Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sometimes, it just isn't your day

Having almost run out of disposable contact lenses, I phoned my optician on Thursday to order some new ones. This morning, they phoned me to say they were now in, and I could collect them. I thanked them, and hung up, carefully neglecting to ask when they were closing today.

A bit later this afternoon, it occurred to me that I should probably pick up my lenses, in case they closed early. Still, I was busy reading, and had just a few pages to go, so decided to wait and finish, since a few minutes either way wouldn't really matter.

I got to the optician's at 3 minutes past 3, to find the place darkened and locked, with a notice on the door that they were closing at 3, and would reopen at 9am some day next week (probably Wednesday, but I neglected to memorise that - and it doesn't particularly matter anyway).

I did, however, spy a couple of people still inside, including the receptionist. So, I knocked, on the grounds that the worst they could do was say "go away, we're closed." They did not do so, but instead let me in to collect my lenses. I was duly thankful.

On returning to the car, I checked the boxes, only to discover that the strengths on the lenses are different for each eye, and that in both cases they are stronger than the actual value I wear in both eyes. So, on Wednesday, I'm going to have to go back, and return the lenses.

Sometimes, it just isn't your day.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Refreshed, rested, and raring to go!

You know, despite being woken at 3:30 this morning, I've felt surprisingly alert and rested today. In fact, I'm now keen to get back to work and kick-start things there again. Perhaps there's something to this 'vacation' lark after all.

Roll on 2007!

Is it a bad sign when your scales break?

Actually, my scales have broken, but I think this is because the little chip inside got damp. Whatever the reason, it won't now reset to 0, which makes the whole thing rather useless.

Anyway, I got a new set today, although they're cheap and nasty analogue scales that probably aren't terribly accurate. According to them, in the three months since my other scales gave up the ghost, my weight has stayed about constant, which is a good sign, since I haven't actively been trying to change it.

Oh my, I had forgotten...

I went to Tesco this afternoon to pick up a bunch of things to see me through until the week after next, and was reminded very clearly of just how annoying people are. And it wasn't as if they were particularly doing anything to be annoying, just failing to think of the consequences of turning their trolleys across the aisles, stopping dead to look at some shelf or other, or standing side by side in the aisles to have a good natter, while all the time people were just trying to get out of there.

And then there was the random fight just outside the store. Always a pleasure.

This, however, has left me with something of a problem. See, as I may have mentioned before, I'm getting a bit tired of being constantly single. And, standing in the way of me actually doing anything about it is a general lack of single women in my life. (That every interesting woman I've met in the past six months has very shortly thereafter been transported to some weird parallel dimension, never to be seen again, doesn't help.)

This leads to the logical conclusion that I need to go out and meet people. But I find people incredibly annoying for the most part, especially when taken en masse. So, this leads me to the question: where do you go to meet people, while simultaneously avoiding places where people tend to be found?

Ouch! My Irony-meter broke

Last night, I was woken up at 3:30, to the sound of my neighbours complaining that some guy is a "selfish bastard".

Personally, I think this is great - it's almost as good as Obi-Wan's comment "only a Sith deals in absolutes".

Friday, December 22, 2006

Milestones to Christmas

On the first of November, with Halloween over, the shops collectively decide that it's now time for Christmas. The decorations go up, the shopping centre soundtracks become festive, and the adverts tell us that it's time to urgently do our Christmas shopping now, now, NOW! But I don't consider that the start of Christmas.

On the first of December, I start my Christmas shopping. Over the next couple of weeks, I will identify presents for all the people who need presents, and order these. In general, my shopping is done online - I don't have time for lots of wandering round shops looking for presents for people. But I don't consider that the start of Christmas.

On the first Sunday of December (or shortly thereafter), I put up my Christmas decoration. But I don't consider that the start of Christmas.

Some time during the last week before Christmas, I wrap the presents for everyone. But, still, I don't consider that the start of Christmas.

No, Christmas officially starts for me at the moment when I stop work for the year. And that time is now! Huzzah!

Have a good time, all.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


why is it that tales of degradation and embarrassment make for the best stories?

A new category

As everyone knows, there are two main types of trouser emergency. The lesser trouser emergency occurs when you bend down to lift a heavy box or other item, and suddenly there is a huge RIIIPP! sound followed by a sensation of freedom. The greater trouser emergency... well, you can imagine.

For many years, I had been under the illusion that these two types represented the full range of possible trouser emergencies, but my illusion has been shattered by recent events.

On Friday, we were to travel to the top of the Schildthorn, the better to suffer Powerpoint poisoning. It being December, and quite high up, and cold, we were advised to wear something warm. Additionally, those of our party who were skiing or engaging in the other sports o'death for the weekend (not me, in this instance) were advised to take a change of clothes.

So, I packed my bag with a few extra layers, in case I needed them later in the day. And, on a whim, I packed a second pair of jeans. I wouldn't need them, I knew, since my jeans weren't going to get wet, and you can't really wear more than one pair at a time...

Anyway, we set off. And, in the conference centre, they had very nicely placed a bottle of water on each chair (sparkling water, but what can you do?). We sat down for the first three hours of festive fun and Powerpoint.

About three quarters of the way through this, I notice that the person sitting next to me has a chocolate bar. In fact, many of my colleagues have chocolate bars. And yet I have none...

Seeing where this is leading, I start to develop a distinct feeling of dread. And, sure enough, when we break for lunch, I stand up and look down, and discover the location of the missing chocolate bar. Or, at least, the melted remnants thereof. (Naturally, for maximum effect, it wasn't just a chocolate bar. Oh, no, it had to have nuts in, too.)

Fortunately, either no-one actually noticed, or they were too polite to actively point and laugh. I calmly and with great dignity collected my bag, and made my way to the toilets, where I was soon clad in nice clean jeans. When I returned to the conference centre, some kind member of the centre staff had removed the offensive chair, and replaced it with a nice clean chair.

Anyway, I have decided to declare this the intermediate trouser emergency. And I have resolved to no longer be so cavalier in sitting down on chairs, since you can never know when one might ambush you with chocolate.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Unearned Plaudits

The weekend just past saw me in Switzerland, and left me with rather a lot of blog-worthy material. I may get around to telling some of those stories over the next few days, or I might save them up until I can bore you with them in person.

My dominant experience of the weekend, though, was that I kept being given prizes and being generally congratulated, entirely due to the efforts of other people.

On Friday evening, after an exciting day of team-building, my company had their annual awards ceremony. The dress code was 'party casual', which of course means nothing to anyone. However, as I had bought an exciting new dress shirt for the party that I didn't attend last weekend (by virtue of being in Nottingham), I decided to wear that. Consequently, the evening found me in kilt, waistcoat and jacket, plus my fantastic new dress shirt and bow tie. (I was asked, if this was casual, what would I look like when I really got dressed up. The answer is exactly the same, but I would wear an actual bow tie instead of a clip-on.) As I have mentioned in a previous post, the effect was as of Superman to my normal Clark Kent, even down to the use of contact lenses instead of glasses.

(There may a future post in which this outfit is also relevant, hence my detailing it at some length.)

One of my colleagues also wore a kilt.

Anyway, the awards ceremony went on, with the various design centres from France and Germany giving out their awards. Lots of awards, for many fine projects. A long and distinguished line of engineers was formed on the stage...

Then, lastly, we came to the Edinburgh centre, for which there was only one award. However, because we're rather busy here, the people to whom the award was due were unable to attend, and couldn't join us by video conference because that would just be silly. But, because the centre really needed to have some representation amongst the winners, someone had to be nominated to collect the award...

Perhaps the strangest thing about it all was that when most of the winners had received their awards, there was a ripple of polite applause. However, when I and my be-kilted colleague made our way to the stage to collect an award we hadn't won for a project that was finished before we joined the company, the reaction was huge by comparison. Then, when the winners' photograph was to be taken, they insisted that we take prominent position in the front row.

It was all rather bizarre.

Roll on Saturday, and the team-building exercise proper. Here, we were in teams, building towers out of straws and sellotape, because how else can one's cow-bell be properly displayed? Anyway, as part of the task, one of the sub-groups was to solve riddles to gain additional building materials, and I was part of that team. Except that it quickly became apparent that I represented a net-loss of productivity - after an initial couple of really good answers, things just went horribly wrong. So, I wisely removed myself from the doings, to allow my colleagues to do their stuff.

Consequently, the team came joint-second overall. And we had to go and collect a huge pile of chocolate as our prize. Naturally, this terrible hardship was made all the sweeter because, once again, I was being given a prize, this time to keep, and again off the back of other people's efforts! Huzzah!

But I'm not done yet!

On Sunday, at the church, there was a special candlelit service in the evening. This was organised largely by Chris and Ed, but represented a huge outlay of effort on the part of many of the youth of the church. My part was to read four readings, all of them very well-known. Not exactly the hardest of work, and a fairly minor part of the whole.

Anyway, I stood up for the first reading, and started. In the short pause after the first paragraph, I became aware of a strange silence about the place, a silence I've heard once before while I've been reading. It's meaning: people were listening! Oh dear...

Well, I did the readings over the course of the evening, with only two small problems, one where I managed to miss out a key word and was forced to resort to "er...", and the second there I gestured grandly, only to lose my place in the reading and had to continue from memory while frantically seeking the correct words.

The rest of the service went without a hitch. There were several video segments, some excellent carols chosen, and a choir. As I said, my part of the whole was rather minor.

But, in keeping with the theme of the weekend, I spent the next hour or so being told how great I was, and while that is obviously true, and nice to hear, it did seem rather unfair given the efforts of everyone else. But, hey, what can you do?

(And, yes, before I finish: well done to Chris, Ed, and all those involved in putting together the service. A quality production all around.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Honour the Sprout!

If you've read this before, I commend you on your memory.

