Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Conversion to Energy Saver Light Bulbs

According to Google, I have never discussed Energy Saver lightbulbs on this blog before. I am more than a little surprised about that, since I was sure I would have noted my disgust with them at some point.

Oh well, this makes my conversion all the less spectacular.

My problems with Energy Saver bulbs have traditionally been two-fold. The first is that they give out a vastly inferior quality of light, making it impossible to read by these bulbs. The second is that they take forever to warm up, during which time the inferior light level is even more inferior. Yes, it's inferior to an inferior thing. That's pretty bad.


The light bulb in my bedroom blew some months back, and given the EU's decision to ban effective lightbulbs, I was rather stuck. And so I headed out to Homebase, rather than the more traditional Tesco, in search of a new bulb.

It took some time, but eventually I identified the brightest Energy Saver bulb they had on offer, and proceeded to spend an absurd amount of money on two of them. These were promptly installed in both the bedroom and the spare bedroom, leaving only the living room with a traditional bulb. (The rooms I don't use were fitted with Energy Savers some time ago, if for no other reason than that I don't use them. The spare bedroom had had an Energy Saver fitted, but the bulb was faulty and so needed replaced.)

The upshot is that these new bulbs are just barely less effective than the 100W bulb that was fitted (they claim to be equivalent to 90W), and they heat up in less than 30 seconds, rather than the six hours that is traditional for Energy Savers. I find this to be an adequate substitution for the traditional bulbs that are now banned.

Of course, I've only had these bulbs installed for a few months. I have no idea how well they'll last, and degredation has also been a problem with Energy Saver bulks in the past. Still, for now they're good enough.

In conclusion: provided you are willing to spend absurd amounts of money on the highest quality Energy Saver bulbs you can find, Energy Savers are an adequate substitute for, and almost as good as, the traditional bulbs they have replaced.

Truly, I have been converted.

Update: TV

TV is a bit of a mixed bag at the moment. "Torchwood" was awful, and has now joined "Bones" and "House" on the list of shows I'm giving up on ("Chuck" would also be on that list, but it is entering its last half-season, so I might as well stick it out).

"Doctor Who", by contrast, is great. Although I have no idea how they're going to wrap it all up in a satisfactory manner. Frankly, I'm a bit concerned about that. "Fringe" returns this week, and promises to be good, and I believe "Merlin" is due to return next week. I don't know when "Clone Wars" and "Nikita" return, but I'll be watching them.

Rather supririsingly, "Strikeback: Project Dawn" has proven to be extremely entertaining. It's not high art, to be sure, but it's good fun all the same.

"The Borgias" has been largely disappointing. I had been hoping for something like "The Tudors", but it has proven lacking. As with "The Tudors", the major problem is that absence of many sympathetic characters - they're all busy lying and scheming and seducing, but why should we care? (And the lying and scheming and seducing has, frankly, been rather tame. And they got Machiavelli totally wrong.)

There aren't many new shows that seem all that interesting. I'm going to give "Terra Nova" a chance, although it may well be awful (and if it isn't, it will probably be cancelled).

Finally, although it's not a new show, "Carnivale" is something I hadn't seen previously, and has proven to be very good.

All in all, TV does seem to be hitting a happy medium - I'm not watching anything that's just awful, I'm not watching too much at all, but there are several shows that I am watching. So I'm quite happy with that.

War, Peace, and other books

I am now 500 pages into "War and Peace", well over halfway through. It has been fairly tough going, but it's also interesting seeing how all the various plot threads are interwoven and how the book as a whole is constructed. I've concluded that I don't agree with Tolstoy's primary argument, that kings and generals are basically history's slaves, but that's a discussion for another day, I think.

In a couple of weeks, I'll reach the end of Volume Two, at which time I will take a short break to instead read "Empire of Silver", Conn Iggulden's latest novel. With "Les Miserables", and again with "War and Peace", I've found that building in a break like that helps me avoid gettting bogged down.

I have decided to abandon my read through of the 1st Edition "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" hardbacks. In all honesty, they're just not all that interesting, with the exception of the "Dungeon Master's Guide", and there is a marked decrease in quality as they go. Besides, I've decided I have no actual intention of running the game, ever, so wading through the rulebooks seems rather pointless. Perhaps in the years to come, when I'm really bored, I'll get back to them.

Otherwise, it's just a matter of working down the stack of books. I have more than enough reading material to last me until the end of the year. Next year could be quite interesting, though, as there will be an influx of new books arriving...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

That last post...

As should be obvious, that last post was not actually composed by me. The nefarious Lady Chocolat gained access to my PC, and posted at will. I have left the post in place as a testament to her villainy.

I mean, to suggest that I'd get rid of books! The very thought!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sorry Lady Chocolat...

