Friday, January 22, 2010

A Lament for Rover

Well, that's it. This afternoon I took my old car to the dealer, and finally gave it up. The final mileage was 144,260.3.

Now, it may seem excessive dedicating two blog posts to what is, in truth, an inanimate object. But I had that car for eight and a half years, which is a full quarter of my life thus far, so I don't care.

While taking it on its final journey, I couldn't help but feel a little emotional (in a totally manly way, of course). The universe, though, was seemingly oblivious to the momentousness of this event, for instead of the requisite triumphant fanfares, I was met with a rather annoying traffic jam. Stop-start driving all along that last 1.3 miles. Yay.

Anyway, I took the car in, and with a heavy heart I surrendered the keys. Fortunately, the sting of loss was rendered somewhat less painful immediately, as I got in to my shiny new(er) car, and found that it is far superior in every way. Which is as you would expect, really - it would be a bad sign if car technology hadn't advanced in the eight years between the manufacture of the two cars.

Still, it's just not the same.

#7: "Star Wars: Scavenger's Guide to Droids", by Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey, Patrick Stutzman and Robert Wieland

Sunday, January 17, 2010


The exhaust on my car started making a funny noise on Friday. A trip to Kwik-Fit confirms that one of the sections nas been damaged, and would need to be replaced. However, the cost to replace is greater than I am willing to spend to keep the car on the road, and so the time has come for a new car.

Sadly, this means that I won't be able to get my car up to the 150,000 miles I had hoped to reach before replacing it in June; in fact, on my way to look at a new car today it reached 144,000 miles. Still, a nice, respectable total for a car that has done me great service.

It will be sad to see it go. On the other hand: new car!

#4: "Star Wars: The Clone Wars Campaign Guide", by Rodney Thompson, Patrick Stutzman, and JD Wiker
#5: "USB Complete", by Jan Axelson
#6: "Nation", by Terry Pratchett

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Experimental Cookery Tuesday: Final Thoughts

And so, I have come to the end of my Experimental Cookery series. I said at the outset that I would carry on until I gave myself food poisoning, I reached the end of the book, or I got bored. Well, frankly, I got bored, and so have decided to stop (a decision made easier by reaching a point where all that remains is seafood). Also, I am now busy three Tuesdays of every month, which has really created problems for the series going forward; at the very least it would have had to be moved to a different day.

I know quite a lot of people have been enjoying the series (mostly because they have said as much). I hope you won't be too disappointed at it coming to its end. As much as anything, I didn't want this blog to turn into "I sat a sandwich today". I shall try to write more entertaining things in future, albeit on different subjects.

I have felt that this experiment has been a resounding success. I have tried a number of things that I simply would never have tried otherwise, including some seafood and even parsnips. I have cooked a range of food quite beyond what I would have done otherwise. I now have a freezer filled with several weeks of curries. And I have generally enjoyed myself.

My favourite chapter in the book was most definitely the curries chapter, followed closely by the stir fries, and then the mince. Between these three chapters, I could probably eat quite happily for a year. The weakest was the salad chapter, followed by the pastas.

I do recommend "Jamie's Ministry of Food". The book is a nice, simple introduction to cooking, and Jamie clearly knows what he's about. There was basically nothing in there I couldn't handle, and the range of meals was pretty good.

Going forward, I do intend to continue expanding my repetoire of meals. To that end, I have purchased a book entitled "Chinese Food Made Easy" by Ching-He Huang, which looks decidely intriguing. I'm also on the hunt for a really good Indian cookbook; if you know of one then please suggest away! However, I have no intentions of working through another cookbook in the same manner as this one; my intent will always be to dip in and out at random, with an emphasis on trying new things. (Oh, and in restaurants I will continue my policy of ordering largely at random.)

And so, that's that. Thanks for reading!

Experimental Cookery 'Tuesday' #69: Moroccan Lamb With Couscous

It turns out that this is the penultimate "Experimental Cookery" post. There will be one more, acting as a wash-up for the series. No, the pun wasn't intentional.

