Monday, July 25, 2016

Paisley Highland Games 2016

On Saturday our competition season restarted after a short break. We attended the Paisley Highland Games, which is an event I don't think we've ever attended before. Lady Chocolat came along to this competition - she does one a year, and since we're not going to be around for Bridge of Allan, this was the next best thing.

It was an odd event - rather than being off in a field somewhere, this event took place in Paisley's main street, with the competition ring in one area and the bands tuning up in another. Additionally, the bands were all assigned particular tuning slots, so that as each band went on to compete the others all moved down a space and carried on.

Unfortunately, the competition wasn't terribly well organised, such that there was a gap between the areas of control of two of the stewards - as we moved to the final tuning point we passed from one, safe, pair of hands into another that was... less well organised. This meant that we suddenly shifted from being nice and relaxed, and getting ready in good time, to suddenly being rushed onto the competition field. This in turn had two nasty consequences - one of our pipers had to be dropped at the last second as his pipes weren't quite right and there was no time to sort them, and the guy who sets up our pipes got into an argument with the steward in question.

Anyway, we went on, we played, and it was okay. Coming off, the feeling was that it wasn't bad, but that we could definitely have done better. A shame, but not a disaster. (There was also a weird acoustic effect - all through the tuning there had been some serious amplification from the buildings on either side; just as we moved to the competition ring we moved far enough away that it disappeared four steps in. Which was okay, but odd.)

The rest of the day was largely uneventful - LC and I had a look around the abbey, then went for a fairly long lunch, then sat around for a bit. It was a nice enough day, but boring and unpleasantly hot due to a near-complete lack of wind.

Then we went on for the march-past, which had been moved forward (which was nice). In the event, we came 4th overall, being 6th and 7th for piping, 2nd for drumming, and 4th for ensemble. (We were actually 4th equal, but won on an "ensemble preference" - meaning that judge felt we played together as a band better than the others.)

So, a nice result, and a good platform for the Scottish Championships next week, but a lot of work needing to be done. All in all, a decent day.

#39: "Spelljammer: Beyond the Moons", by David Cook

Friday, July 22, 2016


So it turns out that "Casino Royale", "Quantum of Solace", and "Skyfall" are actually prequels to "Doctor No" and the other Bond films - the first shows Bond as a newly-minted agent on his first 'proper' adventure, the second shows him dealing with the loss of Vesper and developing his harder edge, and then the third film establishes Q, Moneypenny, and replaces both 'M' and the MI6 building with the versions from the old films (albeit with 'M' played by a different actor).

And then there's an improbably time-jump and we have the older films, ending with "Die Another Day". With the oddity that 'M' somehow regenerates back into Judy Dench just in time for the series to end.

(I don't know how "SPECTRE" fits into this mess. But given how awful that film turned out to be, coupled with how nonsensical this whole tangent is, I'm not sure it matters.)

Meanwhile, we have the "Star Trek" reboots/sequels/prequels. Which, through the magic of time-travel take us 'back' to the classic Kirk/Spock/McCoy era, but with a whole new universe where everything is different (except we never actually see much of it), and where characters are often inconsistent not only with their old versions but, in fact, internally inconsistent with themselves. (Spock, the stickler for rules, is shown having an inappropriate relationship with an academy student under his supervision. And while for anyone else you could argue that the discrepancy is due to emotions over-riding reason, that doesn't really work for the ultra-logical Vulcan who has worked so very hard to suppress his emotional responses. Oops.)

This therefore allows the film-makers to give us a three-part origin story for Kirk - in the first part he's the rebel against authority who races through the academy until he gets the Big Chair (in a sequence of events that can't work - the manner in which he bullied Spock to breaking point should have resulted in the bridge crew refusing his command from then on). Then we have "Into Darkness" where his mentor is removed from the scene, he is established as captain in his own right, and the Five Year Mission gets underway. And now the trailers for "Beyond" show Kirk struggling to move out from under the shadow of the father he never knew.

All of which is fine, so far as it goes.

The only thing is, I'm increasingly convinced it just wasn't needed. I'm starting to think that what they should have done with the Star Trek movie reboot is simply to drop the new films into the period between the end of the original series and "Star Trek: the Motionless Picture" (the "Lost Years" period). Given that TOS didn't bother with an origin story for the crew, I'm inclined to think that the movies probably didn't need one either - just introduce the new actors the same way the characters have to be reintroduced in any new film, and move on from there. Forget the time-travel, forget resetting the universe (since we're barely going to see any of it anyway), don't bother even trying to justify anything that's changed - just get on with telling some new stories with these characters.