Dear Lady Chocolat,

I'm sorry, of course I will throw out all my D&D books - the space could be much more useful if it were filled with all your books. And yes, I will buy new duvet covers, and maybe some cushions as well...And yes you can have 70% of the wardrobe space. Plus, we'll go on a big shopping trip and get some new clothes for me. And of course we'll redecorate the bathroom. In the words of that great hero: "As you wish." Also, I admit that there is no such thing as a sock conspiracy and that you don't scare small children.

And when I come to writing the epic blog of our wedding, I shall endeavour to describe your lovely dress in more intricate detail than "it was white". Finally, none of the above shall be mentioned in my speech...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I don't believe it!

Two weeks ago, I got a letter from the council informing me that they would be resurfacing my road soon, and that on that day there would be no street parking available. I don't recall them giving a date, but I must confess to not paying much attention as I was going to be at work, with my car, on whatever day it was.

A few weeks ago, my car started giving me grief. I took it in, and they thought they'd resolved the issue, but yesterday the car got really bad, really quickly. It's booked in for more work tomorrow, but I decided that it wasn't really safe to drive to work today. So, I borrowed my Dad's car today, and left mine here.

Today was the only day between now and Christmas when my car was left in the street during the day, and I wasn't around to move it.

Today was the day they chose to resurface the street. I arrived back to find a glorious new surface all along the street, except for the one single strip where my car was parked all day. And mine was the only car that was left on the street today.

Sometimes, I'm sure God is having a laugh at me. That's the only explanation I can think of for the sequence of events working out just so precisely. I just hope I'm giving good amusement.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ultraviolet: Code-500

On Saturday I ran the one-shot game that I mentioned in a previous post, and it was excellent. A strong group of players who were engaged with the plot and their characters, one of my better performances as Game Master, and a good time had by all.

One of the great things about these games is that the GM usually has a story in mind when writing the thing, but that story never quite survives first contact with the players. Saturday was no exception.

The team arrived on-site late on Thursday night. At this point, I expected them to very quickly turn in, and start their investigations in the morning. After all, I made a point of noting just how late it was...

However, the party elected to get to work right away. This was fine, except that the plot also had certain events going on on the Thursday night that the PCs were expected to miss... Thus, they were able to short-circuit a big piece of the plot, and cut out a lot of the investigations that were to follow.

Still, simply because it was unexpected didn't mean it was bad. Fortunately, the plot wasn't so fragile that those events had to work out just so, and I was able therefore the re-plot.

Anyway, it was all really good fun, and probably the best game I've been involved in this year. And given how good this year has been for gaming, that is high praise indeed.

Meanwhile, it looks like one of the guys in the other gaming group is now permanently working on Saturdays. If this is correct, I guess that definitively wraps that up.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Band AGM 2011

I didn't realise until today that I hadn't blogged about the band's AGM last year. Either I was just too busy, or it was too depressing to talk about.

(The AGM last year was almost derailed by two issues. The second was a lengthy discussion about the introduction of membership dues, which was eventually passed. The first was a complaint about a lack of relevant documentation, which caused issues.)

Anyway, this year's AGM occurred last night, and went off without a hitch. It was long and boring but ultimately successful. We made sure to have all our documentation in place well in advance, proceeded through the agenda, and basically got things done. (I'll need to note down what we did as part of our "good practice" guidelines.)

The one major disappointment of the AGM is that both our leading drummer and the pipe major of our Development Band have elected to leave the band to pursue newer challenges. A big loss for us, though probably the right decisions for them. Anyway, we wish them the best of luck.

Otherwise, the committee remains largely unchanged, with most people in the same roles. Obviously, we have a new lead drummer in the role, and we have a new Parent's Rep (replacing the old rep who quit when we set up the Development Band). The positions of Piper's and Drummer's Rep have been eliminated, and replaced with a Pipe Major and Lead Drummer for the Development Band; the previous Piper's Rep is therefore now serving in a new capacity, while there is a new face on the drumming side. This gave us the required 10 people for the committee without any great fuss.

The band have been asked to play at the festival in Guingamp (France) again next year, and the travel arrangements are going to be a lot more formalised than this year. The organisers have offered to subsidise the trip to 75% of travel, plus food and lodging; the point was made that those travelling would have to make up the shortfall (as the band, being a charity, cannot).

The band have also been asked, provisionally, to play at an event in Cuba in June. This would be fully subsidised. However, it remains to be seen whether this will actually happen or not. Sadly, it seems unlikely that I would be able to attend either of these trips.

The dates of the major competitions next year have been announced. There are no real surprises here, except that the British Championships are being held on the 30th of June.

