Monday, January 25, 2016

An Important Discovery... alas, too late

On Saturday LC and I got rid of my sofa. This was the one that I bought while living in Yeovil but didn't actually take possession of until I moved to Falkirk. For the first few years it was extremely comfortable, but as time went on it became more and more broken down.

Eventually, LC positively insisted that we had to get a new one (and rightly so). I in turn said we should wait until after we'd moved (again, I think that's right - we should select a sofa to match the new house, rather than pick the house to match the sofa). This delaying gambit led to us being offered, and gratefully accepting, a sofa from LC's parents (that I think they were in the process of getting rid of anyway). So far, so good.

Now, in hindsight we should really have gotten rid of my sofa at that time, when it would have been easy to do so. Instead, we made the mistake of keeping it in the living room to provide additional seating from guests. The folly of this approach became apparent when the Christmas Tree went up - it had to go where the sofa was, which meant that the sofa needed to be elsewhere, which meant "in the spare room". And the spare room didn't actually have space, and so has been insanely cramped for about six weeks (and since that's where the computer is, that wasn't good).

So the sofa had to go. At which point the plan was to donate it to a charity shop. After all, it's a bit beaten up but it's still a useable sofa that someone might benefit from. Arrangements were made, with only one condition: the sofa had to have the fire tags attached, without which they couldn't take it - not only could they not sell a sofa without, they couldn't even give it away. No problem... or so we thought.

It turned out that the fire label had long since been removed. I don't remember doing this, but obviously I must have done so. Anyway, the sofa couldn't be donated. And so, on Saturday, we borrowed my dad's car (which is just big enough) and took it to the dump. It's gone, done, and we have space again. Huzzah!

So, the important discovery is this: never take the fire tags off a sofa, even if you're sure you'll be keeping it until it dies on you. Because you never know.

#4: "A Confederacy of Dunces", by John Kennedy Toole (a book from The List)

Friday, January 22, 2016

New Template!

Yes, it's true. After 10 short years, I have decided that the time has come to switch to a new template. It's mostly the same as the old one, except for the bits that are different.

The main thing that has prompted this mad rush to modernity is that the archive of posts had become unmanageable - with 10 years of posts, the list of months was running to close to 120 entries, which was just crazy. Hopefully, this new format should be easier to navigate. Plus, I should be better able to track my productivity, since each month will now tell me how many times I've posted. Which is good.

In other news, a couple of weeks ago I was phoned to make a fairly important appointment for tomorrow, which necessitated moving some other stuff out of the way. Specifically, the thing I had been planning for tomorrow got moved to next week. I've just phoned back to confirm the details, only to learn that they screwed up and actually made the appointment for next week. Gah!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Anniversary Card Joke

Today is my grand-parents 70th (!) wedding anniversary. So many congratulations to them.

In honour of this achievement, LC made a card for them, and I was tasked with providing the message. And so, I spent some not-inconsiderable time coming up with an inspired and literary message, one that encapsulates the true greatness of the achievement while at the same time not becoming overly pretentious in its scope. Or something.

However, LC said I shouldn't do this, and instead should write something that came from the heart.

So I just wrote "arteries".

(Yes, it's a pun. It's been a while.)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Not For the Faint-Hearted

I finished reading "The Man in the Iron Mask" yesterday, this being the third volume in the third part of the Musketeers trilogy. Which was great, being full of intrigue and incident, and which proved to be a very fitting end to that saga. Except...

It turned out not to be a venture for the faint of heart. After nearly 2,000 pages of comings and goings, intrigues and schemes, swashbuckling and derring-do, suddenly there was a chapter entitled "The Last Farewell", where Aramis, Porthos, and Athos finally come together for the first time in the novel... and suddenly it's clear that this novel isn't going to have a happy ending.

And it gets grimmer and grimmer from there, as it becomes apparent that Aramis has over-reached himself, d'Argtanian has been outflanked on all sides, and Porthos... ah, Porthos...

What's perhaps most interesting about the novel is that it is so unlike "The Three Musketeers", and that it's all the better for that - the four are now old men, they're all enmeshed in their own agendas, and they've grown apart in loyalty and temperament. And yet, when d'Argtanian is really pushed to choose between his king and his friends...

So, any time you've got a spare few months, I recommend the trilogy. (You can't really read this one without reading "The Three Musketeers" and "Twenty Years After" first, and you really can't read "The Man in the Iron Mask" without having read "The Vicomte de Bragelonne" and "Louise de la Valliere" first! But since the shortest of these volumes is some 600 pages of fairly dense text, that might take a while.)

So, good fun, but rather harrowing!

#3: "The Man in the Iron Mask", by Alexandre Dumas

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A new Act of Union?

