Thursday, January 27, 2011


At 2 pm this afternoon, made a massive change to the layout of their sites, and also to some of the ways in which those sites operate. Unfortunately, this took the Meetup that I run, and which was pretty much perfect for the purposes I wanted it for, and turned it into something completely useless.

(Two analogies as to the scale of the change immediately spring to mind: the change to the 'ribbon' interface with Microsoft Office 2007, and the change from D&D 3e to D&D 4e.)

I guess the change would be great for someone who actually liked it. If you don't, though...

Probably the most frustrating thing about this is that there is so much on the site that is customisable, sometimes to the point of being annoying, and yet when they do something like this, they don't offer a "Classic Mode" option.

Ah well. We have a couple of guys in the group who are very web-savvy. There had already been some talk about moving to a dedicated site, to avoid the fees that the site changes for use. I guess this just makes the decision that much easier. Still, it really put a damper on what had, until then, been quite a good day.

#2: "AD&D: Player's Handbook", by E. Gary Gygax

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bank Bonuses

Here we go again. Once again, the banks are about to pay out significant bonuses to their people, based on bad performance. Once again, the media are kicking up a storm. Once again, the politicians are talking tough... and once again they will fail to do anything about it.

Now, I should preface this by saying that I don't, as a matter of principle, have any great problems with companies paying bonuses. They help companies attract the top people, and they encourage success by allowing employees to share directly in the success of the company.

But that's the key point there: they allow employees to share in the success of the company. At the moment, the banks are not successful companies. They are not doing at all well, having required massive bail-outs, and still being excessively publicly-owned. So, there is a very strong case for not paying bonuses.

So, what should be done?

Well, firstly, it must be noted that many of these bonuses, and the terms under which they are paid, are specified in the contracts of the employees. In this case, the banks must pay them out, per the terms of the contracts. That is actually the right and good thing here - we can't have companies just ignoring their obligations to their employees, or else large companies will start screwing over their employees (even more?). (And any 'dodge' by the government to try to claw back this money, or levy an extraordinary tax on bonuses, or whatever, would be equally distasteful.)

However, where there is any discretionary element to the payment of bonuses, this must be blocked, at the very least until the bank in question turns a profit, if not until the bank is freed from public ownership. In fact, it should have been an absolute condition of the bailout that companies accept that "discretionary" bonuses not be paid. (And, also, that any bank that is judged "too big to fail" must likewise accept that it is "too big", and must therefore be split up, but that's another rant.)

Going forward, any new employee contracts really must be drafted with better control over bonuses, and crucially with a clause in place that can halt the payment of bonuses under sufficiently bad conditions. (Where "sufficiently bad" needs defined in the contract, of course, but needs to include "in the case of public bailout".)

And, finally, we should be looking at renegotiating the existing contracts as far as possible, to insert the clauses above into the contracts.

So, that's what the government (and banks) should be doing about this madness. As for the bankers... well, I feel that in most cases, they should be declining these excessive bonuses, until such time as the companies are back to where they should be. However, that really is a matter for the conscience of the individual.

(One last thought: when the banks do get back to profitability, and do manage to free themselves of public ownership, and especially if they do so in a manner that actually makes a profit for the public, those who have led them from the mess and back to where they should be absolutely do deserve bonuses for those actions. Once the job is done, and not before.)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Damn it Ed...

So, VAT went up today, which was a bit of a pain. And so this morning we had the Labour leader being quoted as saying how unfair this was, and that this tax increase would inevitably hit the poorest worst, and...

Here's the thing: Britain's finances are a mess. We have a huge debt problem. Worse than that, we have a structural deficit in place (meaning we spent more than we make, which means things are only getting worse). The creditors are getting antsy. We must deal with this deficit urgently, and really should be dealing with the debt after that. Any government would have to take harsh action on this matter.

There are three ways to deal with the problems. The first is to cut public services to the bone. Stop spending money, and so reach a point where outgoings are less than income. The second is to raise taxes, and so reach a point where income is greater than outgoings. (Or, more realistically, do some of column A and some of column B. How much of each is an open question.)

The third option is to do nothing, take on lots more debt, and hope really hard that the eceonomy gets itself moving, and grows really fast, and so income grows to exceed outgoings. But that only works if the creditors will sign up for it... and at the present time, they won't.

(I suppose you could allow massive inflation, and so minimise the debt that way. Which would be a great idea, except that runaway inflation will make paupers of us all.)

So, it has to be cuts or taxes.

