Monday, May 30, 2016

Bathgate Highland Games 2016

I wasn't at this week's competition, by virtue of being in Banff over the weekend. However, the band competed in the Grade 4 contest in Bathgate this week, and won their first prize of the season: out of seven bands they came 4th overall, being 4th and 4th in piping, 2nd in drumming, and 5th in ensemble. A good result, though once again the drummers are carrying the pipers.

Our next competition is in Strathmore on the 12th, but I'll be missing that one also. After that, it's Helensburgh on the 19th and then the European Championships in Forres - lots of work needing done for that one, but we now have solid reasons for optimism.

#26: "House of Silk", by Anthony Horowitz

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Day 150: Update on Goals

2016 is now 150 days old, so it's time for another update:

  • Weight: The less said about this the better, I think.
  • Books: This continues to go well. By this point I should be 24.6 books into my target, and I'm well beyond that. I'm also still up-to-date on all the sub-lists as well, which is good. Plus, I've pretty much got my books for the rest of the year picked out. All in all, this one is going very well.
  • Games: Gaming has hit a bit of a rough patch, with both sessions five and six of "Dust to Dust" having to be cancelled and rescheduled. Still, it continues in the pattern of roughly one session a month, which is fine. I'm now looking towards the end of the campaign as well, though there's a fairly long way to go.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: There's not a lot to report here - we've had a bit of a setback on one front, but given the lack of movement on the other it's not a huge deal. We remain in a "wait and see" position. It would be really nice to have this all done and dusted by the end of the school summer holidays, but this is rapidly becoming unlikely.
  • Band: The season has gotten off to a mixed start. There have been some disappointments, but there's also still some reason for optimism. So, wait and see, I guess.

So that's where we stand - one goal is going extremely well, one is going okay but less well than previously, one has had a disappointing setback, and one is a disaster area. The lone remaining "not really goal" is okay so far, but harder to predict going forward.

All in all, this is a fairly disappointing round-up, though the potential exists for things to improve markedly in the next few weeks. We'll see.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The British Pipe Band Championships 2016 (and Stirling Mod)

It has been a very busy weekend of band stuff this weekend, and there's too much to recount in detail. Allow me therefore to summarise...

On Friday I attended the Stirling Mod to support four of our learners in various competitions. Unfortunately, my own learner dropped out on Thursday, which was a mixed blessing - on one hand, she really wasn't ready for the competition; on the other, she had worked very hard to try to get ready. So it was a shame, but it was also the right decision.

Three of our learners were competing in the Under-14s, and the fourth in the Under-16s. Of these, I only saw the three in the Under-14s play - due to a complexity of the timing, our other tutor had to rush off to help the other guy get ready and play while I helped prepare the others for their performances. Still, that other guy did very well (probably the best of the four).

Of the three I saw, two played very well - probably as well as I had seen them ever play. The third was rather disappointing, in that he started with what could have been a winning performance, but then his lips just gave up leading to him playing faster, and faster, and finally running to the end. A shame - that could have been great.

So, no prizes, but four decent performances. All in all, a good night.

Then the competition on Saturday saw the band somewhat depleted - one piper had left after last week's fiasco, our pipe sergeant was working (but hadn't let us know), one of our young pipers was at the football instead, and one had fallen ill. So we went on with eight pipers - five of our senior members plus three youngsters.

The performance was okay, but not spectacular. I could say that the wind did us no favours, and that would be true, but it would also be a matter of making excuses. We can do better and we should have done better. Even four pipers down, we should have had enough of the core of the band to qualify.

And, as implied above, we didn't qualify for the final. The feedback sheets indicated exactly the same issues that we've known about for some time - a less-than-great start, some bad blowing, and some issues with the phrasing. No shock there.

But... our drummers actually won their qualifying heat - first out of fourteen (should have been eighteen, but some dropped out). In times past, that would have been enough for an automatic qualification for the band as a whole; alas, the rules have been changed so that that is no longer the case. (I have mixed feelings about that - on one hand, the pipe corps would probably have played better given another chance; on the other, it would have meant taking a spot away from others who, as a band, had genuinely played better.)

(Oh, the full results: 11th and 12th for piping, 1st for drumming, 10th for ensemble.)

We stuck around and attended the march-past, as our drum major was still in her competition and hadn't had her results yet. Alas, she didn't win anything either.

And then the journey home was fine, thankfully. No repeat of the atrocity that was last week - but then, we'd have been exceptionally unlucky if that had been the case, given the absence of the key people involved.

And that was that. On the one hand, it was sorely disappointing not to qualify (and this very likely ends any hopes of being moved back up this season), on the other, a fantastic result for our drummers. And on the other other hand, more hard work for the next several weeks before the European Championships in Forres.

