Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Funny, but quite sad, too

As we all know, the world is due to end this December. And the reason the world is due to end is that we'll have reached the end of the Mayan calendar. Which, obviously, is apocalyptic.

Now, previously I had been rather sceptical of all of this. It seemed apparent to me that the reason the calendar was running out was that they had worked it out so far, but had felt they could do the rest if and when we got to that point.

But, actually, that's not the case at all. Yesterday, Lady Chocolat and I attended a lecture on the Mayan culture, which put paid to all such theories.

It turns out that we are not coming to the end of the Mayan calendar, and aren't even close. See, it turns out that the Mayan calendar operates on a (not-quite) base-twenty count. A single day is called a Kin. Twenty days make up a Uinal. The eighteen Uinals make up a Tun (which, at 360 days, is close to a year). Twenty Tuns make up a Ka'tun (7,200 days), and twenty Ka'tuns make up a Bak'tun (144,000 days).

Time is counted from a mythic date for the creation of the world, which works out as August 11th 3114 BC.

So, on the 21st of December 2012, we will complete the current Bak'tun and move on to the next one. Exciting stuff.

Of course, this actually only means we'll be moving from to So we're not even moving to a new digit - there isn't even an equivalent of the Millennium Bug that we need to worry about!

In fact, we'll only move to a new digit after, or October 13th 4662. And even that isn't the end, because then we just move on to the next digit up, which is a pik'tun. And after that there are the kalabtun, the k'inchiltun, and the alautun.

Still, I suppose there's the risk of problems then. I propose to start worrying some time around, which would be about 2 years before the real end of what they've worked out.

(And even then, not so much. Apparently, the Maya believed reaching the end of a cycle to be cause for an enormous celebration. Imagine the New Alauntun party we'll get to have when we make it that far!)

Personally, I found this revelation to be really quite funny - not only is there no basis to the fears, but there's not even any basis to the basis to the fears! But it also makes me feel quite sad, too - the mystique of reaching the end of the calendar has just been stripped away.

Still, even if we can't celebrate the world not ending, we still get to celebrate the end of a cycle. Anyone up for a New Bak'tun party?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Grrr! New Interface

Can't say I'm a huge fan of the new Blogger interface.

My main complaint is actually in composition, where it no longer seems to recognise paragraph breaks properly. Seems I now need to manually insert the HTML paragraph codes. Not the best move ever.


I've eaten some strange things in my time. I ate sushi in London (and again recently, to prove a point). I ate kangaroo in France. I ate horse, also in France (which was actually a lot nicer than you might think).

But I never expected to eat cactus. I mean, surely the mechanics alone would seem to prevent that?

Well, it turns out that cactus is a not-unpleasant vegetable. It's very fleshy, and has a very slightly bitter taste. But it was rather nice actually.

So, add another one to the list!

#14: "The Many Deaths of the Black Company", by Glen Cook

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Wedding of Kilt/Man and Lady Chocolat

The problem with promising a longer report with pictures is that, of all the people at a wedding, the two who are guaranteed not to take any pictures are the bride and groom. And while we had an official photographer, we won't get those pictures until we return from Honeymoon. Still, if you want to see some of the official snaps, check them out here.

I spent the night before the wedding at my parents', having been given strict instruction not to drive anywhere on the day. My day therefore started at around 7am, when I woke up after a decent, if short, night's sleep. There then followed a quick breakfast of near-Frosties, followed by a short walk. I offered to get the papers at this time, but that was a cover for one of my secret missions, that I'm not going to tell you about. (!)

Oh, yes... I've been given instruction that I have to mention the balloons. There were balloons all around the house, celebrating the wedding.

Shortly thereafter, G (the best man) and I had an early lunch. I had chicken soup; he had beans. And then, later than anticipated, we proceeded to start getting ready. Still, up to this point everything was nice and relaxed.

Unfortunately, this was the point where the stress started. See, I was wearing a plaid on the day, which is not something I've worn often in the past. And while I know how to put it on, I don't know how to put it on myself, only other people. The other person I know who does know is Captain Ric... and he wasn't there.

I made the mistake of asking Mum to help, precipitating a panic just when we needed to be leaving. Oops. Still, after a failed attempt to pin the thing on, I took the executive decision to leave... and we went.

About two minutes after arriving at the church, the plaid was properly attached. (It turned out to be inside out, but we fixed that soon enough.) I proceeded to hand out some gifts to our ushers and musicians, and spent some time generally getting in the way. I spoke to a couple of arriving guests, had some photos taken, and then was taken into the church to wait for the arrival of my bride.