Finally, there has been a slight adjustment in my own role. I remain the Chairman of the committee. However, the Development Band are not going to have one Pipe Major this year, but rather two co-Pipe Majors, of whom I am one. This will mostly mean I'll be involved in the teaching; I will need to work out some arrangement with the other co-PM as to how we're going to split the competitions.

Anyway, interesting times ahead...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Yet more alcohol nonsense

So, Alcohol Focus Scotland and Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems have today produced a joint report urging further measures to tackle Scotland's supposed alcohol problem. In addition to the SNP's minimum pricing idiocy (which I remain convinced will immediately fall foul of EU competition law), they want the government to:

- introduce special alcohol-only lanes in supermarkets
- further restrict the off-license hours from 10pm to 8pm.

I can't help but feel that they are directly out to get me with these measures. See, I don't have any issue with alcohol, but I do occasionally like to take a drink, and so occasionally buy a few beers, a bottle of wine, or whatever. And, for reasons of convenience, I do my weekly shop at 9pm on Monday evening, on my way home from band.

So, they now expect me to do a special mini-shop just to buy a couple of beers, and they expect me to re-arrange my week to do it? Sod that. It's already bad enough when I find I arrive at the checkouts at 9:56 and so cannot buy those few beers I wanted (or, in the worst instance, I wanted to buy one beer to put in a steak-and-ale casserole, but couldn't because it was only 9:30 in the morning).

The most infuriating this about this idiocy is that there is a really simple measure that would at a stroke have the desired effects: simply revoke the licenses of all supermarkets, newsagents, and the like. Basically, if it is not the primary purpose of a business to sell alcohol, then disallow them from selling alcohol.

Doing so would immediately and dramatically increase the price of alcohol (as supermarkets would no longer use it as a loss-leader to pull people into the store), it would immediately make buying alcohol much less convenient (since you'd need to go to a specialist store), and it would immediately improve the health of an awful lot of small traders (as all those off-licenses would suddenly get a boost in sales, and our pubs would see an increase in sales). Plus, overall consumption would probably massively decrease, which would quickly eliminate a lot of our public order problems.

It's a really simple measure. It would have all the effects desired, and several other good effects.

But it isn't done, and why not? Well, because the government don't really want to fix the problem or to significantly reduce sales, they just want to look like they're taking tough action. After all, if they really reduced sales, they would also drastically reduce the revenue that they get from alcohol duties. They would sorely damage the whisky industry. And, of course, they'd really annoy the supermarkets.

And so we have measures like those suggested in the report, and the nonsense of minimum pricing, and people unable to buy sensible amounts of alcohol at sensible times that are just outside the arbitrary government mandates. They nibble around the edges, constantly adjusting things and talking tough, and never actually taking the single, simple step that would deal decisively with the problem.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Too many games, not enough time

At the weekend I'm running yet another game. This one is "Hunter: the Vigil", one of the 'new' World of Darkness games. The adventure is titled "Ultraviolet: Code-500", and is based on the old Channel 4 show Ultraviolet.

Anyway, last night I was busy creating the characters for this game, and I was reminded just how much I used to love the old World of Darkness games. There's just something really smooth and elegant about the way the characters are put together. It's just fun, in a way that D&D no longer seems to be. And while I got really burned out on the "Vampire" iteration of the games, and have no intention of going back, running a game for hunters (the flip side, if you will) is extremely attractive.

The only problem with that is that I just don't have enough time. I'm currently busily running my latest D&D campaign, "The Eberron Code", which may have as much as two years still to go. Additionally, I have at least one "Star Wars Saga Edition" campaign I want to run ("Through a Glass Darkly"), I've sort-of promised myself that I'm going to run a "Serenity" campaign, and then there's the "Emergent Reason" campaign I've been thinking about for the last five years... And as soon as I started up "The Eberron Code" I immediately came up with two other D&D campaigns I want to run!

So, once again I find myself with a whole bunch of campaign ideas, and a total lack of time in which to run them. Woe is me!


June was one of the best months of my life. July, for all that it seemed to go on forever, was not a bad month. August and September rank amongst the worst months of my life.

Monday was the single worst day I have had in my current job, ever. It marked the point where the job went from merely being extremely frustrating at times to actively hurting me. Monday was not a good day.

Since then, things have improved marginally, but there's still a long way to go.

#26: "Pathfinder: Bestiary 2", by Paizo Publishing
#27: "I Shall Wear Midnight", by Terry Pratchett

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Mourning the Friendship

The Saturday game has been on hiatus for several months, due to the pipe band competition season. It was due to restart last weekend, but that fell through. Then, it was due to restart this weekend, but that has now fallen through. It can't restart next weekend, due to another commitment on my part, so is now rescheduled for the 24th. We'll see if that happens.