The Labour party have spent months griping about the cuts. They're monstrous, they tell us. They're completely unfair, and will inevitably hit to poorest hardest, they tell us.

And they're right. The cuts will hurt a lot of people, and they will hit the poorest hardest.

(I'm not going to address the question of 'fairness', since that depends very much on your point of view. One could construct a very strong argument that says that it's only 'fair' for the rich to pay less in taxes than the poor, since they also make less use of public services. As such, 'fairness' can be made to mean pretty much anything you want it to mean.)

The problem is, you can't have it both ways. If the cuts are monstrous, and unfair, and shouldn't happen, then you have to have tax rises. If tax rises are monstrous, and unfair, and shouldn't happen, then you have to have cuts. Pick one position, or the other, but you can't have both... or you have no credibility.

Anyway, back to the title.

Damn it, Ed, stop making me defend the Tories!

#1: "AD&D: Monster Manual", by Gary Gygax

Monday, January 03, 2011

Goals for 2011

Having given the matter some thought, I have decided to set a list of goals for the year. However, I'm only going to set a few, as I don't want a repeat of the "tyranny of goals" from 2009. So, here they are:

  • Super Secret Goal #3. As with the previous two, I'm not going to say a single thing about this until such time as it is complete, at which point I'll note that it's complete but probably not reveal what it was. So there!
  • Blog more. I was rather remiss on that front in 2010, which ended the year with a bunch of updates about books but very little else.
  • I need to get back down to my "fighting weight" again. Back when I hit my target, I declared that I really didn't want to lose control and gain back lots of weight. Well, that didn't work so well. I'm not back where I started, but I need to reverse the trend before I get there.
  • Depending on whether or not the band get promoted, I will have one of two goals with the band. If the band are not moved up, then I believe our goal should be nothing less than to win grade 4B. If we do get moved up, then the goal will be to win promotion again, to grade 3B.
  • Get some resolution on the situation with the Saturday game. One of three things may happen here: we may elect to dissolve the group, we may commit to better attendance at weekly games, or we might agree to a less-frequent but more reliably schedule. But, one way or another, this needs sorted out, as it can't just go on as it has been.
  • Write something. I haven't decided whether this will be fiction (in which case, I'll post it here), or a homebrew D&D variant (some more musings on this may follow). But, something...
  • Relax more. I'm reliably informed that I'm too stressed out all the time.

And that's the list. Notable in their absence are goals for reading and for learning. In both cases, I've decided to take a break from setting a specific goal, with a view to looking at other things. Also, where in 2009 I had the "tyranny of goals", in 2010 I had the "tyranny of books". I'm not having that again!

Aiming for a Clean Slate

I return to work on Wednesday, which is surprisingly too soon.(Normally, I feel quite ready to get back as early as the 2nd, but not this year.) Before I go back, though, I would really like to get to a position where I'm starting from a 'clean slate' with no annoying tasks lurking in the background, with everything nice and organised, and generally looking good.

So, the remaining tasks:

  • I have a bunch of Warhammer 40,000 Orks that need cleaned, assembled and undercoated. The undercoating will have to wait (as there's no dry space available for using spraypaints on), but the rest can be done.
  • The kitchen is due for a clean, as of first thing tomorrow.
  • I need to go to Tesco. I have a fridge bursting at the seams with alcohol, but not a single drop of milk in stock.
  • The recycling bins need emptied.
  • The movies that are still littering my Sky+ box need to be deleted. If I don't watch them tomorrow, then it's time to admit I'm just not going to watch them at all.
  • I need to post a list of goals for the year. Speaking of which...

And that's it. The rest of the appartment is clean (according to my schedule), all my clothes are washed, dried and ironed, the Christmas decoration is down, my credit card is paid off, I've thrown out all the food that is out-of-date, and I've even caught up on the various web-comics that I usually follow.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

My Year in 2010

2010 was a great year, but oh so hard! In fact, I'm still recovering from the insanity of it all!

Anyway, with a view to getting a clean slate to start the new year with, here is my review of the year:

My Year in... Work

2010 was a vast improvement over 2009. Back at the start of 2009, I had predicted that we were in for eighteen months of hell, after which things should hopefully get better. In the event, this turned out to be overly pessimistic, but only slightly.

On a personal level, I can justifiably claim I did some of my best work in 2010. However, because this was mostly done with our backs to the wall, we never really gained the benefit of this work. In 2011, though, I'm hopeful we can get out from under the backlog, and start making real progress for ourselves.

There were also some distinct plusses for my in 2010, but I can't really talk about them here.