Every year at Christmas, the scene is set by certain trappings. And, for the most part, these are welcomed by people as giving a nice festive feel to the world. True, people complain about having to put their decorations up, they moan that the shops have started Christmas too early, they worry that their shopping is not yet done, and that there are 5,224 cards still to write. But, the truth is, these are all things that people do not because they have to, but rather because they choose to do so. The truth is, people secretly like all the fuss and nonsense surrounding Christmas.

However, there is one element of Christmas that people don't like, yet one that is as quintessential an element of the Christmas experience as is not watching the Queen's Speech. I'm talking, of course, about the brussel sprout.

There it is, a little green ball of foulness, nestled at the side of your plate of turkey dinner and all the trimmings, silently setting the scene, reminding you that verily, 'tis the season. And, every year, millions of people bemoan their sprouts, and cruelly cast them aside, consigning them to the ignominy of the bin, sealed away to the mocking laughter of their more popular vegetable kin.

No more, I say! This humblest of vegetables has gone unrecognised long enough, enduring the scorn and mockery of we merry-makers long enough!

This year, let us all take a moment on Christmas Day to reflect on the contribution of the Sprout to our season. Let us tip our heads in a silent gesture of respect to this gentleman of the vegetable kingdom, and acknowledge all those departed sprouts, whose sacrifice should not have been in vain.

Will you join me?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The world seems much quieter now...

Courtesy of outrageous fortune, I found myself at my Gran's (in Nottingham) last weekend. Consequently, I found myself listening to 'Strictly Come Dancing' on Saturday night - such is the volume at which she watches TV, only a retreat out to the car would have protected me from this fate.

I didn't actually see any of the show, on the grounds that I was trying to read my book at the time, but instead enjoyed the delights of their live singer mangling a great many tunes new and old. Now, the thing is, I know the music really isn't the point of the show, it being about dancing and all. (Well, actually, it's about a popularity contest for 'celebrities', but that's another rant.) Still, would it have killed them to get someone who could actually sing?

Oh, and another thing. What is it about the studio audiences at these things with their inane reactions to the judges? Say something nice about the performance, and there's a round of applause (presumably in recognition of completing a coherent sentence, without order wrong putting in words the the); say something critical, and there's a chorus of boos. I wouldn't mind so much, except that it's supposed to be a talent contest, and only about three people there were really qualified to comment, so shouldn't they be allowed to actually do their jobs?

Then again, they weren't helped by the fact that one of the judges obviously wanted to be the Simon Cowell of the dance scene, without realising that in addition to being incredibly arrogant, and often quite nasty, Simon is also generally incisive in his commentary. Instead, whenever she started talking, this judge started wittering on, saying nothing of consequence, but being sure to use her favourite catch-phrases. (I'm sorry, but "it had snap, it had crackle, and it had pop" doesn't mean anything, and once you've used it twice it's not even cute any more. As an alternative, why don't you try... "I liked it"?)


Friday, December 08, 2006

New and Improved!

In the last two weeks, Microsoft have upgraded the two most-used tools on my PC: Internet Explorer and Media Player. And, of course, they've managed to destroy both of them.

(Please, no comments about how I should use your browser/player of choice. The simple fact is, the pre-installed tools are free and convenient, and 98% of websites are designed for IE. So, it would take an awful lot to persuade me to switch, especially since my home PC is now 7 years old, and in its last few months of life. And, of course, I can't make the switch with my work PC.)

Anyway, the new Internet Explorer includes the wonderful tabbed browsing feature, which is really quite nice. However, it has also vastly upped its processor demands, which means that it can't scroll properly on my PC, especially when using the wheel mouse. Given the choice, guess which I would rather have working?

And the new Media Player is particularly good. The old version had a lovely feature where it minimised to it's own toolbar on the taskbar, including basic player functions. The new version has a similar feature, with a new and snazzy black look (which of course doesn't match the rest of the desktop, but never mind), but they've deleted the ability to choose your playlist from the minimised taskbar. That, of course, being one of the features I used most often, and probably my #1 like about the product.

Good work, there!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Feeling all festive now

I've just put up my Christmas decoration. Now, my computer monitor is wreathed in green tinsel.

Ho ho ho!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Making a List, Checking it Twice...

If I declare all the people I know to be 'naughty', does that mean I can save a bit of cash this Christmas?

'cos some of them totally are.

Monday, November 27, 2006


In case you're wondering, there will be no photos of the wedding, as there were none of Ed and Jo's wedding, and as there were none from my holiday. The reason for this is simple: I don't own a camera.

This should emphatically not be read as any sort of a hint as regards Christmas. The reason I don't own a camera is that I have virtually no use for one. On those rare occasions where I've felt the need, I've carried disposable cameras, but more often than not I've forgotten to even carry them with me. And I can't own a camera-phone for work-related reasons, so that option is out too.

Loss of confidence

When Andrew (my brother) said that he and Aileen wanted me to play the pipes at their wedding, my answer was of course yes. I'm sure such a response comes as no surprise to you. What might come as a surprise is that on Wednesday, I strongly considered phoning Richard (another brother) and telling him that he would have to do it.

The thing is, this has been a rough year. And my confidence has taken a real battering, personally, professionally, piping-ly, in terms of my faith... basically in general. And the worst thing about loss of confidence is that it impacts directly on performance, which in turn leads to a loss of confidence, and so on. This is why winning and losing are habits, and the longer a losing streak goes on for, the harder it is to turn around.

However, as far as the piping is concerned, there is cause for loss of confidence. Quite aside from the problems with the instructor at the new band, I know fine well that I'm not playing as well as I was in April. I did well at the competition, but the range of tunes I can play well has dropped significantly, the number of errors has increased slightly, and I played really badly at the Armistice, a problem recovered only slightly by the fact that everyone in the band seemed to have a bad day, and the day itself seemed to be a bit of a farce.

On Wednesday, therefore, I sat down with my music and practice chanter to play through a few tunes quickly before going out to see Casino Royale. I never made it to the film. The practice consisted of a string of errors, joined up by the occasional correct note.

Oh dear.

Anyway, it was about this point that I started to panic. Wednesday was pretty much my last chance to get a proper practice in, and if it wasn't good... And, of course, the last thing you would want to do is agree to play and then mess up your brother's wedding. There are some things that just aren't done. (And it's not as if you can make mistakes and hope no-one notices. The bagpipes are a loud instrument - if a solo piper goes wrong, everyone knows about it. And, Andrew used to play, Richard does play, and Graeme (brother #3) also plays. So, the pressure was on.)

At length, though, I decided to go for it anyway. The other rule about confidence is that the moment you quit once, that's you done - might as well quit forever. That's why if you get thrown by a horse, it's imperative that you get back on right away. If you don't, you never will.

So, along I went, deeply unsure that I was doing the right thing, but committed nonetheless.

At this point, I need to digress a bit into talk about weddings. When piping at a wedding, there are various things you can be asked to do. Typically, you are asked to play for the guests arriving (20 minutes before the official start time until the bride arrives, typically 20 minutes late. Aileen was very unusual, in that she arrived early). Typically, you are also asked to play for the couple as they first exit the church. And it's not at all uncommon to be asked to pipe in the top table and/or the couple at the reception (however, having a piper for both events usually costs more, so this is a bit less common). It's also entirely possible, although less common, to have the piper play the processional and/or recessional (the processional is the bit where the bride walks down the aisle. The recessional is the reverse - the wedding party make their way out of the church).

My job was to play for the guests, to play the processional, to play as A&A left the church, and to pipe everyone in at the reception.

The play before the service went okay. There were a couple of bad notes in the first tunes, mostly due to the cold weather, but nothing serious. And the play got stronger as it went on. So, that was okay.

Then came the real tough part. The processional is tricky, because you have to play the tune perfectly, while remaining discreet, and while watching the bride make her way down. You have to pace it so that your play matches the rate of her procession, and you have to stop playing both at the end of a part, and when she arrives at the altar (or slightly thereafter, but NEVER before). Plus, of course, everyone is there by that point, and everyone is focussed on what is going on. A mistake here will kill you. (And bear in mind that if you do it right, no-one will remember the piping, since their attention is on the bride. Do it wrong, and no-one will ever forget.)

So, no pressure then.

Fortunately, everything there went right. And, as I slipped to the back of the church to put my pipes down for later use, Richard (who was holding the door at that point) was heard to say, "that was good." Which is important - compliments from the laity are always welcome, but when those who know what they're talking about choose to comment, their comments will carry greater weight.

Of course, after that it was a walk in the park. Later on, Aileen said to me, "thank you so much for doing that for us." To which I responded, "any time." In hindsight, perhaps that's not quite what I meant to say, but never mind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Since I'm having a go at the government anyway...

Listening to the radio this morning, I heard a report that the government's sex education policies have done nothing to stop the increase in teenage pregnancies. The government's policy is "be good, but if you can't be good, be careful", which is a nicely mixed message. I'm not surprised it doesn't work.

There are only two policies that might work to curb teenage pregnancy: abstinence or protection. You need to pick one and go with it; attempting to do both is doomed to failure.

Now, in order for the policy of abstinence to work, you need to remove all sexual imagery from music videos, advertising, the soaps and other TV programmes. You need to end the club culture, and it needs to become understood that it's no longer acceptable for adults to sleep around.

Don't like that? Me neither. It offends my notions of freedom of speech, amongst other things.

If you're not going to change popular culture in the manner required for abstinence to work, then you cannot apply it as a matter of public policy. Which, according to my count, only leaves on option...

Living in the Supernanny State

The government's latest initiative to tackle anti-social behaviour in kids deserves comment. Theirs is a two-pronged strategy - mandatory parenting classes for the parents of out-of-control kids, and the hiring of a number of 'supernannies' to assist parents of these kids.