Oh, and I finished my book. Thank goodness.

#25: "Possession", by A.S. Byatt (a book from The List. Sadly, not recommended.)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Dunbar Highland Games 2016

This weekend saw the start of the band's competition season, with us taking part in the first of thirteen competitions of the year. (I'll only be attending ten of these due to other commitments.) It was also a black day for the band, as will be seen shortly...

The day started well enough - the bus pick-up was at a civilised 8:15, and although the bus was very full it wasn't completely full. Which is nice, since it meant we were carrying some significant support, not to mention should have been able to collect some significant bus fares to help defray the cost of hiring the bus. It was a bright and sunny day, in defiance of the weather forecast, and in the event was actually far less windy than is the norm for Dunbar.

We got to the competition field, tuned up, and went on and competed. And it was a good performance - it seems that all the efforts over the winter have paid off, and things are looking good for the season ahead. Granted, we were unlikely to win anything, but that was largely a factor of being in a combined Grade 4 contest, meaning that we were up against Grade 4A bands, when we've been moved down to Grade 4B.

Later in the day, our young drum major also competed, and did exceptionally well.

The remainder of the day was also pretty good - the nice weather really helped, everyone was cheerful about the performance and the way the season looked to be going. All together, a very good day.

In the end, we came 6th out of 15 bands - 9th and 10th for piping, 3rd for drumming, and 5th for ensemble. Which is a solid performance, and definitely gives us something we can build on. Our drum major came 2nd, beaten only by the reigning world champion, so that was excellent.

And so we got on the bus to come home...

About twenty minutes into the journey, the driver had to pull over to check the bus, as something had gone wrong. After checking, it was established that the bus was fine, though he felt it wise to take the remainder of the journey slowly, just in case. Still, a fairly humerous event, reminiscent of the many break-downs of the past.

And then the fight started. I'm not sure of the exact details, and what I do know I can't in good conscience share here. However, a punch was thrown (and landed on someone who wasn't the intended target - not that that makes it any better or worse). This precipitated a whole lot of shouting. This was gradually calmed down, a bunch of people moved seats, but there were continued rumblings of discontent. And then that same person threw a bottle, and it all fired up again.

And with that, what had been a good day for all concerned turned to shit.

We'll need to see what the fallout from all of this will be. I hope it amounts to one or two people being banned from the bus, and one or two people being asked to leave the band entirely, but I fear it will be more severe than that.

(At this point I would ask why it is that the kids associated with the band never cause us any trouble, while it's invariably the adults who are the problem. But the answer is entirely obvious: the kids don't drink alcohol. And while most of the adults can have a drink and are fine, there are some who just can't, and there are some others who are fine to a point but not beyond that point - and piping competitions seem to become excuses for competitive drinking in some parts. And so we have problems.)

Our next competition is our first Major of the year, the British Championships in Paisley. As things stand, it may be my last.

#24: "Pathfinder: The Inferno Gate", by Patrick Renie

Monday, May 09, 2016

Experimental Cookery 2016 #3: Chicken Shawarma Flatbreads with Yoghurt

After a hard weekend of avenging, and at LC's insistence that I try something from the monthly Tesco magazine, I made up some shawarma.

There's actually very little to say: it was mostly just a case of marinading the chicken with some olive oil, chilli flakes, and sumac and then griddling it; then mixing up some minted yoghurt; and warming through the flatbreads. Then put it all together fajita-style, and eat. It was very nice.

In future, I think I'll make up my own flatbreads rather than buying them in, which makes this a slightly more involved meal. Other than that, it was basically a triumph. We'll certainly be having this again.

#23: "Hellknight", by Liane Merciel

Friday, May 06, 2016

What on Earth Does That Mean?

For the second time in two years, I find myself befuddled by an election result. So sorry if this is all a bit disjointed - I'm working it out as I go along...

The Result

I voted SNP on both constituency and list vote, and obviously I was hoping for another SNP majority, so I'm a little disappointed on that front.

On the other hand, I'm inclined to think that this actually is the right result - the SNP scored 41.7% on the (proportional) list vote, and so to win an outright majority there would actually have been something of a distortion. As it is, getting 48.8% of the seats is something of a distortion, but at least it's a change of degree rather than type. The results for the other parties are all "about right" - the Greens 'should' probably have picked up another 3 seats and the Lib Dems 2, while Labour 'should' have 1 more seat and the Tories 1 fewer, but none of those are vastly inaccurate. (Those totals aren't quite right due to rounding errors.)