Probably the biggest downside of 2010 was the difficulty of getting away from work. It seemed that almost every holiday had to be cancelled, shortened, moved back, or adjusted due to the all-consuming needs of the office. That's a large part of why I'm so exhausted now.

In 2011, I basically want more of the same, with some adjustments to how we do things to try to make things easier. Oh, yes, and a holiday now and then would be nice!

My Year in... Gaming

2010 was a very mixed year for gaming.

The RPG Meetup continues to go well. We've gained both in numbers, and also in the formation of a keen "core group" that makes the scheduling much easier. We've lost a couple of people, due to moves, but have gained others in the interim. In 2011, it should just go on in the same manner.

The other group is basically dead. We managed a handful of sessions in 2010, but only one in the latter half of the year. My plan currently is to wrap up the current campaign with this group, and then go to a different type of game (basically, a series of one-off games), unless and until we can manage more regular meetings.

Finally, there was the "Christmas Game", a one-shot game that I ran last week. Sadly, it didn't go very well - the players were fine, the system was fine, but I just wasn't "in the zone". Shame, really.

In 2011, I expect to be starting a new campaign, "The Eberron Code" with the Meetup group. It promises to be interesting.

My Year in... Band

2010 was the most successful year that the band has had since I joined.

We actually had a bad start to the season and a bad end to the season. However, the middle section was immensely successful, and has set us up for what looks to be a great year in 2011. We came seventh in the "Champions of Champions" table for our grade last year, narrowly missing the cut to be moved up to grade 4A. However, we've since recruited some new people, so may be being promoted after all.

Meanwhile, we're looking at the possibility of setting up a "Development Band" to bring through our younger players, which will improve things immensely.

The band also ran trips to Italy and Spain last year. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend either, but both were enjoyed by those who did go, and contribute to our success.

Finally, the band qualified for the main competition at both the World Championships (coming seventh overall) and at Cowal, these being the only two contests with a qualification phase. So, success there.

The only area where the band fell down last year was in finance. We made a (small) loss last year, which is itself fine, but it leaves the band with no financial reserves. So, this year we absolutely must make a profit; a tall order on top of everything else.

The goal for this year is simple: more of the same.

My Year in... Love

Still awesome.

My Year in... Resolutions

I didn't set any goals last year, except for the books target, which I actually sailed through. That being the case, there's not really anything to say here.

For 2011, I need to set some goals.

My Year in... Travel

A trip to Ireland with the band, which proved very successful, plus holidays in Keswick with Lady Chocolat and to France with the family. All were excellent.

My Year in... Faith

Things have improved in the last year, although in a nebulous way that's hard to express or quantify. All is well, for now.

My Year in... Health

Unfortunately, my neck still gives me occasional pain. It's not as bad as it was, but it definitely seems to be aggravated by both stress and the cold. Somewhat unfortunate, given my life, really!

Other than that, things are pretty good. I need to go back on my diet, as the bulk of the weight lost in 2008/09 has been gradually regained.

Mi Año en Español

I took two Spanish courses in 2010, one in January and the second in October. The first was really good, but unfortunately by the time the second had come around I'd lost a bit too much. The second course was therefore much harder, and with everything else that was going on I really didn't have the time to dedicate to it.

I have decided not to continue with the Spanish at the present time. My conclusion is that my understanding of the language is quite broad, but has almost no depth at all. Simply studying yet more would therefore be building on a shaky foundation.

Instead, I am considering options for practicing the language in the real world. Whether this is a holiday in Spain (or other Spanish-speaking course), or an "immersion course" remains to be seen. For now, though, it's on the back-burner.

My Year in Painting

Some months back, I posted about miniature painting, how I had given it up but sometimes thought about coming back to it. Well, at the end of November I did exactly that. I have since bought some new paints, and have painted a small number of miniatures.

I'm now assembling an Ork warband for painting, and may well invest in a small number of other figures to paint. The truth is, I do find it very relaxing, and it was only the psycholoigical pressure of having too many unpainted figures that caused me to eventually quit. So, if I'm careful about managing it...

Well, we'll see.

My Year... Overall

2010 was a great year. 2011 is going to be an awesome year. I have every confidence.