"Huzzah!" say I. Let's waste more taxpayers' money on gimmicks that won't help the situation.

Here's the thing: I would bet that most of the parents thus affected will not attend the 'mandatory' classes, in exactly the same way that these out-of-control kids are ignoring their ASBOs, so many people ignore community service ordered by the courts, and so many fines simply go unpaid.

Even for those parents who do take advantage of the system, these schemes won't help. The kids involved are too old to have their behaviour corrected by a 'supernanny'. By that age, the opinions of their peers hold more weight than those of anyone else, and it will be a mark of honour to beat the system.

No. There are two ways to fix the problems in our society: the slow way and the draconian way.
To do a proper job of correcting our society, the various political parties would need to agree to a long-term cross-party strategy with that end. However, this will never work - the Tories instead prefer scoring easy points against Labour for their total inability to control the problem, ignoring the fact that they couldn't do any better. One of the advantages of being in opposition, I suppose.

What's really needed is a long and slow shift in society, where things are terrible now, and will be terrible next year, but where they might be marginally better next year than this, and might be marginally better again the year after. Carry that through over twenty years, and we'll be getting somewhere. Sadly, it's not going to happen.

If we rule out the long-term solution as impractical, we have to look at other methods of solving the problem. Now, despite all their rhetoric about getting tough on crime, the parties just don't have the conviction to do what is necessary. Probably with good reason.

Here's the thing: going for the parents of unruly kids won't work. Too many of them just don't care, and too many of the others just don't have the needed authority to deal with their kids. No, we now have to deal with this by going after the kids directly.

I recommend two steps. Firstly, we take a 'zero tolerance' policy to drinking, drugs, and minor crime amongst young folk. If the police stop you with drink or drugs, or while involved in any crime, you spend a night in the cells. No warnings, no calling parents to get you. You go to the station, and you sleep in a cell. Your parents can collect you in the morning. (Oh, and if your parents can't be bothered collect you, or refuse to pay for your bed-and-breakfast? Well, I hope it's a nice cell.)

Secondly, where kids are adjudged to be out-of-control, they should be tried and prosecuted as adults. I recommend a three strikes and you're out policy - get convicted of three 'youth' offenses, and thereafter you're treated as an adult.

I'm also leaning towards some sort of national service-style camps for young offenders, where they have to pass out of their military-run training to be allowed back into society. However, I'm not sure quite how best to implement this.

There's more I could say on this topic. But the fact is, there are larger problems with society, and even with the implementation of law and order, that would need to be tackled first. I might discuss them a bit later.

Considering my Position

I've been having a bad time at band recently, such that I'm now considering whether it's worth continuing or not.

The band is made up of a significant number of kids, and a handful of more experienced players. With the departure of the pipe major and some others a few months ago, I have found myself right at the top of the list - the pipe major is better than I am, and one of the instructors is marginally better than me (he's also a much worse teacher, but that's neither here nor there). There are also a couple of people who come occasionally who are better, and there's one guy who is about as good as I am - it depends how we each play on a given day where we stand.

Unfortunately, it seems that the instructor guy just doesn't like me. I don't know what I can have done to offend him, but his critique of my playing has seemed excessively unfair. Now, until last night, I had to assume this this was fair commentary and nothing personal, since the other road leads to paranoia, and since I'm aware that my play is not perfect. However, it was always extremely disconcerting when he would say that the band needed to get its act together, all the while staring directly at me - every time.

However, the band has most recently been learning a new tune called "Wings". The Pipe Major knows this tune. One of the occasional members was a Royal Engineer, and so knows the tune very well (it's their regimental march, you see). And I've been playing the tune for ten years, and so know it very very well - a fact not known to this instructor guy.

The rest of the band, including the instructor, don't really know the tune at all.

The band practice around a table. The way it works is that someone will play a part of the tune, the instructor will comment as necessary, then everyone plays the part, and then you move on to the next person. It's a simple and effective method. Due to my position at the table, I was the first to play the tune solo.

I did so. And, having played the tune for ten years, I played it very well. The timing was spot-on, the phrasing was perfect, and so on. There was a grand total of one gracenote missing. I say this not out of pride, but to point out that I played the tune well, and I know that I played the tune well.

The instructors comments were that it was totally crap, that most of the doublings were missing, and that I had to play it again. None of which was true. Which confirms my suspicions.

Sadly, it would not be at all good for the band for the newest member to tell the main instructor that he's an idiot. So I restrained that urge, and fought down my desire to stand up, flip him the bird, and walk out.

This leaves me wondering if this band is worth continuing with. The fact is, I don't really want to be in a band that continuously plays the same four tunes over and over. I don't want to get back into teaching loads of kids to improve. I've done that. I'm looking for a band that will make me better, not worse. And I definately have better things to do with my time that have my play unfairly slated just because this guy doesn't like me. Time to move on?

(Incidentally, this is worth comparing with the events at my band in Yeovil. There, the pipe sergeant had a similar critique of my play. However, in that case, he was dealing with specific bad habits that had slipped in, and fundamentals of play that needed tightened up. He also had the virtue of actually being right. The net effect was that I came away from Yeovil a much better piper than I was when I arrived. None of that is true here.)

Friday, November 17, 2006


If you check my post about the contents of my fridges, you will note that the list included eight hotdog rolls and eight sausages. Since those heady days, I have consumed four rolls and four sausages, leaving four rolls and four sausages in my freezer. Or so you would think!

Instead, when last I checked, there were four hotdog rolls in my freezer, but no sausages. Now, I know I didn't eat them, what with the associated rolls still being there, and there's been no-one else in the appartment to eat them in my stead. And yet the sausages have disappeared.

I have checked everywhere. I checked all the drawers in the freezer, the bit of shelf I use for thawing food for consumption the next day, the other fridge, and even every shoe in the appartment (long story). No sign.

This is almost as good a mystery as the Case of the Lost Pen, and slightly better than the Case of the Missing Cheese. Where could the lost sausages be?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

So not the point!

Apparently, some Christian think-tank has published an article suggesting that Christians should wear white poppies for Rememberance Day rather than red ones. Seemingly, white will symbolise that redemption comes not through war (red), but through Christ (white).

It would appear that someone forgot to actually put brains in their think-tank before letting it run.

Here's the thing: the poppy doesn't symbolise redemption at all. It's a symbol for the sacrifice hundreds of thousands of men made in a pointless war ninety years ago. It's a reminder to us all to not be so bloody stupid again. It's not a statement of faith, and frankly shouldn't be hijacked as such, and it really should be one of the few things we can all agree on: war is bad, m'kay?

Besides, even if you're determined to steal the poppy for your own use, keeping the poppy red is better suited to your purposes. One of the reasons the poppy is so effective is that it is red, and blood is red, and so it symbolises all the blood that was spent in this sacrifice.

Now, here's a question for this Christian so-called think-tank: can you think of another sacrifice involving the spilling of blood? Here's a hint: it's the single most important event in the history of your faith.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Let the Games Begin!

For the past while, I've been becoming increasingly worried about my health. So, the logical and sane thing to do is to make an appointment, and go see a doctor. That way, if it's nothing I get to stop worrying, and if it's something I get it sorted out before it gets worse.

I don't know if I ever blogged about my fun and games getting an appointment on the one occasion I needed to visit the doctor in Yeovil. Basically, before I had to get an appointment, I had to register. And to register I had to go in to give them my NHS card. I can't recall if it simply wasn't possible to register by phone, of if I just didn't have my card to hand, but I had to leave work, go home, get the card, go to the surgery, register, and then make an appointment to see the doctor.


Anyway, having decided to see the doctor here, I prepared myself to the likelihood that I would have to register. So, I spent some time this morning digging through my letters, until I found my new and improved NHS card. Then, in the hope I could register by phone, I came to work.

So, the first step was to find a likely practice to register with. This should be easy - there was a website I used last year to find the nearest practice, and then I just called them. So, onto Google I go...

and find that that website only covers England. There is an NHS Scotland website, but it in no way helps residents find a surgery - it's all about careers, and adverts for how the NHS is helping us better. Yay!

So, instead I just googled for doctors in Falkirk. Fortunately, there is full-blown medical centre two streets over from me, so it should be them, right? (I hadn't just gone directly to them, in case they were a specialist centre or something.)

So, I get the number and phone them. Well, they are a nice, normal NHS facility, but their list is full. Great!

The receptionist there gave me the number for Allocation Services. I should phone them.

So, I did. And, the result?

Well, they can't take details by phone. I have to write to them (not email!), and they'll assign me a doctor within 48 hours. At which point, presumably, I can register, and then I'll be able to make an appointment.

This is the point where I call shenanigans on the whole bloody fiasco.

Here's the thing: when people move to a new place, they should register with a doctor and a dentist as soon as they get there. They should, but they don't. There's a huge list of things that need to be done, and some of them don't get done. This is especially true if their record is that they've visited the doctor precisely twice in the last decade, and are not intending on staying where they are for very long.

So, they only time these individuals (and by that, I mean me) register is if they feel the need to see a doctor. And, unlike the pensioners back home, I'm not in the practice of making a weekly appointment just in case - if I'm wanting to make an appointment, it's because I'm thinking there's something wrong.

And, stress-related problems are on the rise, at a near-astronomical rate. Specifically, whatever my problem is, it's very definately aggravated by stress. (Indeed, I'm hoping it's just stress, since that I can actually manage.)

All of which means, when someone needs to register, DON'T GIVE THEM A BLOODY RUNAROUND!

Frankly, allocations and registrations should all be handled online. At the very least, it absolutely has to be possible to email Allocation Services instead of writing them. (Oh, and when your website wants to redirect people to their local health authority, have them input their postcode, not click the appropriate location on the map. Funnily enough, I know my postcode; I don't know the exact location of Falkirk on your badly-drawn map.)