(Naturally, my parents then arrived just after I had to go inside, which led to some rushing about getting some more photos taken, but that's not too important.)

The waiting was quite difficult. I really don't like waiting, and while I wasn't particularly nervous as such, I was really keen to get started. Shortly after the appointed hour, we received word that Lady Chocolat had arrived, and G and I moved to the front of the church, while the minister went to greet my bride-to-be...

At this point, I think I'll pause, and introduce the cast of the day. Obviously, I was the lead actor, being Kilt/Man and/or Steph/ven, your intrepid blogger and the groom. Lead actress is Lady Chocolat, my nemesis and fiancee (later bride). The Best Man was G, my youngest brother, while Captain Ric was the piper. The minister is A (of the A-team), the third brother. LC's bridesmaids are L and L, one her cousin and the other the daughter of her god-mother. Finally, the very lovely flower girl was SJ, our neice.

Anyway, it was time. A moved back to the front of the church and asked the congregation to stand, Captain Ric struck up with Highland Cathedral, and it was time to finally see the dress.

Lady Chocolat was wearing a very lovely ivory dress with little crystals sewn in. She wore a long veil with further crystals, which gave the effect that when the light hit her she glowed. The dress also featured a certain amount of corsetry, which further narrowed her already small waist, which meant she seemed tiny. Awesome.

So, Lady Chocolat made her way down the aisle, preceded by her bridesmaids and the flower girl, and accompanied by a very emotional father. At the front, she joined a groom who was grinning like a madman.

The first hymn was "Be Thou My Vision", and then came the wedding ceremony itself. Fortunately, I remembered the correct name (which was not Lady Chocolat!). So, that was one of three worries in the past. Huzzah!

And then A declared us married (Huzzah!), and I kissed the bride (Huzzah!). Seriously, it was just like that - blink and you'd miss it.

There was then the reading of a Sonnet (116), read by one of LC's school friends. And then it was time for the second hymn.

The second hymn was "Blessed Be Your Name", which I had initially been a little unsure of, but which was awesome. The whole church was filled, and it was just joyous.

A then bade us sit, and CJ (SJ's mum, and A's twin sister) read from Romans (8: 28-39), after which A proceeded with his address. I must confess, I don't really remember too much of the proceedings at this point, as I was too overwhelmed by it all. Fortunately, I've got a file with the order of events on my PC, so don't need to remember too closely!

There was then a prayer by another friend of ours, and then the third and final hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness". And then we went back to sign the register. While this was being done, one of our friends (who was also an usher on the day) sang for the entertainment of the crowd. By all accounts, he was awesome.

The recessional had been a subject of some debate for some time, as my suggestion had originally been thought too controversial. But Lady Chocolat then came around to the idea, and her parents had been okay with it, so...

The tune was "Throne Room", by John Williams, which is familiar from the end of Star Wars. It was played on the church organ by a friend of LC's Dad. And it was awesome! We especially got a kick out of that moment when everyone realised what exactly it was, and the laugh went around the church. And, of course, we had timed our entrance to match that scene from the film...

And that was it, we were out. The end.

Only not, of course. We headed out for a great many photos with many, many people. In this picture here, from left to right, we have LC's brother, her cousin, the best man, me, LC herself, one of the ushers (the singer), the flower girl, her other bridesmaid, and the second usher. I quite like that photo!

From the church we then went to the Colzium estate for more photos (ditching everyone else), and then went from there to the Inchyra Grange where the reception was to be held. It is symbolic of just how spectacularly lucky we were that day that the instant we got into the car for the Incyra, having taken the last photo, the first drops of rain fell in the only shower of the day. It stopped just before we got to the hotel.

Oh, and we got to ride around in this:

Nice, isn't it?

Of course, by this time we were running very late. Still, that was okay - we got to the hotel, and went more or less straight in to dinner. And then the nerves started again, just a little...

See, I had written a speech. But I wasn't really happy with it. The first draft had said everything I wanted, but had clocked in at 20 minutes, which was far too long. Several rewrites had got it down to 9 minutes 40 seconds, but that was still rather long and missed out quite a lot. Plus, I was rather unsure of how to follow up LC's dad, who might well burst into poetry...

The meal was great. The soup was roasted red pepper and tomato (just the thing when wearing white!), then the main was a choice of chicken stuffed with haggis or roast beef, and then the dessert was a raspberry cranachan. Yum!

Anyway, then the speeches. The poetry proceeded exactly as I had foreseen. And now it was my turn.