Anyway, the Moroccan Lamb turned out to be another flirtation with food poisoning, but was another dodged bullet. The meal was all nice and easy to prepare and serve, and tasted nice enough. I don't think the lamb was cooked as thoroughly as I would have preferred, but one of the advantages of eating by candlelight is that one gets to avoid seeing the true horror of such things.

My final assessment of the meal was that it was okay, but was rather bland. I think in future I would be inclined to use more cumin throughout and to not deseed the chilli to give the sauce rather more kick.

Still, I would count that as a qualified success, if not the resounding victory I would have hoped for from the final meal in the series. Still, that brings the chapter to 8-0, and marks a decent place to stop. Next up is something else entirely...

#2: "Pathfinder: What Lies in Dust", by Michael Kortes
#3: "Pathfinder: The Infernal Syndrome", by Clinton Boomer and James Jacobs

Saturday, January 02, 2010

How Pathfinder Lost its Way

Just over eighteen months ago, Wizards of the Coast released a new Fourth Edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Shortly thereafter, I posted to the effect that there were some things I liked, some things I really didn't like, and some distinct oddities in the new rules. At length, I concluded that I wouldn't be switching to the new edition.

However, when Wizards released the Third Edition, they also released the core of the system under an Open Gaming License, allowing anyone to take the rules and develop their own adventures, expansions, and even revisions. As it became apparent that Fourth Edition would not be similarly open, and that the revisions were receiving a distinctly mixed reception, a company called Paizo announced that they would be doing their own revision, entitled Pathfinder.

I had eagerly awaited Pathfinder. Indeed, I had hoped to get it on release day, only to find that I was in France at the time, and so could not. Still, I got the new rules as soon as I got back, and spent some time reading them. I finally finished the Core Rulebook just before the New Year, and have since read the Bestiary.

And my impression? Will I be switching to this new version of the game?

Um, no.

There is an awful lot I like about Pathfinder. The core of the game is recognisably the same as the game I have been playing for six years, with some key improvements. A lot of the options that used to be wasted space in the books (being clearly less good than the others) have been improved, to the point where the game once again has seven good races and eleven good classes.

The big improvement to the game comes in the form of "Combat Maneuvers", which have standardised the old systems for disarms, sundering, grappling, and the like into a single coherent system. This is a very strong mechanic, and one of those "I wish I had thought of it" developments.

But the problem with Pathfinder is that it is not "better enough" to compel a switch. My existing group are all very familiar with the 3.5e of the rules. We all have the rulebooks, and although there are some things that bug us, we never had huge problems.

To switch to Pathfinder, we would all need to invest in copies of the new rules (granted, I have a set, but the others do not), they would all need to read the 576-page core rulebook, and then we'd need to spend some time assimilating a whole host of minor and annoying changes. The force of inertia is just to strong.

My other issue with Pathfinder is that it features yet another round of "power creep". It seems that with each version of the game, the numbers get bigger - in the 3rd Edition, a Fighter of a given level had certain abilities; in the 3.5e revision, that same Fighter got some new powers that made him just that bit more powerful; in Pathfinder he's just a bit more powerful again. The monsters are all more powerful too, so it's not a massive issue by itself, but given that the biggest weakness of the 3.5e version was that the numbers got out of hand as the game went on, this does not bode well for the new version.

I'm also saddened by a number of missed opportunities in Pathfinder. The Fourth Edition of D&D introduced a marvellous new concept called Skill Challenges. That mechanic could have been adopted, adapted and improved for Pathfinder, but alas has not. Similarly, Fourth Edition introduced some powerful new methods of designing encounters; these have also been ignored. And where 4e made the 'low-level humanoids' more distinct from one another, Pathfinder leaves them as-is, leaving Kobolds, Orcs, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Gnolls, Bugbears and Lizardfolk feeling very much like the same monster in different masks. It's a shame.

I don't want to come across as being too negative. I really like Pathfinder for what it is. I certainly prefer it to D&D Fourth Edition. And, if I were making a recommendation to a new player, that would be the game I would suggest. On balance, I even say it is a better game than 3.5e. It's just not "better enough" for me to switch over.