I know the NHS is under-funded, and that it has a lot of very dedicated people working very hard. And, on the front end, I've never had cause to complain; the service is generally very good. But the bureaucracy is a joke.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

That word, it doesn't mean what I think you think it means

I've just read a news article with the headline, "Charisma has an impact on election outcomes: study". To which my first reaction was, "well, yes".

However, it turns out that the study was in fact on the relative effect of a person's appearance, versus what they actually say, on election results. Which is a rather different matter. Still rather an obvious one, though.

To assist the people who conducted the survey, here are the factors that contribute to election success, in decreasing order of importance*. The ideal candidate should:

1) be very tall.
2) have really good hair.
3) smile a lot.

And that's about it. Being articulate is over-rated, being intelligent is irrelevant, and being of strong moral fibre is a distinct liability.

It's fair to say I'm no fan of democracy.

* I should note at this point that I didn't come up with these criteria. I'm only repeating them, largely because they're depressingly accurate.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A triumph of democracy?

I find myself distinctly troubled by the verdict in the Saddam Hussein trial. See, while I'm in no doubt that he was a murderous tyrant, and while I further have no problem in the use of the death penalty in extreme cases (I'll get back to that), I don't believe that he received a fair trial. What's more, I'm not sure it was possible for him to receive a fair trial.

Regarding the death penalty: I'm of the opinion that it is acceptable, but only in extreme cases. Where I define 'extreme cases' as those cases where the alternative is for the condemned to be incarcerated for the remained of the life, with no chance of ever being released. In those cases, and only those cases, I'm inclined to just execute them quickly and cleanly. If nothing else, it removes any risk of escape on their part, and since we're dealing specifically with extreme cases, one can only assume an escape would lead to grave danger to the public. However, if the possibility exists, no matter how slight, for rehabilitation and release, I don't accept that the death sentence is warranted. (I will, of course, accept that opinions vary widely on this matter.)

Regardless of that, though, I'm very clear on the point that anyone who is accused, no matter how plain their guilt, must be afforded a fair trial. And this is doubly important when the death penalty is likely to be imposed.

And, I'm sorry, but I just don't accept that that was the case here. Did anyone seriously think there might be an acquittal? Furthermore, if there had been an acquittal, would anyone have really accepted it as the right verdict, or would they simply have assumed it was due to a corrupt court?

And, here's a very interesting question: if there had been an acquittal, would the Americans have accepted a restoration of Saddam to power, and promptly removed their troops from Iraq?

If the answer to any of these questions is 'no', the trial wasn't fair. Instead, it existed solely to provide the world with the sight of 'justice' being done. Which, frankly, is offensive. He should have just been 'killed while resisting capture', and had done with it.

(One more very interesting question: since I'm almost entirely certain that the verdict was the correct one, and am satisfied that the punishment is right given the extreme circumstances, does it really matter if the trial was a sham? My answer is yes.)

President Bush has hailed this verdict as a triumph for Iraqi democracy. But here's another interesting question: can a democracy properly function while a country is under occupation by a foreign power, no matter how well-meaning? Or, to put it another way, if the terrorists put down their arms tomorrow, and instead campaigned in the election on an "America Out" platform, and won, would the US really leave? What if the platform were less US-friendly even than that?

As I said, I've very troubled by it all.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Appropriately Scared

My neighbours were having their electricity meter replaced yesterday. Consequently, my power had to be switched off for a while. Having planned for this, I had decided to go to the cinema last night, but on checking the listings I found that there was only one film I actually wanted to see, and it was on later. There was one other that looked okay, but the synopsis indicated it was the very definition of a 'date movie', so not something to go to on my own.

So, I was in the appartment during the power shutdown.

However, I am not remotely scared of the dark, and anyway it wasn't that dark. And the power came back some fifteen minutes later. No, the big scare came later.

Having watched a bit more of "Dukes of Hazzard" and determined that it truly was a bad bad film, I decided to switch the computer on, as I had things to do. It powered up, connected to the network, and...

No internet!!!!

Fortunately, there was a simple explanation - the router and the Sky box both tried to access the phone line at the same time after they powered up, the Sky box got there first, and the router was therefore blocked. All I had to do was restart the router again, and whole thing came back together.

Still, it was not the most pleasant of things to happen, even if it was appropriate to the date.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Recent TV

With the move of Lost from Channel 4 to Sky, I now find that I have no reason whatsoever to watch Channel 4. This is a shame, because a couple of years ago I did pretty much all my TV viewing on that channel.

In fact, this development now means that I only watch programmes on the BBC and Sky.

Speaking of the BBC, I've been watching the new "Robin Hood" every Saturday since it began. The first episode was simply awful - it made the Kevin Costner movie look like a masterpiece. Fortunately, though, each episode since then has been a huge improvement over the one before, such that Saturday's episode, if rather cliched, was actually good (as opposed to merely 'watchable'). At this rate, and given the rate at which it's shedding viewers, the series finale will be the greatest show ever, and only I will actually watch it.

I have also been watching "Torchwood", a show I had been looking forward to since I heard about it. Well, the first episode was okay, but suffered from the need to introduce everything (hint: no, you don't. Introduce the characters and the premise in your promotional trailers, and start the show in media res. Trust me - I know nothing about making successful TV shows :) ). The second episode was everything that I feared the show would be - the plot featured a 'sex alien' and involved all the usual nonsense. Basically, it was the show that a couple of teenagers would produce to show just how adult they were.

Burnt by the second episode, I considered dropping the show then. However, I watched one more episode, just to be sure, and found that it too had improved greatly. So, that's back on my must-watch list.

On Sky, there aren't too many shows I'm actually watching for the moment. 24 starts in January, Battlestar Galactica likewise, and Lost hasn't started yet (should be in November, though, which might be good - though the second series was rather pants tbh).

I have been watching "The Unit" (on Bravo), which has not been what I expected. However, I'm rather enjoying it, even if they are showing the episodes out of order.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Micro-post 3: Canned Tomatoes

Where the ingredients for your Spicy Chicken Casserole call for a small can of tomatoes, chopped, don't think to yourself "fresh tomatoes taste better; I'll use them instead." It turns out that if you do, your casserole, while still tasting fine, will look extremely off-putting.

Micro-post 2: Veils

1) It was rather unfair to slate jack Straw for his comments that the Muslim veil represents a "visible symbol of separation". He was right, since that is the purpose of the veil.

2) It is absolutely the right of Muslim women to choose to wear said veil if they wish. (There are potential issues to do with some Muslim women being coerced into wearing the veil against their wishes. However, this is a different issue from the wearing of the veil in and of itself.)

3) We pride ourselves on having a 'tolerant' society. When exactly, did merely being 'tolerant' become a laudible thing? All that means is that we're not actively trying to drive the outsider away. No, tolerance isn't enough - if we wish to pride ourselves on the openness of our society, we have to be actively welcoming, and put neither deliberate nor incidental barriers in the way of the incomer finding their way.

4) All that stops short of saying we must cast aside the underpinnings of our society, nor that we must consider the values of the incomer more important than our own values. But there is a balance that should be struck, and we're not striking it.

Micro-post 1: Noisy Adverts

Note to Yahoo!: When I'm working away, listening to something a bit ballad-y on my headphones, and surfing the net in the background, as I do, it is not acceptable for your site to bombard me with loud adverts for some computer game I might have bought otherwise, but definately won't now.

It is further unacceptable for the volume of said advert to follow the standard rules of advertising, and be significantly higher than the noise of my music, which I have carefully selected for optimum comfort.

If anyone meets me in the next few days and find me saying "What?" a lot, it's because I have been deafened by these oafs.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Three Stooges Syndrome

Sorry the updates have been a bit few and far between lately. There are actually so many topics I want to post on that I'm finding choosing just one hard. But, I'll try to clear out the backlog in the near future.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Props to my peeps

You'll notice that, unlike many other blogs I could (but won't) name, this blog lacks a bar at the side linking to various other blogs that I read. There are two key reasons for this:

1) All the blogs I actually read are already known to everyone who reads this blog, making the exercise futile

and, more importantly,

2) I can't be bothered.

However, I was made aware on Sunday that one of my long-time readers, Chris Meikle, has now started up his own blog. And, being a secretive sort, he's hidden it from Google.

So, I thought I'd give a shout out to It's an intriguing read, even if he has spelled my name incorrectly.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I am tired, hear me snore!

Funny thing: as I noted in last week's post about my experiment, I need to set my alarm clock not to wake me up in the morning, but rather to allow me to get to sleep at night, and to not wake up excessively early. I have since abandonned that experiment.

Except that last night I forgot to set my alarm clock (or, possibly, I turned it off in my sleep - I've done that at least once before). I then proceeded to sleep in by a whole 20 minutes this morning! Horrors!

Still, for the first time in I don't know how long, I actually got up feeling like something other than death warmed over, so that's got to be a good thing, no?

Tale of Two Fridges

In honour of having broadband at home, I felt I really should post something from home. And what better thing than a list?

However, what manner of list could I make from home? What fascinating insights could I glean from that which is all around me? And then it hit me... the contents of the fridge (always empty the fridge before attempting to balance it on a corner). And, in fact, since I have two fridges, and since each has both a fridge section and a freezer section, I get to do a multi-part list! Will the delights of broadband never cease?

