Monday, October 31, 2016

Calling Time on Region One

As part of our decluttering exercise prior to moving, at the weekend LC and I had another cull of our DVDs. This involved identifying a number that could go to a charity shop, and another number that, being Region One discs, were no use to such a shop and instead had to go to the bin. (Of course, either of these could have gone to Ebay to recoup a little of the money spent. But since the goal is to clear some much-needed space, and to do so quickly, we didn't take that option.)

In the course of doing that job, I came to the conclusion that it's long since time that I abandoned Region One entirely, much as I abandoned VHS a number of years ago - ever since we moved to the Playstation 3 as our primary means of DVD playback, the writing has been on the wall. (Actually, there's a strong argument that both DVD and even Blu-ray are already obsolete as well, and should be phased out. But that's another discussion for another day.)

What that means, I think, is that in the course of the move (probably while unpacking at the far end), I'll take the opportunity to sort out the Region One discs from the rest. These will then be divided into three sets - discs to be replaced with Region Two equivalents as soon as possible (eg "Die Hard"), discs to be discarded at the next cull (hopefully, there won't be too many of these - they should have been culled already), and discs that can't be replaced.

From there, there's an easy next step and then a harder next-but-one step. The easy step is to simply spend the money to replace the discs in the first set. Yes, it's a little galling to have spent money on a DVD of "Die Hard" only to spend more money on another disc and then throw away a perfectly-good disc... but it's not that much money, and so it's not that big a deal.

But the next-but-one step is harder, because that's a question of doing something with the discs that can't simply be replaced: things like "Reboot", which was never released on Region Two, or the "Babylon 5 Movie Collection" which is long since out of print. (The latter can be replaced, but only by replacing the entire series.)

The reason that one's tricky, then, is that those are DVDs I would very much like to replace but can't. And for the exercise to have any great meaning, I really do want to get rid of them, and the player as well. So it's tricky.

(Annoyingly, I did once have a bit of software that would have allowed me to rip those DVDs onto computer files, and go from there. I actually never used it for that purpose, but only to use my laptop as a multi-region player. Alas, that software went with the laptop some years ago, and is no longer available because the 'ripping' function was of questionable legality.)

Anyway, I guess the difficulty of that next-but-one step really depends on how many DVDs we're talking about - if it turns out that the two I've mentioned are the only ones, I'll probably take the hit and replace "Babylon 5" and abandon "Reboot". But if the list is significantly longer, maybe I'll hold onto them until the player finally gives up and I'm forced to make a final decision.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Changing the Clocks

I can't say I'm a particular fan of the twice-annual ritual of changing the clocks. Frankly, it's an absurd practice to spend most of the year with our clocks all set to lie to us in the strange notion that this gives us more daylight at some time of the year.

On the other hand, I suppose that ridiculous practice is marginally better than the 'fix' we see endlessly proposed in the newspapers every time the clocks change; specifically, to keep the country on "British Summer Time" (or, as I prefer to call it, "Liar's Time") all year around.

(The reason it is a lie is that time, like everything else, needs to be measured from a fixed reference point. And since the seasons change, meaning that sunrise and sunset aren't fixed, time is measured from the point where the Sun reaches its highest point over the horizon, which we call 'mid-day'. (Which is also why we divide the day into AM and PM.) Moving the clocks forward during the summer means that the Sun reaches its highest point at 1pm, not at 12 noon, which is incorrect. And since that's done deliberately, it's a lie.)

Anyway, if we must persist with this crazy ritual, could I please make two wee requests of clock manufacturers?

  1. Firstly, could you please make sure to put the buttons for adjusting the time somewhere easily accessible on the device, and could you also make sure to include single buttons for both adding 1 hour and subtracting 1 hour? Having to step through 23 hours, and having to do that for each of three or four clocks last night was just annoying. And having to take a clock apart to access the buttons and then having to step through not just 23 hours but 47 to get past the "24 hour clock" options was especially galling (IKEA, I'm looking at you).
  2. But, actually, since we're talking about new clocks, could you also please make sure to make these easily networked, so that they can pick up the time, and time changes, from a central point (or time server)? The "internet of things" is mostly a nonsense gimmick and waste of time, but this would be a case where it might actually make our lives just a little easier.