Anyway, the most important outcome from this election, for me, was achieving competent governance, which I felt that only the SNP could offer. That they are by far the largest party, albeit just short of a majority, probably achieves that. And, in fact, I actually felt that the previous minority government, from 2007-2011, actually worked better than the majority, because it forced the SNP to compromise, do deals, and resulted in a fairly balanced programme of government. So that's good... provided Labour, the Greens, and the Lib Dems (in that order) are willing to engage in that dealing rather than mindlessly obstructing everything. That, of course, remains to be seen.

So, on balance, I'm fairly happy with the result.

On Independence

My initial reaction to this result was that this kills the question of a second referendum dead, even in the event of a Brexit. On reflection, I think that may be premature - the SNP's position was that they were going to wait for a clear and sustained show of public opinion (probably in the polls)... and I think that if the polls do show a clear majority in favour of independence then that's pretty much all the mandate you need. (Besides, barring Brexit, it probably wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to put the question of a second referendum out to pasture for five years.)

What this does mean, however, is that it's now even more important that the UK votes to Remain. Because while I think a clear majority in the polls would constitute a clear mandate, I'd rather not have that put to the test. (Besides, I honestly believe that's the right result for all of the UK anyway.)

It's also important that the various pro-independence groups avoid the temptation to now turn on one another. There are already some signs of that happening, which is unfortunate. I can think of nothing more damaging to the cause than it all devolving into a whole bunch of infighting and recriminations.

On the Tories

It's been a good night for them, and a good night for Ruth Davison in particular. I suspect that a lot of this is down to people who previously voted Labour on an "anyone but the SNP" rationale returning 'home', rather than any genuine shift in public opinion. And part of it is also a result of her hard line against a second referendum.

What will be interesting now is how the Tories decide to act in opposition, especially on matters other than the constitution - will they be a constructive opposition who serve to hold the government to account, or will they adopt their own version of the Bain Principle and just obstruct everything regardless?

On Labour

Oh dear. I really think they're done, with only next year's council elections left to finish off the job.

I think there are three points of interest out of this:

  1. Will Anas Sarwar launch his inevitable bid for the leadership now, or will he let Kezia keep the poisoned chalice for another year, let her take the blame for the council elections, and take over the wreckage?
  2. Will Labour be willing to deal with the SNP to see some of their agenda implemented, or will they stick to the Bain Principle and complete their slide into irrelevance?
  3. And where will they stand on the issue of the constitution? Will they shift to be pro-independence, will they join the Tories in their hard-line against, or something else?

Needless to say, I have recommendations:

On the first, I have no particular interest either way. I don't think Anas Sarwar is the answer, but I don't think that matters - I'm pretty sure he will be the next leader; I just don't know when.

On the second, it's dead simple: the Bain Principle was madness when first stated. Something like that should never have been considered, never mind adopted, and it needs to go, like, yesterday. Otherwise, Labour does, because they're of no use to us.

On the third, I'd recommend Labour should be the party of Devo-Max. (Note: they shouldn't position themselves as that party; they should be that party.) That means that, as of now, they should take the view that absolutely anything that can be devolved should be devolved. And the point needs to be made to the UK Labour Party that they basically can't win back Westminster if they don't win back Scotland, and this is the price of winning Scotland. Even this may not be enough.

(There are some who will argue that Labour should switch to supporting independence, but I don't think that works - their remaining support seems split pretty evenly on the issue. But I think there's actually a majority in Scotland for whom DM would be the preferred outcome anyway. Besides, Labour should be seeking a distinctive position on the constitution, and this is the only one that's left.)

Of course, if and when they then find themselves in a position to deliver devo-max, they have to actually do it. Even if they aren't in power in Holyrood at the time.

The Greens and the Lib Dems

A good night for the Greens, and a middling one for the Lib Dems. I think the Lib Dems have now fallen as far as they're going, but I also think they're probably going to stay there for the foreseeable future. I don't see them coming back in any meaningful manner.

The Greens are another matter; I think last night was the point where they overtake the Lib Dems permanently, and I'd expect them to continue to make modest gains. But I can't see them gaining much more traction unless and until independence comes; the battle-lines are pretty solidly drawn between the SNP on the 'Yes' side and the Tories on the 'No', which squeezes everyone else.

RISE and Solidarity

As expected, neither of these parties got anywhere. I'm not sure I care, since there's no way I'd consider voting for either anyway.

However, one piece of advice: the proportional system we have favours bigger parties and chews up the little guy. So if you want to get anywhere, you need to merge - two very slightly different flavours of socialism aren't going to get anywhere; one merged party might just.


And I think that covers everything. Now the dust has started to settle somewhat, I'm feeling rather more sanguine about the whole thing. I think we're going to be okay.