Anyway, without further ado, here's the list:

Everyday Fridge, Fridge section:

1 sachet Old El Paso Salsa
1 'big tub' Dairylea
1/2 loaf of Bread
1 plastic box, containing 4 sandwiches (Coronation Chicken) and 6 Cherry Tomatoes
1.5 litres of Falkirk's finest tap-water
3 Red Gala Apples
2 Onions
Approx 1 pint Milk
Just under 1 litre Tropicana Smooth
1/2 tub Coronation Chicken sandwich filling
Small jar Nescafe
1 block Scottish Cheddar cheese
Barbeque Sauce
Tomato Ketchup
Sweet Onion Relish (squeezy bottle)
Hot Chillis and Jalopeno Relish (squeezy bottle)
'Small Chunk' Branston Pickle (squeezy bottle)

Everyday Fridge, Freezer Section:

Sunday Best Fridge, Fridge Section:

2 bottles Milles Genuine Draft (note to self: Get more beer in advance of the Scotland/France game next Saturday. Note 2: Get better beer)
13 cans Pepsi
18 cans Irn Bru

Sunday Best Fridge, Freezer Section:

1 loaf Bread
10 burger Buns
8 Hot Dog Rolls
4 individual Chicken & Vegetable pies
8 Chicken Burgers
8 Quarter Pounder Beef Burgers
2 plastic tubs, each containing a serving of Beef Bourgignon (it's very nice, but alas doesn't thaw well :( )
1 Plastic tub fulled with Chicken Stir Fry (likewise, it's very nice, but it doesn't thaw well :( I really need a roommate/girlfriend/other person to cook for)
8 Pork Sausages
4 Lamb Chops (not sure how I'm going to get rid of these - I got them to go in a lamb hotpot, then forgot to defrost them in time, so had to buy replacement lamb to cook instead)
1 bag Home Fries
1 portion of some other brand of Oven Chips. These will be inflicted on Leigh next time she eats here, as punishment for bringing them in the first place!
1/2 pound Mince
1/2 bag Peas (yummy!)
1 bag Mixed Vegetables
2/3 bag Chargrilled Mediterranean Vegetables (to go in stir fry. They are, indeed, yummy)
3/4 bag Onion Rings (breaded, not battered. They're like having silver instead of gold... very nice, but not ideal)
2 litres Chocolate Ice Cream

And there it is, the complete list of things in my fridges. You'll note the absence of 'ready meals' (boak!), and also the absence of pizza (since I ate it on Monday!).

Now, a challenge for you: what foods should I add to my fridge to make it complete? And what mysterious delights lurk in your fridge to ward off your brother's fiancee, should she pop round for a meal? (Oh, and also, how does one go about storing a lasagne for several days, given that it will need to be frozen between cooking and consumption, can be defrosted exactly once, and cannot be cut while frozen? Bear in mind that I have no plastic tubs big enough for a serving of lasagne. I have the technical ability to make a wonderful lasagne, but no way to actually store the thing prior to eating it.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Yes, I now have broadband at home!

On Sunday, I got a call from my ISP saying that BT had finally gotten back to them, and were recommending an engineer visit to see what the problem was. I could have told them that that was the necessary step some months ago (and, in fact, did). Anyway, they wanted to book in an appointment for today between 10:30 and 1. Oh dear. (With work being so crazy at the moment, there's no way I could arrange to have the morning off, and even a Saturday appointment is unlikely to be something I can meet.)

So, I accepted the appointment, on the assumption that Graeme could house-sit. But no joy, for he's now back at uni. However, Claire was good enough to say that she could house-sit. So that worked.

Anyway, this morning I delayed heading to work until Claire arrived at the appartment, so she could get the keys (and thus actually get in). At 8 o'clock, "Fairly Oddparents" came on TV, which is always good. Shortly thereafter, the phone rang. It was the engineer - would it be okay if he came early... in, say, fifteen minutes. Naturally, that would be fine. I hastily phoned Claire to tell her not to bother, but was too late.

Anyway, the engineer arrived, took one look at the wiring, and determined that the little brown box that the wire enters upon entering the appartment was no good, and needed replaced. He went to get the appropriate bits from his van, and as he was doing this, Claire arrived.

Ten minutes later, it was all done. In fact, had I not switched the TV off when the engineer called, we could have caught the last few minutes of "Fairly Oddparents". Broadband now works.

The most annoying thing about this whole experience is that I've known from the 18th of August that the solution would be to have an ADSL engineer from BT visit. I knew that that was what was required, and that such an engineer would probably know exactly what needed done almost immediately. And, of course, I was right. But trying to actually get this done was a nightmare of endless phone calls, missed appointments, and other nonsense. When if they'd just listened to me in the first place when I knew what I was talking about, this could have been done and dusted weeks ago. Sigh.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that I'm now empowered to start hunting for a permanent home, and at the same time reluctant to do so. Furthermore, I now need something new to moan about. I wonder what I'll choose?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

An experiment that didn't quite work

Recently, I've found that I've been waking up at around 7 in the morning, whether I have to go to work or not. This, of course, is not the ideal situation, as I'd quite like to be able to stay up and/or out until about 2 am on a Friday or Saturday night, but can't do that if I'm going to be awake at 7 - I need my sleep.

Still, since I now have to work Saturdays as well as during the week, it's less of an issue, and so I thought I might perhaps try playing it to my advantage. In a bid to try to become a bit less tired, I have started not setting my alarm. (My thinking is that I might sleep in, but that that would be okay, since I have flexible hours anyway.)

Sadly, the effect was the reverse of that intended. By not setting my alarm, I'm leaving myself with a horrible "you've left something un-done" feeling at the end of the day, which prevents me getting to sleep easily. Then, because my brain is a finely-tuned instrument, I wake up at exactly 5:51 every morning, just to be sure that I don't sleep in.

The wonderful irony of this, of course, is that I don't need an alarm clock to help me wake up in the morning. I need an alarm clock to ensure I get some sleep.

Stupid brain.

Adherent of a Repeated Meme

When I was tagged to do this, my initial impulse was to refuse, on the grounds that I hate feeling obligated to do something. However, that's a lousy reason; a far better one might be that work is kicking my ass at the moment, so I don't really have time for such frivolities. And yet, here we are.

1. Three things that scare me:

The prospect of living for another seventy-odd years, and doing so alone.
That one day, by word or deed, I might cause someone serious harm.
And that's it, really. Isn't that enough?

2. Three people that make me laugh:

Bill Bailey
Eric Cartman

3. Three things I hate the most:

Pointless rules
Being wrong
Reality TV

4. Three things I don't understand:

RF properties

5. Three things I'm doing right now:

Trying to think of things I don't understand
Filling out this blog post (duh!)
Trying to work out why my software doesn't work

6. Three things I want to do before I die:

Get broadband internet at home
Play the bagpipes on all seven continents
Have something published

7. Three things I can do:

Write software
Play the bagpipes

8. Three ways to describe my personality:


9. Three things I can't do:

Knit (don't laugh - I was ten, and had never before encountered anything I just couldn't do before. It was a big thing for me.)
Talk to women (actually, a specific subset - those women I'm allowed to be attracted to.)
Nope, that's all. For years I couldn't tie inflated balloons, but I finally mastered that. So, those are the only two things I've put any serious effort into learning, and just gotten nowhere.

10. Three things I think you should listen to:

"Live like You Were Dying" by Tim McGraw
"Happy Boys and Girls" by Aqua (especially first thing on a Monday morning)
Almost anything by John Williams

11. Three things you should never listen to:

The Spice Girls
Take That at 3 in the morning
People who tell you not to listen to your music of choice.

12. Three things I'd like to learn:

How to bake a really really good cake
Another language
The real truth about global warming

13. Three favourite foods:

Shepherd's Pie
Ask me next week, and I'll give you a different list.

14. Three beverages I drink regularly:

Irn Bru
Fruit Juice (the type changes on a weekly basis)

15. Three shows I watched as a kid:

Neighbours (yes, it's true)
Doctor Who

16. Three people I'm tagging (to do this):

Nope. All but one of the blogs I read already has this list on it, so I'm not going to bother tagging anyone.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Truly Awesome Weekend

2006 has been a bad year. It started with a very tough drive back to Yeovil, with me faing the conviction that I had to cut the one friend I made in that town out of my life (a conviction I wasn't strong enough to act on, which proved to be a mistake). It then featured the upheaval of moving the length of the country again, switching jobs, and the frustrations of just trying to get settled in Falkirk (honestly, how hard should it be just to get Sky and a working broadband connection?). I've become disillusioned with my career of choice, I've become rudely disabused of the notion that I'm in any way a good man, and I've had my faith rocked to its foundations (and that in the year I finally finished reading the Bible. Coincidence?).

As far as I recall, the high point prior to last weekend was sitting in the cinema with a huge grin on my face as the opening credits for "Superman Returns" began. That was almost a unique experience (and made better because, unlike "Phantom Menace", "Superman Returns" didn't proceed to suck from start to finish). Anyway, I mention these things because I'm about to describe certain experiences as being the high point in my year, and think that perhaps context is rather important here. It's always fun writing things that you know are going to be taken a certain way, when that might be the wrong interpretation. Or perhaps not. I've given up trying to second guess what people think about my blog, since it never seems to bear any resemblance to the actual reaction.

I came out of my week of hell worn out, generally peeved, and ready to just curl up in a ball and die. In fact, after a vain attempt to numb my brain by watching Smackdown on Friday, I collapsed into bed and fell asleep. Sadly, I couldn't sleep long - there was a delivery from Babies'R'Us coming around 8, so I had to get up. Still, it was enough.

I got up, and watched "The Descent" in the morning. That, by the way, is the scariest film I have ever seen. I laughed at "The Exorcist", was annoyed by the badness of "The Blair Witch Project", and was mildly creeped out by "The Others". But I had to pause "The Descent" and take a break because it was so scary - and that was before the bad things even really started to happen.