(In case you're wondering: no, this post is not entirely serious. The one thing that is is that we can't keep the clocks moved forwards throughout the winter - here in Scotland, the mornings are just too dark for that to be feasible, and it gets worse the further North you go. And it's really not practical for the schools in Scotland to instead move their start and end times instead - even if they could coordinate this, when they can't manage to coordinate holidays so that children and those of their parents who are teachers can holiday together, there would be the problem that everything else would be out of alignment.)

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Seasonal T-Shirt Rant

I notice that today's Qwertee offering contains a Halloween-themed t-shirt. And it's a very nice t-shirt, which I would probably buy if it wasn't black (I have too many - it's blue, white, or grey I need to replace).

Also, for Christmas last year, I got an extremely nice Christmas-themed Yoda t-shirt.

There's just one tiny problem with both of these: there's only a small window in the year when it's appropriate to wear a seasonal t-shirt, and by the time said item is/was/would be in my possession, it's already too late!

What I mean is this: from the time of ordering a Qwertee t-shirt and actually receiving said item there's a delay of roughly 2 weeks. That's fine, it's just how long it takes. But two weeks from now is the 11th of November, while Halloween is on Monday. Meaning that I wouldn't actually get to wear my exciting Halloween t-shirt until next year.

And, likewise, the lovely Yoda/Christmas t-shirt I got last year was enjoyed for a matter of hours before it was lovingly put away, not to be seen again until the 27th of November this year, or thereabouts. (Actually, it will probably be later, due to the house move, but not really Yoda's fault, that is.)

So, anyway, that's the Seasonal T-shirt Rant.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Day 300: Update on Goals

And so, day 300, and the final update of goals before the end of the year.

  • Super Secret Goal #4: Things are changing really fast on this one - two weeks ago, I was settling in to being in the flat for another six months at least, and then in the space of a week we had a viewing, received an offer, found a new house. It looks like we'll be moving out by the end of next month, but not moving in until the middle of the month after. So, suddenly, it's all looking good... but is all likely to change again by the time you read this!
  • Weight: This goal hasn't worked out at all, and I'm going to end the year having gone quite badly in the wrong direction.
  • Books: Conversely, this one is going extremely well - I'm now within touching distance of the goal, with two months still to go. I'm estimating a total of 73 books for the year, well above my goal, which is nice.
  • Games: The "open tabletop" I mentioned in my previous update proved to be a non-starter, while the "interesting development" I mentioned also turned out to be a non-event. Also, the "Dust to Dust" campaign came to an unexpected end on Tuesday, which was somewhat amusing as I actually had a solid plan for the end-game for the first time. That just leaves the "Christmas Game" for this year. But given the house move, it's not clear whether this will be postponed, hosted by someone else, or take place in the new house - my bet is probably on it being postponed, but we'll see...


It looks like it's going to be a mixed bag for the year. One goal will be completed and exceeded with some ease. A second goal will succeed, although it's worth noting that it wasn't really properly formed - strictly speaking, it was complete the moment I had one session each of the two named campaigns. Still, I'm pretty happy with that. And a third goal will be completed, but perhaps in the most chaotic way possible. We'll need to see.

On the other hand, it looks like one goal will have failed spectacularly, and that's squarely on me.

Still, all in all that's rather better than I expected to do even just a few weeks ago, so that's good.

And there it is. The next update will of course be the end-of-year round up.

Sampling Theory

We've bought a house.

Well, okay, that's maybe a little premature. LC and I have received an offer for the flat (which we're going to accept), and we've made an offer on a house (which has been verbally accepted), and so if everything goes according to plan we'll be moving very soon. Which is all good.

But this post is not really about that, but rather about the process that we usefully applied to find the house that we're hoping to buy. Here's how it works:

In an environment where there are lots of options available, and you're not sure how to go about narrowing the field and then choosing, especially when it's a huge buy and you want to be sure to get "the best" option... don't.

The truth is that there are probably too many options to ever properly evaluate them all, and even if you were able to do that you'd almost certainly end up with analysis paralysis and so not be able to choose between the inevitable trade-offs. There's probably no such thing as the 'perfect' house or the 'perfect' car, or whatever. (And even if there were such a thing, your needs will inevitably change with time. So even if you did get the perfect item, it wouldn't stay perfect for long.)

