold, and then you pay the full amount no matter how far above it you are. Irn Bru was at about double the threshold. So a reasonably reduction in sugar wouldn't be enough to avoid the tax, while cutting it by half would drastically alter the flavour (probably making it undrinkable). So, to avoid the tax, it had to be artificial sweeteners.

(They could, of course, have launched either "Irn Bru 50/50" as a new option, or introduced "Irn Bru Premium" that maintained the sugar but at a higher price. But there are problems with both options - basically, you're competing against yourself, which never ends well.)

So, that's where we are. I believe I have enough in stock to take me through to my birthday (especially since I'm still giving it up for Lent, starting on the 13th of February). By which time we'll know the outcome one way or another - either the new stuff will be here to stay, or the old recipe will be back. Or, just possibly, that "Irn Bru Premium" I mentioned may have arrived... though I'd be surprised.

#4: "The Darkling Child", by Terry Brooks