But that's all just scene setting. The major event of the weekend was always going to be the marriage of Ed and Jo, two friends of mine from way back. Ed I'd known for six years. Really nice guy. But Jo has the distinction of being my longest-serving female friend. Annoyingly, I don't know quite how long I've known her - I can recall exactly when and where we met, and could find out the date with trivial ease, if I had easy access to Google. But it was more than a decade ago. And, although she probably didn't know it, she said a few key things to me once that helped me through a previous tough time. It was always going to be a good day. (My grandfather actually commented at one point on Saturday that had I still been living in Yeovil, I wouldn't have been back for it. Actually, he was wrong about that; Easyjet would have been getting a nice air fare from me.)

So, first it was into the shower, and then it was into a kilt. Huzzah. I ordered my new kit at Christmas, and have worn it only a couple of times since then. I so rarely have an excuse. And it's a shame - I do really well in formal wear. So, kilt, jacket, waistcoat. Ghillie brogues for a complete lack of friction when dancing (for those who don't know and are interested, that's a type of shoe). I considered wearing a bow tie, but thought that would just be a bit too much, so instead settled for a nice tartan tie. Oh, and contact lenses instead of glasses. The effect was that of Superman as compared to my usual Clark Kent.

I left the appartment, and noted the blazing sunshine. Then it was off to the parental home for a quick lunch, and to socialise with the grandparents who, in a fit of bad timing, had chosen that weekend to visit. And then to the church!

The ceremony was very light and informal. It fitted the couple very well indeed. Good time.
Then back home for dinner. Sadly, I wasn't invited to the meal at the reception - spaces were understandably tight. But that worked well anyway, since I spent the afternoon with my grandparents, which worked out quite nicely. (What's that? You want to hear about the dress? Well, okay, it was an off-the-shoulder white number, with a fairly long veil/train. Joanne wore her hair up and, as do all brides, she looked radiant. Happy now?)

In the evening, though, Ed and Jo were having an evening reception, the central event of which was a ceilidh (pronounced KAY-lee for those who don't know). So, off to that I went. Now, there are two ways you can conduct yourself at a ceilidh. Strategy #1 is to sit at the side, and watch all the dances, and feel generally sad and lonely. I do that often enough in 'real life'. Strategy #2 is to dive in, grab a different partner for each dance, and have at it. This strategy is especially effective when many of the people have never been to a ceilidh before, don't know the dances, and are generally awed by the strutting of the funky stuff.

So, in I dived. I danced all but one of the dances (at which point I was turned down by the first person I asked :(, and by the time I'd found a partner the dance floor was full). It was a fun evening. And, indeed, it was my first ceilidh since 14/02/2004, a fairly shocking thing I realised sometime during the evening. I'd forgotten how much fun they can be.

But, enough reminiscing, and on to the highlight of my year thus far. There exists a ceilidh dance called "Strip the Willow". This legendary dance has been the undoing of many of Andrew's dance partners over the years. It involves a huge amount of spinning around at high speed, and tends to be more than a little interesting. Naturally, therefore, when Strip the Willow was called, I proceeded to ask the nearest girl if she would care to dance (formal wear, remember?). Sadly, Rachel had already been asked. Gutted.

So, I made haste across the floor, seeking someone with whom to dance. And spied the lovely Hazel, who would be "delighted". Result. As we made our way onto the dance floor, Hazel queried whether she should remove her shoes, so we could really go for it. I thought that was a splendid idea.

Now, you recall that I said the dance involved lots of spinning around? Well, more specifically, at three points during the movement of each couple, you're supposed to link hands, and spin around for 16 beats. Normally, this is about two and a half complete circles. Hazel and I managed about six. I was so dizzy I could barely stand. (And I couldn't help but be aware just how dangerous it was. I'm my hands had slipped... Don't try this at home, kids!) But it's funny, at that speed, the only thing you really become aware of is your partner, flying around in circles with you, blonde hair streaming behind her...

At the end of the dance, we hugged. "We showed them how to do it," she said. True, that.

And there it is. Five minutes, one dance, and an impossibly beautiful girl. The highlight of 2006 thus far. Cheered me right up, that did.

A Truly Awful Week

Last week was a bad one. In fact, last week made other bad weeks look good by comparison. Indeed, it was so bad that I wasn't even able to find time for a one-line throwaway post about how bad the week was!

Now, I'm going to have to be careful here, because the badness was connected with work, and there are limits to what should be said about work in a public place. So, with that in mind, here goes.

The project that I'm on has been having some problems. So, the week before last we had a meeting and discussed the situation, and what should be done. One of the outcomes of this was that I should send what I was working on to the customer's expert and have him look it over, to see if he could advise. So, I duly did. Additionally, our project manager was in France that week, and had asked me to send out the weekly status report on Friday. I, of course, forgot until just after I had left the office on Friday, whereupon I spent twenty minutes looking for a convenient place to turn the car around, only to decide that I didn't have time because the BT engineer was coming (or not, as the case actually was).

Anyway, I decided to send the report first thing on Monday, especially since I had to be in early again. And, since the week is cyclic, there's no real difference between sending it last thing on Friday and first thing on Monday.

So, I got up early on Monday, and headed to the office, busily composing the report in my head as I went. I sat down at my PC, opened email, and was hit by the bombshell.

The customer's expert had looked over my work, declared the whole thing utterly useless, and written a scathing report on it, in which he declared, essentially, that I was utterly useless and incompetent. Not the best thing to be hit with on a Monday morning.

At this point, the company went into a damage control mode, and we had meetings and discussions about what went wrong, what was to be done, and so on and so forth. I was told several times that this wasn't about them assigning blame (which I didn't find terribly reassuring).

So, it was hectic. And this week's going to be hectic as well. And the week after. And every week until I can finally get this thing fixed and out of the door.

But the worst thing about it all is not the email itself - it's the dreadful feeling that, just maybe, he's right. Although many of the issues he raised were fairly trivial, there was one major screw up on my part, something I should have known better than to do. (Actually, there was a second, but that one was based on a peice of information I just didn't have, so I'm letting myself off the hook on that one.) But something has gone badly wrong with the project since July, and the blame, if there is to be any, must fall to me. After all, I'm the guy who should have had it working by now.

(Perhaps the funniest thing is that I made a relatively huge amount of progress last week. Were it not for Monday, that would have been the greatest week since I started there.)

There was more badness in the week. My band lost their pipe major just after the Cowal Games, which has left a degree of confusion. And the BT engineer came, and failed to help on Friday, so I still have no broadband. However, these problems fade to insignificance before the hell that was my job last week. I may blog about such things once the project is over. If I survive that long. I find I desperately need a holiday, but there's no possibility of getting the time off until the current project and, in fact, the next one is finished. The way things are going, Christmas is starting to look doubtful.

Friday, September 01, 2006

How does that even happen?

You know how I said I wasn't allowed broadband?

Well, it seems that it really is a universal law. The engineer was booked for this afternoon. Consequently, I got up early every morning this week, so I could get the afternoon off. I got home, and waited.

At 6:30, I contacted BT, and found that the engineer had been held up at an earlier job, and wasn't coming. He's now re-booked for next week.

Even more annoying, I don't even know for certain that this guy's going to fix the problem. It's entirely possible that he'll come out, and declare that he can't help me. Or that he's not cleared for loft work. Or he'll change the wire, and it won't help.

So, out of interest, and with a view to fixing the damn thing myself, I looked it up on the internet. And found a very helpful site explaining exactly how it should be done... if you're not me. At the top of the site is says, "If your phone is connected like this (picture of my connections), you can't wire up a socket yourself. You need to contact the powers-that-be, and have a Master Socket fitted."

So, I guess I'm at work early all next week, then.

Also, in unrelated news, I had an appointment for a gas inspector to come and look at my meter. There's nothing wrong with it, but apparently it's very important that the meter be looked at. He was definately coming between 5 and 8. It's now 8:16, and there's no sign. Somehow, I'm not surprised.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Well, so much for that joke

I was going to do a comparative review of the various colours of toilet roll, thinking it would be funny and would highlight the sheer stupidity of the existing plethora of options.

Sadly, I discovered that the Pink (cowardly red) rolls are, in fact, softer than the other colours. Which kinda ruins the whole joke.

Oh well.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Cartoon Heroes

Thanks to the combined efforts of Superted, Scooby Doo, Mighty Mouse and the Powerpuff Girls, the supply of bananas to little Eric has been restored. Apparently, Professor Chaos was behind it all, and he would have gotten away with it too, had it not been for those meddling kids.

Anyway, all is well with the universe...

or is it?

For my mid-morning snack, I ate a banana. Only to discover that it wasn't very nice. Instead, in order to hasten the ripening process, Tesco has had the bananas put under a sunbed and blasted with UV light. This has the effect of getting them to market sooner, but leaves them green at the top, and generally not very nice.

They have, it should be noted, done the same with other fruit at other times - try buying strawberries from them in March.

I can only conclude that this is all part of a deeper conspiracy. Professor Chaos must have had allies! Fortunately, intrepid reporter Clark Kent is on the case...

Monday, August 28, 2006


Alas, Saturday was not all that could be hoped...

I got to bed early on Friday night, having set my alarm clock. Then, as is my wont, I woke up just before the alarm went off, and struggled out of bed. 4:30 is not a good time to be getting up, and now its evils are compounded by the fact that the sun hasn't bothered to rise at that time yet.

Anyway, I had my breakfast, and went for my morning shower. It was then that things started to go wrong. The light in my bathroom has been a bit temperamental of late, and on Saturday it finally gave up the ghost, without even having the decency to don a white sheet. (I fixed it yesterday. In addition to being a musicial par excellence, a wizard in the kitchen, and knig of all dungeon masters, I am the greatest electrician in the world. Or, alternatively, it turned out to be a slightly loose wire, so I just tightened it up a bit.)

After showering in the pitch dark, I got dressed and left the appartment.

The journey to the competition was fine. Second breakfast was rather expensive, but also fine. (Well, not the best, it must be admitted. Dodgy cheeseburger does not make for the best morning repast.) We went for our pre-competition practice.