I saw in the Herald today an article about a proposed new Act of Union which a cross-party group is putting forward. The plan is to replace the existing devolution settlement with a new federal structure, with the hope that this will end talk of Scottish independence.

It's actually a somewhat interesting idea. I'd vote for it, and indeed I'd take that settlement over actual independence. (Though I do think we need some other reforms as well - including a total replacement of the House of Lords. Note that that's 'replacement', not 'reform' - it's now past the point of no return.)

However, it's rather a moot point - it won't ever happen.

The article suggests that any such revised structure would need to be agreed by all four component nations, and further suggests that Holyrood might reject it on behalf of Scotland. But that's actually not the issue. This proposal wouldn't even get that far - it's doomed to be rejected by Westminster on behalf of the UK long before then. This may be a nice idea, but sucessive governments in Westminster have shown they have no interest in making sweeping Constitutional changes to the UK - every step towards greater devolution, and indeed devolution itself, has been as a result of outside pressure, and has been an exercise in giving away the minimum power they think they can get away with.

Which leads me to wonder why this has popped up now, and why the Herald thinks the incomplete thoughts of someone who isn't a member of the government should be front-page news. I'm sure it's nothing whatsoever with us having some important elections coming up...

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Tragedy of the New Pen

I have a pen-tidy on my desk in the office, which for some years has contained seven items: my favourite work-pen, a backup favourite pen that I got from some random training course, two blue pens and one red pen that I acquired when I left my first job, and two pencils (broken). This was of course the ideal steady state for the universe, marred only slightly by the fact that I don't actually like my backup favourite pen, which has the single virtue of actually working, but isn't actually very comfortable to use.

Alas, about a week before Christmas I broke my favourite work-pen. Something to do with using it to pierce the tape on a package from Amazon, which isn't exactly the intended use for a pen. Silly me. It was as a consequence of this breakage that I discovered an horrific truth: somewhere in the thirteen years since I left my first job, the three pens I acquired there had dried up and were no longer usable!

Luckily, the torment that resulted from this was short-lived, as for Christmas I received three new pens: one red, one blue, and one black, thus covering all possibly pen-related needs. Huzzah! (I should perhaps note that these were not my main gift.)

And so I was able to restore my pen-tidy to a new and exciting steady state: it now contains six items, being my backup favourite pen the I got from some random training course, two pencils (broken), and a new and shiny pen of each of the three allowed colours. Huzzah!

(Some people may argue that green pens are also acceptable. The proof that this is a silly notion is left as an exercise for the reader, and will therefore not be addressed further here.)

The pen-tidy crisis averted, the world returned to spinning on its axis, most people blissfully unaware of the horror that had so nearly unfolded.

Until, that is, a card was passed around the office, inviting the addition of an inspirational message and a signature. Aha! A chance to use one of the new and exciting pens, and in an approved colour also! And so I picked up my new and shiny blue pen and proceeded to write, " ".

To my great horror, the new and exciting pen wrote nothing! Woe and calamity!

So I tried the usual remedy of warming the pen between my hands, but to no avail. I even tested it on the emergency Post-it note, and it in fact worked. But on the card... nothing. Bizarre. At this point, driven the greatest extremity, I switched to my shiny new black pen instead, and proceeded to write, " ".

So I tried the usual remedy of warming the pen between my hands, but to no avail. I even tested it on the emergency Post-it note, and it in fact worked. But on the card... nothing. Truly bizarre.

At this point, I found myself stuck. Obviously, the red pen could not be used, as this is intended for correction and denunciation only - it would render my message not so much inspirational as terrifying. (Of course, if I'd had a green pen... but that's just crazy talk.)

Fortunately, the story has a suitably anti-climactic ending, as the black pen elected to work after a while. Apparently, it was just teasing me. So I wrote a message of suitable profundity and wit on the card ("Good luck"), and returned the pens to the pen-tidy. Once again, all was well with the universe.

But, as I'm sure you understand, I remain traumatised by this most harrowing of experiences. For, truly, what can be worse than the discovery that not one but two new pens are selectively not working?

#1: "Pathfinder: A Song of Silver", by James Jacobs
#2: "Fifth Edition Foes", by Necromancer Games

Friday, January 01, 2016

Books of the Year 2015

And so we come to the end of 2015.