#1: "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary", by Paizo Publishing

Experimental Cookery 'Tuesday' #68: Griddled Lamb Chops with Chunky Salsa

This is the penultimate "Experimental Cookery" post. With the exception of the fish dishes, I have now tried almost all of the full meals from Jamie's book, I am getting rather bored with writing these posts, I feel they are becoming repetitive, and I don't really want this blog to devolve to "I ate a sandwich today". So, once I have finished the 'meats' from the "Quick Cooking Meat and Fish" chapter, I am going to call time on this series.

The griddled lamb chops were both quick and easy to prepare. Chop, cook, chop (again), mix, and we're done. However, I did find myself rather concerned that I may have given myself food poisoning: the meat came out rather pinker than I had expected. Still, it tasted fine and I have not died, so far at least.

The result of this meal was a distinct success. I would definately have this again, although I'll probably cook them for a bit longer next time. Also, I may be inclined to try some of Jamie's other salsas.

Anyway, that's 7-0 for this chapter. I think it's safe to say that this one is a winner. Hopefully, I'll have opportunity to try the final meal, "Moroccan Lamb with Couscous" early next week, and then I'll post a wash-up for the experiment.

Books of the Year 2009

So, all through last year, I kept a running tally of the books I had been reading through the year. I thought it would be interesting to look back at the books I have read in that time. So, here's the compiled list:

  1. "Excelsior: Forged in Fire", by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels
  2. "Moonraker", by Ian Fleming
  3. "How to Fossilise Your Hampster", by Mick O'Hare
  4. "Pathfinder: Into the Darklands" by James Jacobs and Greg A. Vaughan
  5. "Pathfinder: A Memory of Darkness" by J.D. Wiker
  6. "Twenty Years After", by Alexandre Dumas
  7. "Diamonds Are Forever" by Ian Fleming
  8. "The Orc King" by R.A. Salvatore
  9. "Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition Core Rulebook" by Bill Slavicsek, Andy Collins and JD Wiker
  10. "The Lords of the North" by Bernard Cornwell
  11. "Starships of the Galaxy" by Gary Astleford, Owen K.C. Stephens and Rodney Thompson
  12. "Pathfinder: Descent into Midnight" by Brian Cortijo
  13. "Emperor: The Death of Kings", by Conn Iggulden
  14. "Watership Down", by Richard Adams
  15. "From Russia With Love", by Ian Fleming
  16. "Pathfinder: Howl of the Carrion King", by Erik Mona
  17. "Star Wars: Invincible" by Troy Denning
  18. "Pathfinder: House of the Beast" by Tim Hitchcock
  19. "Sword Song", by Bernard Cornwell
  20. "Doctor No", by Ian Fleming
  21. "Pathfinder: The Jackal's Price", by Darrin Drader
  22. "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding
  23. "Pathfinder: Dragons Revisited", by Mike McArtor
  24. "Pathfinder: Guide to Absalom", by Owen K. C. Stephens
  25. "Pathfinder: Legacy of Fire Players' Guide", from Paizo Publishing
  26. "Emperor: the Field of Swords", by Conn Iggulden
  27. "Pathfinder: The Great Beyond", by Todd Stewart
  28. "A Sword From Red Ice", by J.V. Jones
  29. "Goldfinger", by Ian Fleming
  30. "Pathfinder: Dungeon Denizens Revisited", by Paizo Publishing
  31. "Shadows Linger", by Glen Cook
  32. "For Your Eyes Only", by Ian Fleming
  33. "Pathfinder: The End of Eternity", by Jason Nelson
  34. "Pathfinder: Bonus Bestiary", by Paizo Publishing
  35. "Krondor: the Assassins", by Raymond Feist
  36. "Pathfinder: The Impossible Eye", by Greg A. Vaughan
  37. "The Pirate King", by R.A. Salvatore
  38. "Emperor: The Gods of War", by Conn Iggulden
  39. "The Book Thief", by Markus Zusak
  40. "Thunderball", by Ian Fleming
  41. "Nineteen Eighty-Four", by George Orwell
  42. "The Spy Who Loved Me", by Ian Fleming
  43. "Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay", by Green Ronin Publishing
  44. "Pathfinder: The Final Wish", by Rob McCreary
  45. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", by Ian Fleming
  46. "The Princess Bride", by William Goldman
  47. "You Only Live Twice", by Ian Fleming
  48. "Career Compendium" (for "Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay"), by Fantasy Flight Games
  49. "Azincourt", by Bernard Cornwell
  50. "The Man with the Golden Gun", by Ian Fleming
  51. "Octopussy and the Living Daylights", by Ian Fleming
  52. "Devil May Care", by Sebastian Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming)
  53. "Pathfinder: The Bastards of Erebus", by Sean K. Reynolds
  54. "Pathfinder: The Sixfold Trial", by Richard Pett
  55. "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook", by Paizo Publishing
  56. "Lankhmar", by Fritz Leiber