The practice was good. The band was sounding fine. We were ready to compete. So, we waited, knowing we were ready; we needed a quick tune of the pipes and we were on.

Except that the adjutant suddenly appeared, and we had to go NOW NOW NOW! No time for a quick tune of the pipes. We hustled to the ground, and rushed on.

It did not do our performance any good. The start was sloppy. The main body of the play was no better than okay, and the stop was really bad, with a trailing drone - a textbook mistake that no-one should be making at that level. (My own play was fine. But that was small consolation under the circumstances.)

So, we were out in the first round. And the worst thing was that we all knew we deserved to be out.

At this point it was 11:45, so a couple of us headed to the pub for a couple of pints. You might think it was a bit early, but remember that I'd been up for more than 7 hours by that point.

After that, I split from the group and went to get a pizza, fully intending on meeting up with them back at the bus. However, they didn't make it to the bus for quite some time. And, once I got back to the bus having had lunch (about 2:30), my exhaustion hit me. I had set myself the mental target of getting to the end of the competition, I'd done that, so I suddenly found myself out on my feet. Not good.

Anyway, the other half of the band returned about 5, and moaned at me because they hadn't been able to find me, and had been intent on taking me out for many many drinks. We proceeded to have a couple more drinks, this time from the epic carry-out that we'd all chipped in for, while mulling over the judges' remarks, which weren't too hopeful. And then it was time for the big parade, the finale to our day.

This was the point where things really started to go downhill. It was very evident that virtually everyone in the band was really drunk. (My own state was such that I couldn't have driven, and my balance was slightly off. Otherwise, I was fine. Annoyingly, alcohol does absolutely nothing for my inhibitions - I get really quiet when drunk.) So, the plan was to march the parade while wearing a succession of silly hats, masks, and false breasts that the band had purchased during the day. (I did find myself wondering if you could be done for "being in charge of a band while under the influence.")

That wasn't the bad bit. One of our drummers decided that it was "drunken challenge" time.

I've had to delete a large chunk of this post now. The subject of the drunken challenge, and quite why I found it so difficult to bear is something I still can't write about. So, it'll have to wait for another time. Suffice to say, it was just about the only thing that I just could not face, and even thinking about left me wanting to run away and hide. (Oh, and it was in no way illegal. Given that, there's virtually nothing that has that effect on me. I can and have sung in public, conducted a children's choir without ever practicing beforehand, and I deal with complex problems on a daily basis. I reckon I could probably take a decent stab at rocket science if I were so inclined; I could certainly learn to do it. But this? No, absolutely not.)

It would have been fine - I could just have ignored him - except that he just would not shut up about the challenge, and how he was going to win, and on and on and on.

After about 15 minutes of this, I was done for. I don't think I said a single word to a single person for the rest of the night - certainly nothing beyond "Yes, please" or "No, thanks". We did the parade, headed home, and I flopped into bed. I think it was 10:30 that I got to bed. I hoped to sleep for at least 12 hours; I woke up at 7:30.

Saturday was not a good day.

Friday, August 25, 2006


In order to not have to work yesterday morning without officially taking the time off, I had to work an absurdly long day on Wednesday (four or five whole hours!), followed by a late night yesterday, followed by an early morning today. So I'm quite tired.

However, it's nearly the weekend, so that'll be okay. I get to lie in tomorrow...

until 4.30 in the morning, that is.

My band are competing again tomorrow, and the bus leaves at 6 sharp. However, the taxi that will take me to the bus leaves at 5.30 sharp, and that means I need to get up no later than 4.30. Which is, annoyingly, just after my "don't bother going to bed" threshold, which is about 3. (Although I don't think I would survive without at least some sleep tonight.)

Anyway, my goal for tomorrow's competition is to try and get my band into the final, and then try not to come last.

One thing that concerns me a bit is that this is one of the biggest and most famous piping competitions in the world. Which means it's entirely possible that some of the members of my previous bands might be there. This is primarily of concern because when I left to go to Yeovil I actually faked my death, rather than saying goodbye, so they might be surprised to see me.

Perhaps if I happen to see one of them I'll quickly don a white sheet and run around saying "Wooooo!" a lot. I'll let you know.

Ah! The penny drops

For the past two weeks, I've had bananas on my shopping list. No great reason for this, except that I'd been getting a bit bored of my daily apple, so thought I'd have something different.

On neither occasion did the supermarket have said bananas, so I got apples instead. Since I visit the supermarket at 9pm on a Monday evening, I had assumed that this lack was due to them having run out, which is a common occurance at that time, especially for items that they restock daily, such as bread and fruit, so I thought nothing of it.

It now turns out that there is a worldwide banana shortage.

Anyway, I can only conclude that this is all part of some villainous master-plan to restrict the supplies of bananas to 29 Acacia Road. The reason someone would wish to instigate such a heinous act should be obvious to all.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A working broadband connection is a glory to behold

Or, so I've heard.

The engineer didn't show up.

Edit: Five minutes after I got to work, the engineer called to say he was about 10 minutes away. Sadly, the office is 34 minutes from home, so I had to tell him not to bother. It's a shame I need to not antagonise this guy, since he's probably going to come out to do the job when I reschedule, or else I would have told him exactly what I thought of this situation. I mean, honestly, just how hard is it to actually keep to an appointment you've made or, in the case where you know you're going to be more than an hour late, to phone the person and say so?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Saga Nears its End

The saga of my broadband rolls on. Two weeks ago, I placed a new order for broadband with a new ISP. Last Friday, my line was activated. It didn't work.

The problem was exactly the same as I saw before: the modem LED flashed on and off constantly, indicating that it was trying to gain sync with ADSL, but was unable to do so. One key difference, though, was that my new ISP had sent me a new modem, which I tried also, to the same effect.

Clearly, therefore, it wasn't an equipment failure - the odds of two sets of equipment failing in exactly the same way are fairly small. Likewise, it wasn't an ISP problem at all - the same problem from two providers, especially given that the line was actually ceased and reconnected in between, indicates that the fault lies elsewhere.

So, I got in touch with my ISP, knowing full well that that was a formality. As expected, after several phone calls and tests on the line, the determination was that the fault lies with the internal wiring in the flat. Since this isn't an ADSL problem as such I needed to contact BT to have them send out an engineer to fix the wiring.

In parallel, I contacted BT, whom I now name and shame for their role in this mess. My first step was to follow their automated menus to report a fault on my line. However, when asked if I was having trouble only with broadband, I foolishly said "yes", whereupon the system responded that since I wasn't a BT Broadband customer I had to contact my ISP. It then hung up on me. Never mind that the broadband problem is the symptom, not the root cause of my difficulty.

So, I went back through their menus and chose "no" this time. The system then did an automatic test of the line and concluded that there "might be a problem". An agent would phone me back. Fantastic, thought I. Surely it would all be sorted soon.

But no! This was Saturday, which is clearly far too soon for something so simple. The agent called back. I explained the problem. As soon as I mentioned broadband, she declared that it was an internet problem, and I had to contact my ISP. At this point I had a good rant at her about how that was utter nonsense, that my ISP weren't responsible for the internal wires in my appartment, and how the whole thing was a joke. She was not to be moved - I had to contact my ISP.

It wasn't until yesterday that confirmation came from my ISP that they absolutely couldn't help - it needed to be BT who sent out an engineer.

So, I called BT to sort this out. I spoke to someone in the Faults department, who said that would be no problem, but that the booking should be done through the Customer Care department. She put me through. The Customer Care department then apologised for this, saying that it was the Faults department I needed after all. The girl there put me back through to a different person in Faults. Who proceeded to explain that it was not their responsibility, and I absolutely had to speak to my ISP. Naturally, she would not be shifted from this position by my explanation that she was talking utter nonsense. (She did at one time try to persuade me that if she booked an engineer then it wouldn't help. According to her, BT only employ incompetent engineers. I found that a very interesting argument.)

So, I called back later. This time, I spoke to a very helpful guy who said I needed to speak to the Broadband department. He gave me their number. I hung up, knowing fine well that this was the wrong advice, but never mind. The Broadband department was closed for the night.

So, I called Faults again (fortunately, this was all a Freephone number). This time, I spoke to an Indian chap who couldn't hear me very well, probably due to my speaking just a bit too fast. Nonetheless, I seized on this to my advantage, and told him I absolutely needed an engineer out to replace the internal wires in my appartment, so people can hear me when I phone them.

So, the engineer is booked for tomorrow morning. This has the immediate effect of requiring that I somehow work 25 hours today, which is interesting.

More to the point, once the engineer comes out, I should be able to explain the problem to him, show him the substandard wiring, get him to replace the bits that need replaced and, hopefully, get broadband!

(My expectation is that the engineer will come out, take one look at the set-up, and know exactly what needs to be done. They're like that.)

Alternatively, he'll look at it and declare that since it's not a voice problem he can't help, and I need to speak to my ISP. Or, he'll decide he can't replace the wires for some reason. Or, he'll replace the wires and it won't make any difference. Or he'll just not show up. Or something.

In any event, the saga nears its end. By this time tomorrow, I'll either have broadband, or I'll be contacting my ISP to inform them that I have to cancel the contract. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Clock Solitaire - the proof

Someone mentioned elsewhere that they would like to see this. Additionally, I have been musing on it for quite some time. So, here's the proof of the Clock Solitaire problem I discussed a couple of weeks ago...

The problem

The game of Clock Solitaire is played as follows: shuffle a standard deck of 52 playing cards, then deal them into thirteen piles, twelve of which represent the 'numbers' on a clock face, with the thirteenth pile in the centre. Each pile should have four cards.