Books of the Year 2010

Before doing my retrospective of the year, I think I'll get the master list of books from last year sorted out. So, here they are:

  1. "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary", by Paizo Publishing
  2. "Pathfinder: What Lies in Dust", by Michael Kortes
  3. "Pathfinder: The Infernal Syndrome", by Clinton Boomer and James Jacobs
  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
  7. "Star Wars: Scavenger's Guide to Droids", by Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey, Patrick Stutzman and Robert Wieland
  8. "Northern Lights", by Philip Pullman *
  9. "Pathfinder: Mother of Flies", by Greg A. Vaughan
  10. "Star Wars: Scum and Villainy", by Gary Astleford, Robert J. Schwalb, Owen K.C. Stephens, Rodney Thompson and JD Wiker
  11. "Children of Hurin", by JRR Tolkien
  12. "Fragile Things", by Neil Gaiman
  13. "Animal Farm", by George Orwell *
  14. "Star Wars: Galaxy of Intrigue", by Rodney Thompson, Gary Astleford and Eric Cagle
  15. "The Subtle Knife", by Philip Pullman *
  16. "Hot Pursuit", by Corey Reid
  17. "Shadows of the Last War", by Keith Baker
  18. "The Kite Runner", by Khaled Hosseini *
  19. "Eberron: Grasp of the Emerald Claw", by Bruce R. Cordell
  20. "Elric", by Michael Moorcock *
  21. "Pathfinder: The Twice-Damned Prince", by Brian Cortijo and James Jacobs
  22. "Eberron: Voyage of the Golden Dragon", by Nicolas Logue
  23. "Wolf of the Plains", by Conn Iggulden
  24. "Pathfinder: Classic Horrors Revisited", by James Jacobs, Rob McCreary and F. Wesley Schneider
  25. "Yes Man", by Danny Wallace
  26. "Pathfinder: Stolen Land", by Tim Hitchcock
  27. "Star Wars: Threats of the Galaxy", by Rodney Thompson and Robert J. Schwalb
  28. "Rebecca", by Daphne de Maurier *
  29. "Hunter: the Vigil", from White Wolf Publishing
  30. "Eberron Campaign Setting", by Keith Baker, Bill Slavicsek, and James Wyatt
  31. "Pathfinder: Rivers Run Red", by Rob McCreary
  32. "The Amber Spyglass", by Philip Pullman *
  33. "Eberron: Whispers of the Vampire's Blade", by David Noonan
  34. "Eberron: Eyes of the Lich Queen", by Stephen Schubert, Tim Hitchcock and Nicolas Logue
  35. "Krondor: Tear of the Gods", by Raymond E. Feist
  36. "Lords of the Bow", by Conn Iggulden
  37. "The Catcher in the Rye", by J.D. Salinger *
  38. "Star Wars: The Unknown Regions", by Gary Astleford, Owen K.C. Stephens and Rodney Thompson
  39. "Pathfinder: The Varnhold Vanishing", by Greg A. Vaughan
  40. "Life of Pi", by Yann Martell *
  41. "Bones of the Hills", by Conn Iggulden
  42. "And Another Thing...", by Eoin Colfer
  43. "Eberron: Sharn: City of Towers", by Keith Baker and James Wyatt
  44. "The Burning Land", by Bernard Cornwell
  45. "Races of Eberron", by Jesse Decker, Matthew Sernett, Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel, and Keith Baker
  46. "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Campaign Guide", by Sterling Hershey, Peter Schweighofer, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Rodney Thompson
  47. "Forest Mage", by Robin Hobb
  48. "Pathfinder: Blood for Blood", by Neil Spicer
  49. "Dragons of the Hourglass Mage", by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  50. "Sharpe's Waterloo", by Bernard Cornwell
  51. "To Kill a Mockingbird", by Harper Lee *
  52. "The Ghost King", by R. A. Salvatore
  53. "Star Wars: Rebellion Era Campaign Guide", by Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey, Owen K.C. Stephens and J.D. Wiker
  54. "Pathfinder: War of the River Kings", by Jason Nelson
  55. "Honoured Enemy", by Raymond E. Feist and William Forstchen
  56. "Star Wars: Legacy Era Campaign Guide", by Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey and Gary Astleford
  57. "Oliver Twist", by Charles Dickens *
  58. "Star Wars: Jedi Academy Training Manual", by Rodney Thompson, Eric Cagle, Patrick Stutzman and Robert Wieland
  59. "Unseen Academicals", by Terry Pratchett
  60. "Star Wars: Galaxy at War", by Rodney Thompson, Gary Astleford, Eric Cagle and Daniel Wallace
  61. "The White Rose", by Glen Cook
  62. "Tomb of Horrors", by Ari Marmell and Scott Fitzgerald Gray
  63. "Pathfinder: Sound of a Thousand Screams", by Richard Pett
  64. "Pathfinder: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv", by James Jacobs
  65. "Murder in LaMut", by Raymond E. Feist and Joel Rosenberg
  66. "Brave New World", by Aldous Huxley *
  67. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", by C.S. Lewis *
  68. "Eberron: Five Nations", by Bill Slavicsek, David Noonan and Christopher Perkins
  69. "Confessions of a Shopaholic", by Sophie Kinsela *
  70. "Eberron: Explorer's Handbook", by David Noonan, Frank Brunner and Rich Burlew
  71. "Jimmy the Hand", by Raymond E. Feist and Steve Stirling
  72. "The Colour of Magic", by Terry Pratchett
  73. "Magic of Eberron", by Bruce R. Cordell, Stephen Schubert and Chris Thomasson
  74. "Player's Guide to Eberron", by James Wyatt, Keith Baker, Luke Johnson and STAN!
  75. "Talon of the Silver Hawk", by Raymond E. Feist
  76. "Eberron: Secrets of Xen'drik", by Keith Baker, Jason Bulmahn and Amber Scott
  77. "Faiths of Eberron", by Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, Ari Marmell and C.A. Suleiman
  78. "Birdsong", by Sebastian Faulks *
  79. "Pathfinder: Racing to Ruin", by Tim Hitchcock
  80. "Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition", from Pinnacle Entertainment Group
  81. "King of Foxes", by Raymond E. Feist
  82. "The Da Vinci Code", by Dan Brown *
  83. "Exile's Return", by Raymond E. Feist
  84. "The Handmaid's Tale", by Margaret Atwood *
  85. "Flight of the Nighthawks", by Raymond E. Feist
  86. "Angels and Demons", by Dan Brown *
  87. "Eberron: Dragonmarked", by Keith Baker, Michelle Lyons, and C.A. Suleiman
  88. "Pathfinder: City of Seven Spears", by James Jacobs, Kevin Kulp, and Rob McCreary
  89. "Into a Dark Realm", by Raymond E. Feist
  90. "Eberron: Secrets of Sarlona", by Keith Baker, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Glenn McDonald, and Chris Sims
  91. "Smoke and Mirrors", by Neil Gaiman
  92. "Eberron: Forge of War", by James Wyatt, Wolfgang Baur and Ari Marmell
  93. "Catch-22", by Joseph Heller *
  94. "Dragons of Eberron", by Keith Baker, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Nicolas Logue and Amber Scott
  95. "Wrath of a Mad God", by Raymond E. Feist
  96. "Rides a Dread Legion", by Raymond E. Feist
  97. "Eberron: City of Stormreach", by Keith Baker, Nicolas Logue, James "Grim" Desborough, and C.A. Suleiman
  98. "Pathfinder Companion: Adventurer's Armory", by Jonathan Keith, Jeff Quick, Christopher Self, J.D. Wiker and Keri Wiker
  99. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass", by Lewis Carroll *
  100. "Stonehenge", by Bernard Cornwell