As can be seen, this gives a grand total of 56 books for the year, of which 22 were books for various roleplaying games, be they the core rulebooks, supplements, or adventure modules. The most read author was Ian Fleming, with 12 books (13 if you count "Devil May Care", but I don't). Other favourite authors were Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden, neither of which is a surprise.

The best novel of the year by quite some distance was "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak. Honourable mentions must go to "Nineteen Eighty-four" and "Watership Down", both of which would have been the winners by a long way in any 'normal' year. The most disappointing book of the year was "A Sword From Red Ice", which was a rather poor follow-up to two other volumes, both of which had been excellent.

In 2010, my provisional goal is to read 60 books, or roughly five a month, an even more punishing rate than last year. I'll be applying the same rules, with one notable addendum when reading a compiled version of novels, if I have already read some of the component parts, I don't need to reread them to include the whole in the list. This will be relevant when I read "The White Queen", which is now only available with two other novels I have already read, and perhaps also with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe".

Moreover, in 2010, I also intend to read 20 novels from my master list of "books to read". This list is made up of a combination of two "100 best" lists, the recommended reading list from the 1st Edition DMG, and the recommended reading list from Pathfinder. There are some 250 items on the combined list, although I've already read about 50, and some few are no longer available (and were trash anyway).

And so, onward!

Friday, January 01, 2010

My Year in 2009

2009 was a long, hard year. To be completely honest, I'm glad it is over. Still, there remain a couple of tasks to do, one of which is to post my review of the year. So, here it is:

My Year in... Work

2009 was a bad year in work. There were several reasons for this. The economy hurt us the same as it hurt everyone else (although, fortunately, we were able to avoid any job losses, so we were better off than many others). We also suffered from a rather terrible inability to get our projects finished, out the door, signed off and concluded - they seemed to go on and on and on, lingering long past the time we should have moved on.

But also on a personal note, I did not do my best work in 2009. At the start of the year, I set a Super Secret Goal for work, which promptly had to be abandoned. Unfortunately, at much the same time, coupled with the endless stresses of the year, I seemed to find it increasingly hard to get up in the mornings, to stay motivated and on task, and to generally do my best work.

So, 2009 was a really bad year for work. I'm certainly intending that 2010 will be better in this regard - although work was almost the only thing that went badly in 2009, it is such a major part of life that a bad time at work can really mar the overall performance of the year.

So, must do better.

My Year in... Gaming

The only other part of the year that I found disappointing was in gaming, although here the report is sharply divided.

For the first ten months of the year, the gaming scene was bad. The plan to focus on getting the group together in the early months of the year failed due to cancellation after cancellation. Then there was a hiatus for the band competition season, and then we were back, but with lots more cancellations. What gaming we got done was really good, and I very much enjoyed running Star Wars Saga Edition, but there just wasn't enough.

However, things turned around dramatically in November. Having concluded that the existing situation was unacceptable, I went and set up a second group in Falkirk, and have been engaged in a D&D (3.5e Eberron) campaign since, meeting on alternate Tuesdays. This has been going really well; in fact, I find myself having the odd problem that we're getting towards having too many players, rather than too few.