Here's the list:

  1. "Pathfinder: Palace of Fallen Stars", by Tim Hitchcock
  2. "D&D: Hoard of the Dragon Queen", by Wolfgang Baur and Steve Winter
  3. "Wars of the Roses: Stormbird", by Conn Iggulden
  4. "Pirate's Promise", by Chris A. Jackson
  5. "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope", by Ian Doescher
  6. "D&D: Rise of Tiamat", by Steve Winter and Alexander Winter
  7. "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: The Empire Striketh Back", by Ian Doescher
  8. "Pathfinder: The Divinity Drive", by Crystal Frasier
  9. "The Long War", by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
  10. "Firefly: Things Don't Go Smooth", by Margaret Weis Productions
  11. "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: The Jedi Doth Return", by Ian Doescher
  12. "Pathfinder: Battle of Bloodmarch Hill", by Patrick Renie
  13. "The Secret History", by Donna Tartt *
  14. "Gone With the Wind", by Margaret Mitchell *
  15. "The Pagan Lord", by Bernard Cornwell
  16. "A Prayer for Owen Meany", by John Irving *
  17. "D&D: Player's Handbook", by Wizards of the Coast
  18. "Magician's End", by Raymond E. Feist
  19. "Pathfinder: The Hill Giant's Pledge", by Larry Wilhelm
  20. "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: The Phantom of Menace", by Ian Doescher
  21. "Firesoul", by Gary Kloster
  22. "D&D: Monster Manual", by Wizards of the Coast
  23. "Vanity Fair", by William Makepeace Thackeray *
  24. "The Bell Jar", by Sylvia Plath *
  25. "Doctor Who: How to be a Time Lord", by BBC Books
  26. "Pathfinder: Forge of the Giant God", by Tim Hitchcock
  27. "Forge of Ashes", by Josh Vogt
  28. "D&D: Dungeon Master's Guide", by Wizards of the Coast
  29. "Middlemarch", by George Eliot
  30. "The Silkworm", by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  31. "Pathfinder: Ice Tomb of the Giant Queen", by Jim Groves
  32. "Through Every Human Heart", by Janice Brown
  33. "Lord of Runes", by Dave Gross
  34. "Love in the Time of Cholera", by Gabriel Garcia Marquez *
  35. "Firefly: Smuggler's Guide to the Rim", by Margaret Weis Productions
  36. "The Vicompte de Bragelone", by Alexandre Dumas
  37. "Pathfinder: Anvil of Fire", by Sean K. Reynolds
  38. "Pathfinder: Shadow of the Storm Tyrant" by Tito Leati
  39. "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", by Louis de Bernières *
  40. "The Empty Throne", by Bernard Cornwell
  41. "A Slip of the Keyboard", by Terry Pratchett
  42. "D&D: Princes of the Apocalypse", by Wizards of the Coast
  43. "Firefly: Ghosts in the Black", by Robin D. Laws
  44. "Pathfinder: In Hell's Bright Shadow", by Crystal Frasier
  45. "Crime and Punishment", by Fyodor Dostoevsky *
  46. "Liar's Island", by Tim Pratt
  47. "Memoirs of the Geisha", by Arthur Golden *
  48. "Pathfinder: Turn of the Torrent", by Mike Shel
  49. "Beyond the Pool of Stars", by Howard Andrew Jones
  50. "D&D: Out of the Abyss", by Wizards of the Coast
  51. "Wars of the Roses: Trinity", by Conn Iggulden
  52. "Louise de la Vallière", by Alexandre Dumas
  53. "Pathfinder: Dance of the Damned", by Richard Pett
  54. "One Hundred Years of Solitude", by Gabriel Garcia Marquez *
  55. "The Long Mars", by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
  56. "Waterloo", by Bernard Cornwell
  57. "Dragons at Crumbling Castle", by Terry Pratchett
  58. "The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy", by Jem Roberts
  59. "Red Dwarf: Last Human", by Doug Naylor
  60. "Dune", by Frank Herbert *

So, that's 60 books, including the expected twelve from The List. Of these, there are twenty-one RPG books, and one re-read - the fourth and final (and weakest) book in the "Red Dwarf" series. All in all, I'm happy with that.

The book of the year thus far is "Captain Corelli's Mandolin". There's not much more to say - I enjoyed it, but it doesn't come close to either "Grapes of Wrath" or "Tale of Two Cities" in my estimation. This has been a year devoid of any truly great reads, though it's had plenty of good ones. (Both "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera" were also very good, with the former being the better. But I enjoyed "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" a little more than either.)

The weakest book of the year, I'm afraid to say, was "The Frood". It's not a bad book, I suppose, but it just didn't grab me. I guess much of the issue is that while I enjoyed HHGttG, it's not one of my particular obsessions.

Next year I'm aiming to again reach 60 books. Three of the sub-series will continue unchanged: the Pathfinder (12), Pathfinder Tales (6), and Books from The List (12) series will remain intact. Beyond that it's considerably messier than this year, as there are no obvious sub-series to adopt. I suspect the rest will therefore be something of a grab-bag of titles with no particular theme. We'll see - perhaps I'll find a new series to dig in to.