I had printed out my almost-last draft of the speech and I had it in my pocket. I had meant to do some cue cards, but in the end I decided to go for it unaided. Speeches are generally better that way, I've found...

Well, I needn't have worried, because the speech was fine. Better than fine, in fact. I was able to adjust my pacing to the mood of the crowd, and beefed up the "thanks" part of the speech a bit more than in that last draft, which I found more satisfying than my scripted version. Nobody seemed bored, the crowd responded at all the right points, and just as I'd hoped. Basically, it couldn't have gone better.

The best man's speech was good, too. So, three speeches, and all went down well. Huzzah!

And then, the wait... But the wait wasn't quite just a case of sitting around for the hall to be changed around. And a good thing, too, because that took longer than expected. Instead, I had asked my pipe band to come, and to play for us. So they came, they played, and they were excellent.

And while all this was going on, LC and I checked in to the hotel, the photographers got almost their last photos, and we met huge numbers of people. Good times. (Naturally, I didn't get to speak to as many people as I would have liked, nor to speak to anyone for as long as I would have liked.)

And then, finally, it was time for the third worry of the day - the first dance. And, because I don't do things by halves, we of course had something special planned...

The music was "Caledonia" by Skerryvore. It was a waltz. And, inspired by our friends Scott and Jen, and Chris and Cheryl, LC and I had sought out the services of a dance instructor, and prepared something special. Only to discover that LC's ability to move while wearing that dress was rather constrained! Oops.

Still, it went extremely well. I especially liked the applause that met the dip. I wasn't quite so keen when I made the same mis-step as had dogged us all through our rehearsals, but we got away with it. And before long, we'd reached the instrumental, and the wedding party joined us...

The rest of the night was mostly ceilidh, with just a little disco to round things off. We didn't have as much dancing as we'd originally planned, but what we did have was great. And, to be honest, I think that by the end most people had had enough anyway.

I only danced two ceilidh dances after the first, as LC couldn't really move in her dress. So, one of the two was with a friend of LC's, while the other was with CJ.

And then it was time to go. Our revels were ended, the band had finished, the party was breaking up. We retired to our room. And then...

I had to go back down, because LC had forgotten her purse, which contained the contact lens solution that she desperately needed!

This has, frankly, been a rather functional recital of events. There's just too much from the day to recount it all in a decent length. But the day was, simply put, legendary. It was absolutely perfect, from start to finish. I loved every minute of it. And, from what I've heard from people, everyone else had a really good time.

I don't really have any more words, so I'll finish up now. I'll leave you with one more picture of my beloved:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Small Infants and Long Plane Journeys

I have every sympathy with the parents of small children. Really, I do. And I'll accept that there are times when the needs of a small child will trump the comfort of the adults around him or her.

But taking a small child onto a ten-hour flight, with the child screaming (sorry, that's not strong enough: SCREAMING) for fully half the time, and for almost the entire last two hours, is really not acceptable. In my book, that counts as cruel and unusual punishment. And it can't be good for the child either - by the end it had literally screamed until it was sick.

That was our experience on the flight over to Mexico. It was not a pleasant one.

The thing is, no matter how quiet your child is normally, there's no telling how they'll be on a flight. Travel is long and mostly uncomfortable for all of us - for a child who may not understand the noise and movement, and may not be able to equalise the pressure in their ears, I imagine it could be much worse.

(I will concede that there are, of course, times when parents may have no choice. Sometimes, a journey must be taken. But flying on holiday is not an example of this. Bluntly, go on holiday somewhere else - there is an entire continent reachable in a couple of hours, and you will never exhaust the possibilities therein.)

The parents did their absolute best to quiet their child, but it was a losing battle. Until the child has reached an age when it can actually communicate what is wrong so that some meaningful action can be taken, it is best not taken into that situation.

Or am I being completely unreasonable?

The Collapse

For people who live extremely busy lives (as I do most of the time), one of the worst things you can do is stop and take a break. Because the moment you do, it can all catch up to you.

That happened to me last night. About 8:30 I lay down for a short while, and then when I found I needed to move, suddenly I felt awful. Really tired, really shaky, and generally bad.

I'm not entirely sure what the cause was: a release of stress, the tiredness from several days of travel, heat exhaustion, the six hour time difference, or something else entirely. But it was pretty bad, regardless.

I slept for twelve hours last night. With a break at about 5am, although that seems like something out of a dream. And, fortunately, when I woke up this morning, I felt right as rain again. Still, not too much fun.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


For those who were wondering, the wedding was perfect. We could not have asked for anything better. Once again, a great many thanks to all of those who contributed to the day, and for all the many well-wishes that we received.