But we do need to avoid a Brexit.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

To The Moon!

If Trump wins, I'm emigrating to the Moon. It's the only way to be sure - there's a good chance he'll nuke the whole site while I'm in orbit.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A Lull in the Action

Things are a bit quiet at the moment - Easter is now behind us, and it finally appears that winter has ended, but the competition season is yet to start and we're not really in summer either. So it seems like an ideal time to take a short break, take stock, and then strike out from a position of strength.

Unfortunately, things are rather uncertain for that to be a workable strategy. Still, never mind. I'm sure once the season gets going, and I'm busy pretty much every evening and every weekend, things will be much calmer...

Yeah, right.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Events Occur in Real Time...

I finished series eight of 24 this morning, as a consequence of waking up at half four with a really sore neck (which isn't fun). Given that that's the last full season, and despite still having "Live Another Day" to re-watch, I thought I'd take this opportunity to rate the various series.

My favourite remains series 3, which I feel is the one with the tightest storyline all-round. It's also the only series with all the core characters (Jack, Tony, David Palmer, Kim, and Chloe) in place, and the last with David Palmer as president and with Jack and Tony at CTU.

Second is series 4, which surprised me in the re-watch with just how well put together it is. I'd forgotten an awful lot that happened in this one which really helped. Plus, I'm a big sucker for the 'redemption' storyline that Tony enjoyed, and I also really liked Bill Buchanan, who is introduced here.

Third for me, although only very slightly behind series 4, is series 7. This one benefitted hugely from being pushed back a year by the writers' strike, and brings an awful lot back to the series that was lost in series 6 (see below). The use of Tony as a villain here is excellent, especially if the show as a whole is watched fairly quickly, and the new characters of President Alison Taylor and Renee Walker are great. Alas, Bill Buchanan bows out here, but I guess we can't have everything.

And then we have series 5. This is an odd one, because I actually didn't like this series when I first watched it, but it really benefits both from being revisited and also from being watched fairly quickly (rather than an hour a week). In particular, Christopher Henderson makes for a wonderful villain here, and the events of the very first episode are particularly shocking, in a good way. (I'm still not sure the overall plot here really makes sense, but it moves fast enough that that almost doesn't matter!)

And then there's the final series, number 8. This one starts very well, then has a serious lapse, before ending extremely strongly. If it wasn't for that weak middle section, this series would be much, much higher on the list. Again, we have several good new characters (I especially like Hastings), and I liked both that Jack is now pretty much a legend in his own universe and also that the end saw him going up against a president that he (and I) actually like and respect. My only slight disappointment here is that I kinda wish that president had been David Palmer and the last mole Nina. But, of course, that's not possible. I do think they were right to end it here, though - I think by this point the show was pretty much exhausted and needed a break.

Following the last series we have the first, series 1. This is a hard one to rate, because those first thirteen episodes are actually the best level the show ever reached, largely because they really set the tone for the whole. Unfortunately, the last eleven are much weaker, a consequence of the show initially being ordered only for half a series - they thought they'd only get thirteen episodes, so they told a complete story and then had to stretch it out. Plus the amnesia storyline is probably the most idiotic thing in the show as a whole, rivalled only by the cougar in series two. So, this is a great series, but it drops harshly because of that big weakness.

Then we have series 2, which just couldn't match the intensity of the first one, not least because it had to do things differently, which only kind-of works. It's still enjoyable, but this isn't a series I'd choose to re-watch except as part of the whole - this being the first series that I'd say that about.

And, finally, we have series 6, which I'm afraid is the nadir. This is probably the only series I would describe as being bad - it's mostly just rehashes of previous material, but not done as well. Actually, one of the characters in this series perfectly embodies this issue: as President Wayne Palmer is a poor shadow of David, so too is series 6 a poor shadow of the others. (That said, Powers Boothe is excellent as Noah Daniels, so that's something!)

I haven't included either "Redemption" or "Live Another Day" in my list, because neither is a full series - I'm something of a purist, so not having the full 24 episodes is a deal-breaker for me, as is including a time-jump. Still, if I had to rate them, I'd place "Redemption" just after series 2 (because I didn't particularly like it), and "Live Another Day" somewhere around series 8 (probably just after - it was good to have it back, but it also suffers from being a continuation of a show that was right to end when it did). Actually, "Redemption" is a bit of an odd beast, because while I didn't care for it in itself, it actually serves to make series 7 much better by setting up so much. So it's very much worth watching despite not being terribly good in itself.

Anyway, that's that. I'm hoping to watch "Live Another Day" over the next few weeks, and then I really will be done. After which I'm not planning any big re-watch... though "Buffy" is tempting...

#22: "Rogues", edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois