Thursday, May 29, 2008


Many moons ago, I commented in a blog post about the "five-a-day" thing for vegetables, and about how spinach contains very different nutrients from sweetcorn. Really, I did, back in 2006, in a post entitled "Something that has been bothering me for some time".

Anyway, a few weeks ago, one of the supermarkets started a series of adverts about fruit and veg, claiming that not only should you eat five-a-day, but you should also try to vary the colours of the fruit and veg.

The pseudo-science behind this is that the colour of fruit and veg is determined by the chemical composition, so choosing a wide range of colours, is a quick shorthand for eating a wide variety of nutrients.

My reaction to these adverts was, "Oh come on! Suddenly, it's not enough that we eat the mandated five, but now we have to vary the colours too?"

Then I found myself checking the history of my blog to cull any 'draft' posts, only to discover that I had made note of this need two years ago. Oops.


For the past couple of weeks, my typing has been suffering from an unusually high rate of typos and other errors. Plus, the rate has slowed considerably, and the whole experience has become rather frustrating. The reason for this is that the ring finger on my left hand has started to cramp up quite badly.

This is almost certainly a mild RSI, and should be easy enough to remedy by resting the finger for a couple of weeks.

What isn't quite so good is that the band have their second competition of the season on Sunday, and so there is no resting of the finger until after that.

All in all, the timing is rather unfortunate.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Grumpy Old Man

Paramount Comedy 2 seem to own the rights to a whole bunch of old BBC shows which they have placed on permanent rotation. And so it was that yesterday they started showing a repeat of "Grumpy Old Men" that I recorded and have just watched.

Now, the first season of "Grumpy Old Men" was rather enjoyable, because the format was new, the complaints were uncomfortably accurate, and the whole thing was funny. For the second season, it just wasn't as good; too often it just felt that they were moaning about things for the hell of it. This was the third season, which appears to have improved a great deal, but haven't they run out of things to talk about by now?

(There is also a spin-off, "Grumpy Old Women", but it is completely worthless, being filled with inane blatherings about nothing. Apparently, they don't like going to gym because their full of people who are working out... Shock! Horror!)

Anyway, I was watching the show with some amusement, when halfway through the first of the two episodes I'd recorded, they went into a big rant about going to the cinema. And, in particular, the fact that you have to sit through half an hour of adverts before the film even starts!

Oh dear.

I was later chilled further, when halfway through the second episode the narrator commented "but somehow, we can't seem to avoid the horror that is filling the car with petrol..."

I have therefore decided to accede to the inevitable. I have therefore donned pipe and slippers, and shouted at some random teens to get off my lawn. As they were walking down the street at the time, this caused some small confusion.

(Oh, and absolutely the best thing about the show: five minutes from the end, the phone rang. It was a telemarketer, trying to definately not sell me anything, but could she assume I was the owner of the property? That would definately be worth a rant or two, if it wasn't quite so obvious.)

Coming soon: a rant about "The One Show", and their special on sunblock.

Monday, May 26, 2008


I have just filled my car with petrol. Given that it was essentially running of fumes, this meant I bought a full tank. Which cost £47.19.

I'll say that again, since it is outrageous enough to require repetition: £47.19.

Now, a tank of petrol will last me exactly a week, which means that, at the current price, it will cost me £2,453.88 in petrol over the next year, assuming the price of oil doesn't go up (yeah, right), and assuming the government doesn't raise fuel duty (yeah, right).

£2,453.88 per year.

And note that my car is relatively fuel-efficient (albeit being ten years old, so not the most efficient car on the road), and my commute is fairly light.

Furthermore, since rises in the price of fuel push the price of everything else up as well (since it all needs delivered to the supermarket), this means a higher weekly shopping bill. And gas and electricity have been going up, fast...

This is, quite simply, unsustainable. Something must be done. And yet... petrol will never again be as cheap as it is right now. Houston, I think we have a problem.

In which "Legacy of the Force" annoys me

We all know that setting up secret police forces, internment of various broad groups, and indefinate inprisonment of suspects without charge are bad things.

Now, imagine you're Luke Skywalker, Jedi Grand Master and the head of the New Jedi Order. One of the members of your order has gone dark, and started instituting all of the above. Due to the nature of Force-users, and the power of this individual, only your order are equipped to deal with him. Do you

(A) stand by impotently while he leads the galaxy into darkness, occasionally asking him nicely to come back to the light, and generally not to be nasty because "totalitarianism is bad, m'kay"? Or do you

(B) Remove him from public life, by force if necessary, so that through isolation you can attempt to detox him from the Dark Side, and so that in any case he cannot institute a tyranny over the lives of trillions of citizens?

See, I would have thought (B) was the obvious answer, because even if the rogue Jedi was doing what he was doing because he sincerely thought it was the right thing to do, he remains a dangerous threat to everyone else in the galaxy. However, if you guessed (A)...

And so it is with the "Legacy of the Force" series. It seems to be a sequence of moronic decisions from the good guys, while all the time the bad guys go about their agendas unchecked. Of course, if the good guys had done the sensible thing at the start, there would be no story.

Still, it's reached a point where I'm now rooting for the bad guy, because at least he actually understands how to achieve things:

1) Decide what you want
2) Make a plan to achieve what you want
3) Execute the plan to achieve what you want
4) Profit

Although, I'm also thinking that if I were a non-Force-user in the Star Wars universe, I would now be at the point of thinking that our "guardians of peace and justice" just create much more trouble than they stop. I mean, seriously, I would be considering finding a way to eliminate Force-users entirely.

Of course, it's worth noting that "Legacy of the Force" isn't the only instance of Jedi who are too dumb to live. The best example comes with "Attack of the Clones", in which none of the Jedi think to remark, "Gosh, wasn't it lucky that someone placed an illegal order for a clone army ten years ago, so they'd conveniently be ready just when Palpatine declared he would set up his Grand Army? (and, coincidentally, so they'd be ready just when we need them)", or perhaps, "Isn't it a bit odd that all our clones are copies of that bounty hunter who was fighting alongside that Sith Lord we've just discovered?" (Still, even that's not as silly as having a mixed-sex educational facility for young Jedi, and expecting them to be celibate... Have I mentioned that I don't really like the prequels?)

Friday, May 23, 2008

George, George, George...

Exactly twice, I have sat in a cinema and felt a tingly sense of anticipation at the start of the film. The first time was the long awaited "The Phantom Menace", and the second was "Superman Returns". It was a glorious sensation, but one that can lead to the bitterest of disappointments. "The Phantom Menace" was just dire (although I take the near-heretical view that it was the best (okay, least worst) of the three prequels), and although I initially enjoyed "Superman Returns" a great deal, on subsequent viewings it has become clear to me that it just isn't a very good film.

I exercised a certain amount of self-discipline last year, steadfastly refusing to raise my expectations for "Transformers", despite being a massive Transformers fan. The name "Michael Bay" is something to conjure with - I have really enjoyed some of his films, and really hated others, and so refused to walk blindly into disaster with this one (and a good thing, too). And, after "The Phantom Menace", the same was true of the other Lucasfilm triumph, "Howard the Duck II".

No, wait, that's not right. I meant, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull".

(Incidentally, there are no spoilers in this blog post, so feel free to read on.)

This proved to be a really wise move, because it's really bad. Seriously, worse than "Temple of Doom" by a long way. (It is, however, significantly better than any of the Star Wars prequels, not that that's saying much.)

The problem with this film, fundamentally, is a problem with too many modern films. Basically, we have reached a point where special effects can do absolutely anything that the producers and directors want, provided they have enough money, and it will fit seamlessly. Indeed, TV series such as "Battlestar Galactica" now boast special effects that put then ground-breaking films like "Return of the Jedi" to shame.

But the problem is that too many directors are building action scenes for the spectacle, and then filling in the film around those. So, we have "Attack of the Clones" coming to the climactic battle between Yoda and Dooku, not because that makes for a good story, but because we can make pretty cartoons. It's a very pervasive problem, it's really not good for film, and it's getting very annoying.

And, incidentally, it's worth calling out those films that buck the trend. See, some films use the technology differently, producing a good story first, and then making it pretty. The "Lord of the Rings" films are a great example of this (whereas "King Kong" from the same director is not), and anything by Pixar is almost guaranteed to be good ("Toy Story" still holds up today, despite the then-cutting-edge CGI being badly dated).

Unfortunately, "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull" is hurt really badly by the overuse of special effects to the detriment of the story. It doesn't look or feel like any of the previous films, but rather feels like a cartoon-esque larger than life version of the same.

Honestly, I think the absolute best thing they could have done with this film would have been to leave the CGI at home. Build the SFX using traditional methods, and if something couldn't be done with a stuntman and some cleverness, it shouldn't be done at all. Instead, we see another opportunity wasted.

Very, very disappointed.