(The three-film origin story is especially painful as it's entirely possible that these will in fact be the only three films starring this particular crew. Because the cast will have signed up to a certain number of films, and can now command considerably more money going forward.)

On the plus-side, I'm rather looking forward to "Star Trek: Beyond". And, not only that, they've just announced a new RPG, which could be cool too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fixing the Oven

A few weeks ago, I was happily cooking dinner when the power suddenly cut off. This was a bit of a shock, but it switched back on easily enough, and all seemed well. Then, one day last week, I was about to have pizza for dinner when it occurred to me that the oven was taking a really long time to heat up.

After Googling the problem, an easy explanation was found: the earlier power cut was caused by the heating element of the oven blowing, causing the problems I was then seeing. Fortunately, it seemed it was an easy (ish) DIY job to replace the part.

Last night, my game was cancelled, and so I found myself with an opportunity to do the job. And, in fairness, it was a pretty easy job, in all but two regards: it turned out that one of the screws fixing the old element in place was much tighter than the rest, and proved nigh-impossible to undo, and the three wires both proved not to be quite as long as promised and also to be rather less tightly connected to the element than I'd been led to expect - by the time I was ready to look at which connected where, two of the three had already slipped loose.

But it all turned out okay - I got the old element out, attached the wires to the new one, put the whole thing back together, and the tried the oven. And, sure enough, it did indeed heat up. Huzzah!

It's just unfortunate that that job appears to have taken me the whole of summer to complete.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Day 200: Update on Goals

I was a bit stunned to find day 200 upon us already, but it is. So, here's the update:

  • Weight: Rather disasterously, I hit my peak weight again at the start of this month, largely as a result of the big party and then the trip to Amsterdam. This puts me back to where I was after my visit to Lisbon way back in 2008. Which isn't at all good. Fortunately, things have been getting a little better since then, but it means that my progress for the year so far as been to lose -10 pounds. Grr.
  • Books: By Day 200, I should be 32.8 books into the year. At the time of writing, I've actually completed 38 books. So this goal is going swimmingly, especially as I'm up-to-date or ahead on all of the sub-lists for the year.
  • Games: Blah. The "Dust to Dust" almost hit a TPK a couple of weeks ago, and actually hit perhaps the only thing worse: two PCs died, which was just enough to really hurt the party dynamic without being enough to cause the end of the campaign. We've now redirected into another path, which may work out better, but we'll see. I'm definitely angling to end this one sooner rather than later, though.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: Another poor performer. The plan now is to simply find a place to move to and get moved, and then sort something out with the flat in Falkirk. This probably means renting it out rather than selling. Which is okay, though a big part of me would really rather just be rid of it. But Brexit is probably not going to do us any favours there, and it's not as if it was showing any signs of moving even before then.
  • Band: We're currently in the mid-season lull, with two Championships and five minors (four for me) still to go. It's not certain that we'll actually attend all of those competitions, though, as funds are a little tight and we have some other options.

So that's where we stand - one goal is going extremely well, and the "not a goal" is also doing well. The rest are either unsatisfactory or disastrous. Needless to say, I'm not too happy about that, and kind of wish I didn't have an update scheduled!

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Tiny Design Flaw

It's fair to say I'm not fond of airport security. But one of the few improvements that is gradually being rolled out are the electronic passport readers - any opportunity to bypass actual human interaction in such cases is probably for the good. (This also applies to those lovely self-service ordering machines they now have in McDonalds, but that's another topic...)

However, there is one tiny design flaw:

  1. When you arrive at the machine, you're told to follow the instructions on-screen. So far, so good.
  2. One of those instructions is that you need to remove any glasses and headwear. That's fine, except...
  3. Without my glasses, I can't see the instructions on-screen. Or much of anything else, really.

Perhaps there should be a button for switching on audio cues? Or, better yet, maybe there should just be audio cues by default? Just a thought.

#38: "House of Smoke", by Sam Christer (which wasn't at all what I expected. It was okay, but I'm not sure I would recommend it. Basically, if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have read it.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Holiday 2016: Amsterdam

I don't really have time to do a long recap of my holiday, so I'll stick to just a few reflections...