At the same time, the existing group (that I thought was dead) has had something of a revival, and we've suddenly managed to get together for several sessions of the Warhammer campaign I prepared on this blog. It has been going very well indeed, and looks to be another strong campaign.

In 2010, then, I'm hoping that this trend continues. I would like to run the Warhammer campaign to conclusion, and then run the "second season" to my Star Wars campaign, all while running the Eberron campaign in parallel. Things are looking better on this front than they have for a long time.

My Year in... Band

It has been a year of very hard work for band, but a very successful one also. We managed to qualify at three of the four Majors we entered, and won two prizes in Minor competitions. Additionally, we ran very successful trips to France and Ireland (although we didn't qualify at the latter, something of a fly in the ointment). We also hosted a very successful concert in October, raised about four times as much money for the band as in the previous year, and rebuilt a much stronger financial foundation for the band.

All in all, a lot of hard work, but it paid off handsomely.

In 2010, we are hoping to do well enough in competition to actually advance out of our grade and up to grade 4A. A change to the competition rules means that we won't have to pre-qualify at most of the competitions (probably only the World Championships and at Cowal, because of the number of bands present), while the promotion of several bands has really opened the field for us. Add to that the dedication of the current band members, and the addition of several new members, and we're in great shape.

Definitely looking forward to success in 2010!

My Year in... Love

Awesome. That is all.

My Year in... Resolutions

I completed ten of my eleven goals for the year, and had to abandon the last due to circumstances beyond my control. As such, 2009 was a really strong year.

In 2010, I hope to have a similar success, although I am intending to try to avoid the "tyranny of goals" this year by not setting goals that absorb my every waking moment.

My Year in... Travel

Trips to France and Ireland with the band, plus a trip to England for a wedding, made 2009 a successful year, despite my not wanting to spend money on expensive foreign holidays.

My Year in... Faith

Holding steady. No great advance to speak of, but neither was there any great crisis of faith to report.

One possible weakness is that I have stopped attending church on Sunday mornings (but still go in the evenings). This is mostly because of some serious roadworks, which make the drive across deeply unpleasant; I really don't want to do that drive four times on the Sunday, and neither do I want to spend every Sunday afternoon at the parents' (I love them and all, but I can never get anything done there, even if I take my PC, and I can't afford to waste Sunday afternoons).

My Year in... Health

Mostly, I'm in very good health. Certainly, I'm in much better health than most people, so I probably shouldn't complain. However...

I had to take two days off work due to illness this year. The first was a really bad cold, which had me bed-ridden. Annoying, but something that couldn't be helped, and something that passed quickly.

The second, though, was due to a neck problem that has now been ongoing for ten weeks, which is a real problem. I have been to the doctor and given pain killers and anti-inflamatories, and also some exercises to do, and have been referred to see a physio. So, that's all in hand. Still, it's a real pain, and it just hasn't gone away, and it's a big problem.

With a lot of luck, that will get resolved soon - it's having quite a bad effect on my life generally, and is largely preventing me from exercising, which is having the nasty side-effect of letting my weight gradually creep back up due to difficulties in exercising.

(I will have to do something about that in 2010 - I didn't go through all the pain of losing that weight just to put it all back on again!)

My Year... Overall

Mostly, 2009 was a good year. Actually, in several keys was, it was a spectacular year, of the sort I wouldn't have dared to dream of 12 months ago.

But work... work was a real killer this year. If there is one thing I would change if I could, it would be that. In 2010, I will need to focus on that. (Although, hopefully, it will also improve naturally - my estimates were always that things would be bad until June 2010, so if that is right...)

Anyway, I'm definitely looking forward to 2010. I haven't been this optimistic about a new year in a long long time.

Endurance Test

Yesterday, apart from a quick trip to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription and a quick trip to Tesco to pick up some wine, I spent the day doing exactly one thing: reading. I started the day some 250 pages short of the end of the compilation of Lankhmar stories, and really didn't want to carry it through into the new year. And so, I can now complete my list of books for last year:

#55: "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook", by Paizo Publishing
#56: "Lankhmar", by Fritz Leiber