Lady Chocolat (Mrs /ven) and I are now in Mexico, having just had lunch, and are about to head over to one of the pools for a nice relaxing afternoon. This evening, we plan on drinking champagne and eating absurd amounts of free food. Plus, it's really hot.

Life is hell.

(Oh yes, for those who are wondering - there will indeed be a longer report on the wedding, potentially with pictures. But not right now!)

#13: "Silas Marner", by George Eliot

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The End of Part Three

I'm getting married tomorrow. Which still doesn't feel quite real.

In a few minutes, I'll be heading off to the hotel to drop off the things that they need to set up for the reception. And then I'll be heading over to my parents for the rest of the day. At some point, I need to sit down and redraft my speech for tomorrow, which is written but waaay too long. Oh, and there are a few things still to pick up from the kilt hire...

It's going to be a busy day, and tomorrow is going to be crazy. So, the next time I post here, we'll be officially into Part Four.

See you on the flip side!

Monday, April 09, 2012

If George Lucas did "Titanic"...

So, in honour of being able to charge people to see the same film again, "Titanic" has been re-released in the cinema in glorious 3D. Naturally, in order to gain the extra D, the makers have had to do some work to "improve" the special effects, just like George Lucas does every time he revisits "Star Wars". As far as I know, they haven't changed anything else.

But what if they did? What if "Titanic" had, in fact, been directed by George Lucas...
  1. The iceberg would fire first.
  2. Manikin Billy Zane would be replaced with a new CGI Billy Zane. (Okay, that's not really fair. But it's not his best performance ever...)
  3. The Titanic band would be digitally replaced with a CGI band performing a new "Jedi Rocks" number.
  4. At the end, Ghost Jack would be played by Hayden Christensen.
  5. Kate Winslet's nipples would be replaced with walkie-talkies.

I'm sure there's more. Anyone want to contribute?

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Season Abridged

One of the other things that is planned for after the wedding is, of course, the band's competition season. Early in the year, we decided on a number of competitions to attend, including the five majors of course, and also a number of the minor competitions.

At the time, I noted my concerns that we might be taking on too many competitions, especially in May and June, when it seemed we would be out every weekend from the 12th onwards. Fortunately, there has been some movement on that front, which means that things should be a bit easier.

One of the innovations of a couple of years ago was a change to the Grade 4A competition structure. Previously, bands in Grade 4A had played four standard marches for competitions, the same as for 4B bands (albeit to a, hopefully, higher standard). However, it was found that when bands then moved up to grade 3B they were finding the jump simply too big to easily make. Consequently, the RSPBA decided that Grade 4A bands would instead play a "Grade 4 MSR" - that is, two marches, two strathspeys and two reels. The selection of tunes would be generally less challenging than for a 'true' Grade 3 standard, but would still bridge the gap between 4B and 3B.

However, not all of the minor competitions have adopted the changes, since this would mean providing more prizes, and prize money, where they are often struggling to have enough entrants already.

Our initial plan had been for our Grade 4A band to compete only at those events with a Grade 4A competition, and perhaps "play up" at Grade 3 at some of the others, while the Development band play at Grade 4(B) level at the rest. Unfortunately, we have found ourselves without enough drummers to field a second band this year, and the band also lacks the strength to consider "playing up". Therefore, there is little point in us attending any competition that doesn't have a Grade 4MSR competition - eliminating at least three of our minors.

And, additionally, the Edinburgh event has been moved from the first weekend in June to the weekend after the World Championships, when most of the band are in France. Consequently, we won't be attending that one. As things stand, in addition to the five Majors, we will only have four minor competitions to attend this year - Dunbar, Bo'Ness, Annan's Riding of the Marches, and Bridge of Allan. Which is quite pleasant indeed!

(That it also significantly reduces our outlay on buses for the season is a second, and not unwelcome, side effect.)

#12: "A Kingdom Beseiged", by Raymond E. Feist

A Tedious Update with Further Thoughts on Treasure

Since my previous post on the subject, I've been giving quite a lot of thought to the subject of assigning treasure in D&D. This is primarily motivated by the planned restart of the "Eberron Code" campaign. (I'm projecting a mid-May restart, but that remains an aspiration rather than a certainty. For the time being, my horizon remains the 12th of April, so I'm not really in a position to be making many plans beyond then.)

Anyway, I thought it might be useful to run through an actual example of what I discussed last time, and also to address some of the magic item types in more detail.