Take the first card from the centre pile, and place it face up beside the pile corresponding to the number on the card (with Jack = 11, Queen = 12, King = centre). Then, turn the top card on that pile, and repeat the process. Repeat until you cannot turn a card over, because the pile is empty.

You win if and only if you turn every card over before stopping. (In fact, the last card you turn over will always be the fourth King. You win if and only if this is card 52.)

Since there's no actual skill involved, the game is entirely random, and so the probability of winning is fixed.

The problem is simple: what are the chances of winning?


Imagine a two-dimensional grid of nodes. In the first dimension, the nodes are numbered from 0 to 52, and represent the number of cards that have been turned over so far in the game. Naturally, the game starts with 0 cards turned over, and each time a card is turned over, this number increases by exactly 1.

In the second dimension, the nodes are numbered from 0 to 4, and represent the number of Kings that have been turned over. Naturally, the game starts with 0 Kings turned over, and ends as soon as the 4th King is turned.

Clearly, the game starts at node (0, 0), and ends at node (x, 4), where x can be any number from 4 to 52. The game is lost if x is less than 52, and won only if x is 52.

Now, if we are at node (x, y), and turn a card over, there are two possible outcomes. Either we get a King, and move to node (x+1, y+1), or we get not-a-King, and move to node (x+1, y). The probability of getting a King is (number_of_Kings_left/number_of_cards_left), which is known (4-y / 52-x). The probability of getting not_a_King is (1 - number_of_Kings_left/number_of_cards_left), which is also known (((52-x) - (4-y))/(52-x)).

Still with me? We're nearly there now.

The probability of a path through the nodes (always starting at node (0,0)), is equal to the product of all the probabilities of all the steps along that path. Furthermore, we can say that the probability of reaching a given node is the sum of the probabilities of all the paths leading to that node.

The probability of reaching node (0,0) is, of course, 1, since you always start there. And the probability of winning the game is equal to the probability of node (52,4).

The problem now is that that is a monstrously impossible thing to work out. The sum of all the paths from node (0,0) to node (52,4)? There are millions of them!

Except that we can break the problem down further using the lovely mathematical trick of recursion.

If we want to get to node (x, y), there are two ways we can do it. We can start at node (x-1, y) and turn over not_a_King, or we can start at node (x-1, y-1) and turn over King. But we know the probabilities of drawing a King and not_a_King. And we know how to work out the probabilties of getting to nodes (x-1, y) and (x-1, y-1).

The probability of reaching node (x,y) is, therefore (P(x-1,y-1) x P(King)) + (P(x-1, y) x P(not_a_King)).

Which means we can calculate the probability of getting to node (x, y). And we can calculate the odds of getting to node (52, 4), just by plugging in the right numbers.

(There are some edge cases to deal with. Clearly, any node (x, 0) only has one input - there is no node (x-1, -1), so that input path doesn't exist, and should be ignored. Likewise, there are no paths from (x-1, 4) to (x, 4), since the game is over by that point, so we can ignore those possibilities. Finally, you cannot have turned over more Kings than you have turned over cards, so nodes (0, 1), (0, 2), (0, 3) and (0, 4) all have probability 0 - they can't happen.)

It's still a nasty nasty sum. But, since all the steps are known, it's just a big sum. And computers excel at sums. So, we can now grab an Excel spreadsheet, plug in the formulae, and known probabilities (0,0) is 1, (0,1) is 0, (0,2) is 0, (0,3) is 0 and (0,4) is 0, and the spreadsheet will do the rest.

And, lo and behold, the answer is 1 in 13! Huzzah!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The End of All Things

I have the single greatest anecdote in the history of the world to tell today...

As you know, there are certain universal laws that must be maintained at all costs, or the whole of existence will be unravelled. Rules such as: you cannot exceed the speed of light, you can never encounter a new joke on Penguin biscuits (see my post "King Penguin"), and that all X-Factor winners will have a number 1 single, then release an album that some people buy, and then never be heard from again. And, crucially, Stephen does not eat fish.

Fish and egg, really, are the two main types of food I don't eat (caveat: I'll eat egg that's part of things, so will eat pancakes, mayonaisse, and so forth. But no boiled eggs, no scrambled eggs, and no fried eggs).

But, of late I've been reconsidering my stance on fish. There are two main reasons for this. As we know, fish is absolutely loaded with essential oils, and is really good for the brane. More importantly, every Thursday the canteen at work does fish and chips for lunch, and it always looks sooooo inviting.

It should be pointed out at this stage that I have eaten fish in the past. In a terrible crime against existence, my parents used to insist on serving fish on occasion, and requiring us to eat whatever was cooked. And, unlike Claire, I did not have handy shoes in which to hide the unwanted fish.

More recently, I ate fish, so the legend says, on Good Friday 2003, in the Netherlands (there was no choice - it was fish or nothing, and Mrs Barr brooks no rejection of food). And, in fact, I ate fish a mere handful of weeks before that in the Cadence canteen (in that case there was a choice: fish or egg. The vegetarian option was gone. And the girl behind the counter would have been terribly disappointed had I had nothing - and she was really nice - so fish it was. Naturally, she had no trouble laughing at me for taking the fish even after stating I really don't like it. But that's a whole other story).

Aware of the dangers to the universe inherent in my consumption of fish, I forebore. However, I've been particularly angry this week, and also ran out of sandwich fillings after yesterday (due to a miscalculation in my weekly shop, and my adventures with tacos on Tuesday). So I cast caution to the winds, and decided to have fish for lunch.

The morning dawn muggy, and all morning dark clouds gathered over my location, an omen of darker times to come. On the walk from the office to the canteen, I fancied I could hear angelic voices straining out in the manner of "O Fortuna". But I was not to be swayed. The universe had to go. I ordered the fish.

I sat down, having gathered my cutlery, the instrument of the destruction of the universe on a tray before me. I ate a chip, teasing the universe with death. Then, I cut a piece of fish, made my peace with all that is...

and it was at that precise moment that the fire alarm went off.

The events that happened next are somewhat of a blur. My understanding is that the Fish Inspection and Replacement Emergency Brigade were called, and arrived in a shiny red engine. An heroic must have swept in, replaced the fish of doom with some sort of mock fish, and saved the day.

That can be the only explanation. How else could the universe still exist?

Oh, and noticably, the weather has now cleared up, and once more there is blazing sunshine...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Apparently, this is my 100th post on this blog. And what better way to spend it than in poking fun at David Hasslehoff?

Apparently, he recently visited the set of Baywatch on Malibu Beach, which has now become a tourist attraction. Upon entering, the attendant failed to recognise him, and charged him the same $7 entrance fee everyone else pays.

That news really made my day, which just goes to show what manner of day I've had.

Not funny

In case you were unsure, when someone tells a really bad joke in public (such as the "write off" jape in my post below about the lost pen), there are three polite ways to respond:

1) Laugh politely or, indeed, with gusto.

2) Groan, and comment on how bad the joke was. This shows that you acknowledge the joke, and believe it worthy of recognition, if nothing else.

3) Ignore the joke. This has the disadvantage that the person may feel the need to tell it again, just to make sure you heard it. (By the way, I still haven't found my pen...)

Although you may be tempted to do so, it is not considered polite to threaten the teller with death should he dare to tell the joke again. As, indeed, Graeme saw fit to do over my wondering "squirrel ballet" jest of the weekend before last.

Fortunately, I laugh in the face of danger, and tweak the nipples of terror. Therefore, let me enlighten you to the punchline of my quip: "It was the Nutcracker Suite". The rest is context; you really had to be there.

Excuse me? Your agenda's showing.

I'm currently reading "The Science of Discworld III", which is about evolution (it's kind of a science-lite book for people who like the Discworld). In the first two books in the series, I recall having the impression that the authors of the science-y part of the book were distinctly atheist in outlook but that they were trying really hard to provide an objective commentary.

In the third book, I'm quite certain that they are atheists, look down somewhat on those of us who maintain such quaint notions as the belief in the existence of God, and are trying, but failing, to hide their prejudices. Which is unfortunate, since evolution is a fascinating subject, and the debate about it is really quite interesting. However, it is sadly ruined by a lot of muddled thinking on the parts of just about everyone in the debate, which makes any sensible discourse impossible.

Oh well.

The truth is, I have no interest in debating the existence of God. It cannot be proven (or disproven) by science, which means that the matter comes down to faith; you believe or you do not. The believer might choose to demonstrate the existence of God by pointing out the incredible richness of the universe; the sceptic can equally point out that it is entirely possible that this all came about by chance. (Some Christians have tried to provide a 'scientific' probability of the universe spontaneously forming. The odds are apparently 1 in a Very Big Number. Sadly, this just shows more muddled thinking, since (a) not all of the odds required in the calculation are even known, so the VBN is at best hideously inaccurate, (b) we don't know how many times the atoms in the universe have been scattered, which may not be 1, which makes the probability impossible to determine, and (c) in any event, unless the odds work out to exactly 0, all you've proven is that the universe was very lucky, not that it couldn't have happened.)

What's rather more interesting is a debate about the consequences of the existence or non-existence of God. However, that's a debate for another time.

I always cringe inwardly when science is brought up in church, generally to back some point made in a sermon. Usually, the science is referenced by people who don't understand it, and they invariably get it wrong. Which is a wonderful way to destroy the credibility of the point you're trying to make - if you back it up with idiotic science, that then implies that perhaps the rest of what you're saying is equally idiotic.

It seems I must now cringe inwardly whenever scientists (who are also sceptics) start discussing the existence or non-existence of God. It seems they are just as blinkered and foolish.

In the meantime, I'll take comfort in knowing that I can just about converse on either subject without routinely making idiotic mistakes.

(Oh, since I'm on the subject, about Creationism in American schools. I'll just say that Creationism most definately has a place in the American school system... in a philosophy class. It most assuredly is not science, and has no business being taught in a science class.)