My major impression of Amsterdam was of just how welcoming I found the whole place. Where I feel that Paris tolerates tourists and Rome endures them, I did feel that Amsterday went out of its way to welcome folk. Notably, most of the places we visited had audio guides that automatically translated into a range of languages, which was a nice touch - and wasn't as common in those bigger cities I mentioned. (Actually, in that regard Amsterdam most reminded me of St Paul in the US, where I similarly felt I was welcomed rather than merely acknowleged. Given how many people in the US have roots in the Netherlands, that may well not be a coincidence.)

For those who were wondering (and a few people have indeed asked): no, we didn't partake. Of course, it's worth noting that the Amsterdam Museum reckoned that most of the dope sold in Amsterdam is actually fake anyway, so there's a real chance that lots of people haven't partaken either...

One thing that proved invaluable was the "I Amsterdam" card that LC found online before we went. This gave us 96 hours of unlimited use of most public transport, access to many attractions, and discounts in several other places. In addition to basically paying for itself through museum accesses and discounts, this also allowed us to visit one or two things we otherwise wouldn't even have considered - the Tulip Museum (seriously - and there was also a thing called Tulipmania that you couldn't write a novel about because nobody would believe it), and Micropia (which is an odd one because I'm sure I saw that on "Travel Man", but apparently he's never done Amsterdam). So that was cool.

Probably the biggest highlight for me from the trip was a Maritime Museum, which included access to a replica of a Dutch East India Company trading ship. That was very cool indeed - though I'd hate to actually take a voyage on one of those things!

Other highlights included "Our Lord in the Attic", a 'hidden' Catholic chapel from the days when Amsterdam's religious freedoms conflicted by their official state religion - essentially, other faiths were tolerated but had to be practiced out of sight; and the river cruise.

We also attended a comedy show by a group called "Boom Chicago" which was, perhaps oddly, about Trump and his bid for the White House. It was funny enough, and with the discounted tickets (from the "I Amsterdam" card) was quite reasonably priced. Amusingly, at the point we debated joining another couple at a table but instead decided to sit in the balcony; later on, it transpired that that other couple were also from Scotland. (And, incidentally, the reaction to this was interesting. It seems our Dutch friends are quite open to Scotland staying part of the EU. And then there was the store we happened to see with the name "F CK BREXIT"...)

I felt that the Van Gogh museum was okay, but not spectacular - it was harmed somewhat by being just a little too busy. And the Anne Frank house was also underwhelming - partly because of the sheer number of people there, partly because the rooms were left unfurnished, and partly because it being open robbed it of its impact (it wasn't so much being in those rooms that would have been the issue; it would have been the combination of not being able to go out coupled with the threat of others coming in, if that makes sense). I think that was somewhere we had to visit, and wouldn't have felt we'd really visited Amsterdam had we not done so, but I doubt I'd go again.

Oh, and we also visited the Zoo. While we were there, I took the opportunity to ask the giraffes their views on Captain Ric, but they just gave me a blank look. It seems they don't believe he exists either. Also, there were meerkats there. They were much the same as the ones in Edinburgh Zoo. (And that's both of my zoo-related jokes. Aren't you lucky?)

And I think that's about it. It was a good trip, good to get away, and nicely relaxing. I'd certainly recommend Amsterdam, especially given how easily accessible it is from the UK (as opposed to other places which might need connecting flights, that is).

Alas, Poor Labour...

If Labour need an 'electable' leader, then it's worth noting that there's actually only one man alive who has won a General Election as Labour leader. And there's a bye-election coming up.

So, how about it Tony? You obviously care enough about Labour to criticise their current leader, so why not show us how it's done? Cometh the hour, and all that?

Though if that did happen, I'd have to seriously stock up on popcorn...

(And, no, that's not a serious suggestion. But it may just be the only thing that could top the entertainment value of the last few weeks in politics.)

#36: "Pathfinder: Scourge of the Godclaw", by Larry Wilhelm
#37: "Liar's Bargain", by Tim Pratt

Monday, July 04, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

I've just been to see it. Yeah, it's pretty terrible - for the most part, it feels like a remake of the first film, with several of the roles rotated around by one character, and somehow, in defiance of the laws of time itself, with weaker special effects.