(Oh, and 30 minutes of adverts beforehand, by the way. Not too impressed with that, either.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Writer's Block

My current task at work is to write a document, the contents of which I won't even hint at here. Anyway, I'm finding it all rather difficult. Although I know what wants to go into the document in broad terms, actually transforming that into words, sentences and paragraphs on the page is proving something of a challenge.

Much the same is true of the blog recently. Although various days have passed, with all their accompanying delights and distractions, nothing has really leapt out at me as being particularly blog-worthy. And even when I have found something that seemed worth mentioning, the task of actually writing the post proved to be taxing.

All being well, I'm going to see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" tomorrow. Perhaps that will provoke comment?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sometimes, the weekend sucks

The highlight of my weekend was watching "Doctor Who" on Saturday. Unfortunately, "Doctor Who" was bad this week. Very very bad. Oh dear, was it awful.

The rest of the weekend was spent doing nothing, with a side-order of nothing, on Friday and Saturday, and dealing with first hymn technical difficulties on Sunday. Oh, and I watched "Blood Diamond", which is a surprisingly good film, and "Employee of the Month", which is an unsurprisingly awful film.

So, the weekend was not exactly a triumph. Surely it's a bad sign when you're glad that Monday has arrived so you can go back to work?

Sunday, May 11, 2008


It has been a bad weekend.

As should have been evident from my previous post on the topic, I went into the competition yesterday expecting a disaster. So, you would think the outcome couldn't depress me, right?

Except it didn't work like that. Instead, we went on, played really well, and came off feeling quite optimistic. Seriously, it started well, it ended well, and the bit in the middle was good. Basically, it was far better than I would have hoped for even in my wildest bouts of enthusiasm.

Now, last year we came 8th, out of 22 bands in our grade. This year, there were also 22 bands in our grade, and the feeling we should come in at roughly the same position. Which would have been ideal.

We came 21st.

But that wasn't the worst of it. I could have handled that, except that the judge's comments, which might have shed some light on what he'd felt was wrong, and that we could therefore use to fix the problems, were maddeningly vague. "Integration is slack" means what, exactly?

The pipe major of the band puts this all down to politics, which are horribly rife in the piping world. The vagueness of the commentary, and also the fact that local bands always score disproportionately well, would seem to play into this. However, I disagree. The reason local bands do better is that they play better having not had to travel for a couple of hours to get to the contest, and when they're playing in front of a local, and therefore supportive, audience. And while a judge might be somewhat influenced by his not liking the tunes chosen, or the smartness of the band's uniforms (which shouldn't be a factor... but the reality is that appearance always matters), or whatever else, I refuse to accept the notion that a judge will deliberately skew the results against a band out of malice. Perhaps that is just naive of me.

So, we probably just didn't play as well as I thought we had.

To add injury to insult, I also managed to get really badly sunburnt. The weather in Falkirk was poor, so in the morning I didn't put on any sunblock. However, I did put in contact lenses, which meant that I couldn't then put on sunblock without immediately washing my hands afterwards (since it would get into my eyes, under the contacts, and thus blind me). Of course, when stuck in a field with poor toilet facilities (and especially poor facilities in this case), that was not an option. So I'm now bright red.

Anyway, I went home after the competition, ate an absurd amount of pizza, and watched Doctor Who, which was fantastic. It's always good, but last night's episode was particularly excellent. Then I watched Pushing Daisies, which was okay, but seems to be losing its charm rather quickly.

Then today I watched "The Andromeda Strain", a new two-part adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel, which I had thought might be quite good. Oh, how wrong I was.

(There are lots of spoilers coming, so if you really want to see this abomination 'clean', stop reading now.)

The thing is, I'm quite used to Hollywood getting science completely and utterly wrong. I accept that that is just going to be the way of things. And I have even come to accept the fact that characters in TV and film are going to act in utterly stupid ways at key times. So, can just about accept the idiocy of the Staple Heroic Guy handing over his keycard to a colleague before falling to his horrific demise, even though that same colleague had explained not two days previously that the override required both his keycard and SHG's thumbprint. That's just par for the course.

But it was the blindingly obvious engineering idiocies that made me want to batter my head against the wall. Firstly, there was the emergency alert indication which, in a custom-built lab designed for a team including a guy with serious light sensitivity, included an annoying bright flashing strobe. Fantastic idea!

And then there was the emergency system itself. In the event of possible contamination, it would nuke the whole place after a fifteen minute timer. Fair enough. In order to override this failsafe, the SHG would have to enter his keycard and thumbprint at any one of the security terminals. Of course, as soon as this was mentioned, I immediately thought: "Ahah! Something is going to happen to SHG. Either he'll go insane, and try to nuke everyone, or he'll get knocked unconscious, and they'll have to drag him to a terminal."

What I didn't foresee, although I probably should have, is that in a secure environment full of compartments that would seal tightly to avoid the risk of contamination, the engineers would decide to only have one such terminal on each isolated level. Of course, this led to Light-Sensitive Guy being blinded by the strobe, falling over, and smashing the terminal to pieces. This in turn required SHG climbing to the next level (though a chute full of improbably falling objects), and consequently heroically falling to his death.

Frankly, the whole thing had been an insult to my intelligence even before that point. Once we got to this nonsense, it became embarrassing. Still, at least it didn't feature any annoying teenagers using a UNIX system to defeat evil velociraptors. Or my personal favourite - using an Apple laptop to defeat invading aliens.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Gladiators in back!!!!!!!!OneOne!!

Sky have decided to revive "Gladiators", and the first show is on Sunday.

This is great news, mostly since it has been far too long since we've been able to make jokes about giant cotton buds.

I won't actually be watching it, of course. I intend to have other plans.

Still, the excitement of it all!

The Season Begins

The first competition of the season is on Saturday. The band is not ready.

In order to compete at all, a band requires six pipers. We have ten, if we include absolutely everyone in the band who can lift and play a set of bagpipes at all. Of these, two are learners who just aren't quite at the required standard. They'll be really useful pipers next year, and for gala days and other events, but they're just not quite at competition standard. We have one other piper who, although a really nice guy, simply won't ever be at competition standard, for various reasons that I won't go into here.

Still, that leaves seven pipers available, which should be plenty. Problem is, two of the remaining pipers have been extremely sporadic in their attendance at practices. This has led to their falling behind the rest, which in turn has fed into their non-attendance.

Of course, in order to compete, a pipe band must also field a drum corps. Here, numbers is not our problem. Unfortunately, due to various family problems, our lead drum instructor has not been able to attend more than a couple of practices this year. This means that he hasn't been able to instruct our drum corps in what they need to know for the competition, with all the problems that spring from that.

So, it will be interesting to see how we get on on Saturday. I'm trying to take the view that we're in it for the experience alone, and that our goals must all relate to next year, but that's hard. By nature, I'm too competitive for my own good, and the notion of going into a competition knowing we'll almost certainly come last is anathema.

After this one, the next competition isn't until the first of June, which will give us three weeks to take stock and attempt to put things right. With a huge amount of luck and dedication, it might be possible to get one of our learners up to the required standard, and if we could persuade one of our absentees to attend all six practices, that might be enough to catch up. I'm not sure what we would do about the drumming, though; it's fundamentally weakened by the loss of the instructor...

Monday, May 05, 2008

Hardly seems fair

On Friday I left the office to find that it was gloriously sunny outside. "Fantastic," I thought. "The weekend starts here!"

Unfortunately, as I drove West the weather gradually got worse, and worse, and worse... The weekend varied between weather that was okay and weather that was not bad. However, it would not be accurate to say it was pleasant.

This morning, of course, I woke up to find it once again gloriously sunny, just in time for me to return to work. (Because, oh yes, I am at work today. It's not that I mind being at work when everyone else is not - on the contrary, it makes the commute significantly easier, which is nice. But it's a bit galling to think that the universe has actually gone out of it's way to annoy me, specifically.)

Still, I have had a productive morning. I changed a '<' to a '>'.

And now I am back in my box, for an afternoon of further fun and frolics.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Rough weeks and cold beers

The first week back after a holiday is always rough, and this week has been no exception. But, since I don't talk about work here, I'll not tell you the tales of my trials and my triumphs of the week. I have, however, decided to build a nice arc in the back garden to celebrate them - apparently, they are all the rage in great European cities such as Paris and Barcelona and... Falkirk.

Hmm, maybe not.

Speaking of Barcelona, when I went there I partook of one of the local beers, which turned out to be especially nice. My guidebook commented that the two local beers were "Estrella Damm" and "San Miguel". Naturally, the one I had was Estrella Damm, and the one that is available in the UK is San Miguel (which may well be very nice indeed; having never tried it, I don't know).

Only it turns out that the company that make Estrella Damm have just signed an agreement to start importing their beer into the UK, the upshot of which is that I was able to purchase (and some cost, mind you) a small number of bottles of said beer when I was in Tesco last.

Perhaps when I get home I shall celebrate the weekend by drinking a cold beer in the warm sunshine of my garden, while planning my arc. I think that would be nice.