The twenty books marked with asterisks are from The List. A full 50 of the books are RPG books, mostly from the Pathfinder, Eberron and Star Wars Saga Edition lines. A single book was work-related. Two books were re-reads: "The Colour of Magic" and the "Eberron Campaign Setting".

The most read single author was Raymond E. Feist, who I had fallen behind on. I have now caught up. Unfortunately, the books have shown a marked decrease in quality; I think I probably quit at exactly the right time!

The best book of the year by quite a distance was "To Kill a Mockingbird". The worst was "Angels & Demons", narrowly beating "The Da Vinci Code". Other very good books included "Catch-22", "Brave New World", "Oliver Twist" (despite a shocking lack of singing), both the Neil Gaiman anthologies, and "Children of Hurin".

Two books particularly surprised me: "Alice in Wonderland" wasn't as enjoyable as I had expected, but "Confessions of the Shopaholic" was much more enjoyable than expected. (Of course, it must be understood that the one was nowhere near being the worst book of the year, while the other was nowhere near the top!)

I'm not going to set a reading goal as such for the next year. There are a number of authors that I want to stay current on, a couple of series I want to get caught up on, and a couple of specific titles I want to read ("Les Miserables" and "War and Peace" being the big two). I also want to read through the thirteen "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" 1st edition hardbacks this year, and want to stay current on Pathfinder. Oh, and I also want to read a bunch more books from The List.

However, that's not a goal as such: if I don't read some or all of these, I'll not be too upset. I will continue listing the books that I have read at the base of my posts, but for information only.