The Birthday Celebrations

Thursday was my fortieth birhtday. According to my sister-in-law, that makes me Sooooo old!

Naturally, I chart birthday celebrations via the metric of cakes consumed, and this time there were four...

The First Cake: At Work

Yes, I still had to go to work on my birthday, which was both bogus and sad. However, I had taken Wednesday off to attend LC's brother's graduation (and congratulations to him - first class honours!), which meant I didn't have days left for Thursday as well.

The convention at work is that people bring in cake on their own birthday. This was instituted by a colleague and friend who has since left, who wisely argued that people won't forget their own birthdays! Though I'm not entirely sure he'd be happy to know that the Cake Convention is his most lasting impact on the place...

The cake was from Tesco. It was very nice. It also didn't survive until lunchtime, which is a good sign.

The Second Cake: At Home

When we bought the work cake on Wednesday, LC also suggested we should get a cake to enjoy ourselves that evening, since we were missing any formal celebration on the day itself. This second cake was therefore a Red Velvet cake, also from Tesco.

In the event, we didn't eat it on Thursday... or on Friday... or on Saturday. I had the first slice on Sunday, the second this morning, and have to finish it off before we go on holiday tomorrow. It's very nice... but perhaps we would have been better without?

The Third Cake: At Band

Originally, I had planned to take the evening off band for my birthday. However, there are only two of us who have keys, and the other guy had to work. So if I took the night off, so did everyone else.

Later in the evening, the band presented me with a cake. It was a chocolate cake just big enough for everyone to have a slice (and for me to take one home to LC), which is obviously the ideal.

One nice touch here, that I hadn't expected at all, was that our five younger members, all of whom I've taught at one time or another, had learned and played for me "Happy Birthday". That was a nice touch.

The Fourth Cake: A Long-Expected Party

On Saturday there was the big party. This had all been organised by LC over the past several months, and took place at a secret location (I actually knew most of the rest of the details, but not that). In this case, "a secret location" meant the refurbished hall at Colzium House - and a very fine location that was, too.

It was a great event - part ceilidh and part disco, with a rather nice buffet in the middle, lots of friends from various groups, including one old friend I hadn't seen in far too long, family members from far distant (Eng)lands, a very touching speech, and a cake.

The cake was decorated in the style of an old-fashioned Police Telephone box, which I can only assume was a reflection on my now advanced age. Unless someone can think of some other relevance that it might have...

(It was a sponge cake with creak and jam between the two layers. And very nice it was too. Though the truth is that, as great as the cake was, it was only one of many excellent things about the night.)

And that was more or less that. It was good to see so many friends again, and it was really good that my theme of "everyone has a good time" seemed to work out well. And the band really were excellent. As the leader of that band said to me, LC really did pull out all the stops for the night. Well done to her, and thanks!

Appendix: The Fifth Cake

According to myth, the tale of the birthday was in fact completed by a fifth, more specialised cake. This one also hailed from the realm of Tesco, and was distinguished from the other by its lack of gluten. I must confess that I did not consume this cake, and so it is not a part of the main saga, but it was set aside for those with specialised dietary needs. I do hope they enjoyed it.

Experimental Cookery 2016 #5: Szechuan Chicken Stir-Fry

Due to general business, I've been rather slow in updating the blog in the last week. This was actually the meal we had on Tuesday last week. It's taken from the fourth Hairy Dieters book, "Fast Food", though I modified it by replacing the asparagus with red pepper and the corn with mangetout - LC is no fan of the other vegetables (or, as it turned out, mangetout!).

As with all stir-fries, this was quick and easy to make. The key, as always, is to get everything ready and within reach before applying heat to the first ingredient. Other than that, it was dead simple - add ingredient, fry for a bit, repeat.

The result was very tasty. Of particular note was the final addition of sesame seeds, which added a nice crunch to the final dish - a nice move. So, that's another winner to add to the rotation!

#34: "Warriors of the Storm", by Bernard Cornwell
#35: "Tuesdays with Morrie", by Mitch Albom (A book from The List, and the new candidate for book of the year)

Friday, July 01, 2016


So, Michael Gove is being decried as a traitor, having stabbed Boris Johnson in the back. Of course, BoJo would never campaign against a former friend in a bid to become Prime Minister...

On the other side of the House, the Labour rebels are about to launch a leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn. Just as soon as they can stop arguing over who should be their 'unity' candidate.