The truth is, I really need to put an end to this one. I don't really have time for everything that I'm involved with, so something has to go. And Saturday afternoon is 'premium time' - it's the time that is most useful for other things, and the time that is least suitable to just being wasted. I really can't afford to tie up every single Saturday afternoon for a game that is almost always cancelled, especially with a wedding to plan, and double especially after the wedding.

(That said, Lady Chocolat is flying off to Kenya in a few weeks and for a couple of months. So, the time between now and the end of November is slightly more flexible...)

So, this spell between now and the end of March was always going to be the last hurrah for this game group. After that, we were going to have to adopt an entirely different pattern, or simply stop getting together for the game at all. It's starting to look like I have to call a halt six months early.

So, I know what I need to do, but why the reluctance? Well, this group has been together (in one form or another) for sixteen years, since my second year at university. Two of my three "greatest ever" campaigns have been with this group (being the "Rivers of Time" chronicle for Vampire, and the "Shackled City" campaign in D&D). We've had a lot of good times.

But we're not 20 any more. We're not even 28 any more, which was probably the last time we really had the numbers for reliable gaming. Martin left to move to the States. Andreas left to return to Sweden. Johannes left to move to various places to continue his studies. Molly just left. Craig's work schedule meant that he could no longer attend. Andy's ever-growing family likewise meant he could no longer attend... Gradually, we went from having too many players down to a group of four. And since the game really has a quorum of four, that created the major problems that I've been posting about on and off for the last two years.

Killing the group probably means cutting ties with the remainder of the group. We only really get together for the game, and although we might well say we'd continue to get together at times for other things, the truth is that it just wouldn't happen.

It also means cutting the last link to my university days. Since leaving, I've basically lost touch with everyone I met at university (again, some immediately and others over the years). So, ending this group means finally closing that chapter.

But then, this isn't the first time. I had a game group during school, and it ended when I left school. Over the years, I've gradually lost touch with every friend I made at high school (although, oddly, there are a couple of people who are now friends who weren't when we were at school together).

It's time to pull the plug. I just wish it wasn't so hard.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Scottish Conservative Party

The Tories are finished in Scotland. They've been finished in Scotland since 1997 (actually, before that, but that was the election where we kicked them out). And there's really no way back - at every election they'll always be "the same old Tories".

So Murdo Fraser is absolutely right when he says that the best way forward is actually to dissolve the party. Where he goes wrong is that he then suggests they should reform with a different name... but as essentially the same party. Do that, and they're still "the same old Tories", whether they call themselves "Conservatives", "Unionists", "Progressives" or whatever else. And it's especially the case if, as is expected, they will formally ally with the Conservatives in England and take the Tory whip while serving in Westminster.

No, what they need to do is dissolve the party, and then reform several smaller parties each reflecting different aspects of the centre-right agenda. Then, over the next few years, gradually merge some of these new parties into a single entity with a new centre-right agenda. Also (and this is the important bit), they absolutely must not have anything to do with the Tories in England. They have to operate within Scotland (only) for the people of Scotland (only). And even if their MPs in London could prove the difference between a Tory majority forming there or not, they must resist that temptation, because the moment they form that alliance, they're "the same old Tories" once again.

The funny thing is, it doesn't actually make all that much difference to me, since I wouldn't vote for such a party anyway. On my prioritised list of parties to vote for, they actually come after "don't bother voting at all". (Along with Labour, the Lib Dems, and a great many 'minor' parties. At the moment, the SNP have my vote. Failing that, I might just be persuaded to vote Green.)

But the reason it's important is that there is a large group of voters who are rather more right wing in outlook than the SNP, Labour or Lib Dems (or, actually, the modern Tory party), but who cannot bring themselves to vote for "Thatcher's Party", and who are not the racist caricature of the BNP. And those people are currently left without anyone to represent them, and that is wrong.

So, yeah, I hope Murdo Fraser gets his way. I hope the Scottish Conservative Party winds up, and soon. But not because I want it gone; because it's important to have it back.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Dear cyclist...

Look, I respect your right to be on the road. And I will do my utmost to drive safely and with consideration. I'll leave plenty of stopping distance behind you until I am able to pass safely. When passing, I will allow plenty of space to the side (and if the road doesn't allow that, then I won't pass). And, lest you get the wrong impression, that's not some major sacrifice on my part, and I don't expect thanks, or hailed as a hero, or whatever - that's just your right as a fellow road user.


If you decide to cycle along an unlit country road at night, while wearing dark clothes, and on a bike that has neither lights nor reflectors, you will eventually be hit. And when you do, you will come off considerably worse on your flimsy bike than I do in my large and heavy car. That's just a fact, unfortunate as it is.

If I do not have the ability to see you, I do not have the ability to avoid you.

#25: "Pathfinder: The Brinewall Legacy", by James Jacobs