The second part of "The Eberron Code" begins with the PCs at 6th level, and heading for 7th (of course). According to the "Wealth per Level" table, at 6th level they should have approximately 13,000 gp of equipment each, and at 7th they should have approximately 19,000. Having looked at the character sheets, this is reasonably accurate, although the current group are a little heavy of not-quite-ideal magic weapons.

Given that there are six PCs, this means that the step from 6th to 7th level should see them gain about 36,000 gold pieces worth of equipment. Note that that is equipment, not treasure - if they are given a huge pile of gold but have no opportunity to spend it, then it doesn't count.

As discussed in my previous post, I'm inclined to think that a good balance is about one-third 'valuables' to two-thirds 'magic'. As such, in the first few sessions, they should have opportunities to find roughly 12,000 gold pieces worth of valuables (some gold or platinum, but with an emphasis on historical artifacts, artworks, jewellery, and the like). I have several ideas for how this should be placed, which is quite nice... and I'm not going to recount them here - sorry Brindy!

As further discussed in the earlier post, I'm going to multiply that remaining 24,000 by a factor of 5, this representing the resale value of any magic items that the group decide to get rid of. (I also expect them to expend a significant amount of the magic found - potions, scrolls and wands are there to be used, after all!) So, that should be roughly 120,000 gold pieces of magical treasure, that should be stuff that they can use... but probably not stuff that they would choose for themselves.

But... how to then assign the treasure?

Well, D&D helpfully places magic items into categories, so...
  • Weapons: As discussed, the group is currently rather heavy on magic weapons, including examples of the holy quality and the bane vs evil outsiders that I noted were probably the most powerful in the game. That being the case, I'm going to avoid magic weapons for the time being. Longer-term, I'm inclined to think that magic weapons should be constructed with three guidelines in place. Firstly, the PCs should never find a 'simple' +N weapon - there should always be some sort of special quality attached to the weapon. Secondly, the 'plus' on the weapon should roughly match the 'virtual plus' attached to those special qualities - a holy weapon should also be a +2 weapon, for example. Finally, the special qualities should avoid the obvious 'power' choices. So, no flaming or equivalent (though flaming burst and the like are fine), no holy (though axiomatic and the like are fine), and no bane vs evil outsiders (although any others are fine). Of course, any of the 'special' weapons are fine, as are pretty much any of the traits from other supplements.
  • Armour and Shields: Armour and shields are somewhat simpler than weapons, in that the 'power' option is usually just to maximise the flat 'plus'. In general, there's an especially desirable armour in each category (that is, studded leather or mithral shirts, elven chain, or full plate; oh, and heavy shields over light of course). So, the same guidelines apply about giving special qualities as well as a flat plus, and balancing the qualities with the plus. The only qualities to avoid are the animated shield and mithral shirts that give bonuses to Hide or Move Silently skills. Everything else is fair game.
  • Potions: Potions should generally be awarded as treasure only at very low levels, so don't really apply to this campaign. When placing a potion, absolutely anything is fine except healing potions. Because potions are one-use items, they can be considered 'safe' treasure to give out - they won't unbalance your game.
  • Scrolls: Scrolls are much like potions, in that as one-use items they won't unbalance the game. In general, scrolls placed as treasure should always be of a level higher than the party spellcasters can already cast, or should be arcane spells that the Wizard (or Bard) doesn't know. Placing a scroll of fireball when the party Wizard already casts that spell routinely is something of a waste.
  • Wands: Wands are limited-use items, and so are fairly safe, but not entirely (as 50 uses can last a long time!). As with scrolls, wands should usually be more powerful than the spellcasters can already manage, or should be of spells that they don't know. And, when placing treasure, avoid healing wands at all costs!
  • Rings: Any ring, except the ring of protection can be placed as treasure. As these are very valuable, but tend to give a lousy return on investment, they make for ideal magical treasure.
  • Rods and staffs: Any of these can be placed. As with rings, they make for ideal treasures, being both expensive and giving a lousy return on investment.
  • Wondrous Items: I'm not a fan of the Craft Wondrous Item feat, because it allows access to an absurdly wide set of items, but as placed treasure these are generally great. There are only a small list of particular items to avoid: those giving stat boosts, those giving skill boosts, and the amulet of natural armour. Almost anything else is fair game.
  • Psionic Items: The psionic items fall into slightly different categories, but these are generally just the magic item categories by another name. In each case, the same guidelines tend to apply, although as psionic items are more exotic simply by virtue of being psionic, there tends to be less of an issue in their placement.
  • Custom items and artifacts: It should go without saying, but these can always be placed freely!