So, what is useful is to try to identify a representative sample of what's available: pick five or six properties of about the right size and spec, and go and see those. (It's also a good idea, if possible, to throw in one or two 'odd' choices, rather than going only for the obvious ones. So while you might not initially be thinking of a new-build or a bungalow, it's maybe worth viewing at least one.)

As you do the viewings, consider two things. Firstly, does the property in question meet your requirements (both the immediate ones and the ones you expect for the future). If not, it can be discounted immediately. But do note that that's requirements, not preferences - that's actually quite important! Secondly, how does this property stack up with the best we've seen so far?

One other thing: you should make sure to view all the properties in your sample, even if you happen upon one that's great with your first attempt. Basically, you owe it to yourself to get a real picture of what's out there!

Once you've viewed all the houses in your sample, you have hopefully identified a property that is both the best in the sample and that also meets your requirements. (If you haven't found any that meet the requirements, or you're really not happy even with the 'best', you'll need to identify a new sample and/or a new area, and keep looking. That's a weakness in this process.)

Having identified your candidate, then, you should proceed with checking if it's still available, making the purchase, etc etc...

However, if you find that that doesn't work out, for whatever reason (in our case, because we couldn't sell our flat in time), then the thing to do is to go back to the search and keep identifying and viewing properties. But your goal now is quite simple: find one that is at least as good as the best in your sample. And as soon as you find one, that's the one to go for.

The reasoning here is that the best property you found in your sample probably isn't, in fact, the very best property that's available. Instead, it's an indicator of the best-fit properties. That means that there is almost certainly at least one, and perhaps several, that are as good or better. So all you need to do now is find one. (And you stop looking as soon as you find one, because that way you have the satisfaction of getting the best-fit from all the ones you've actually seen - it's not like there's a "one that got away" that was better.)

Of course, it's not an absolutely flawless method, and it does mean that there's probably a better match out there somewhere. But it has the benefits of giving good results, of doing so in a manageable amount of time, and of not showing you better options that you then leave behind.

Well, it works for me, anyway!

#56: "Notes From a Small Island", by Bill Bryson (a book from The List)
#57: "Spelljammer: The Radiant Dragon", by Elaine Cunningham
#58: "The Night Manager", by John Le Carré

Friday, October 14, 2016

Here We Go Again

It's fair to say I'm not hugely enthusiastic for a second independence referendum. Had the powers-that-be actually delivered the things they solemnly vowed to deliver, and had England not engaged in the monumental self-harm that is Brexit, the issue would have been put to bed for a generation.

However, the people of Scotland voted to stay in the UK by 55% to 45%, and voted to stay in the EU by 62% to 38%. And after the Brexit vote it very quickly became apparent that we can't have both - neither the EU nor the UK government have any interest in any sort of a "reverse Greenland" deal that might see Scotland retain both unions.

That being the case, someone has to choose which to preserve. And while you can argue many different ways about which mandate supersedes the other, the bottom line is that there's a choice: either we the people decide what we want, or some group of our elected politicians decide what we want for us.

In that case, better that it is us. That way, we get what we actually want, and not what someone else decides that we want.

So, yeah, a second independence referendum is necessary.

(And, actually, it's those who would prefer to stay in the UK who should be calling for a referendum. Because 56 of Scotland's 59 MPs, 68 of 129 MSPs, and 3 of 6 MEPs support independence. If it's down to Scotland's elected politicians, it's independence.)

Of course, there are all sorts of potential issues along the way.

Firstly, the required bill would need to pass the Scottish Parliament, which is by no means a sure thing - in theory, the SNP and the Greens together should be enough, but there's always a suspicion that the Greens may decide that now is not the time, and block it. (Of course, in doing so they would consign themselves to electoral oblivion, so it's doubtful they would... but it is possible.) There's also the question of whether the Presiding Officer would allow it, since it has always been debateable whether the SP has the competence to pass such a bill. And while in the long-term it's probably that it would indeed be deemed valid, time is rather critical here.

Secondly, there is the question of whether Westminster would be on board. Again, I doubt it's practical for them to block a vote forever, but they could certainly delay one, when timing is fairly critical. (There's also the possibility of this having to go through the courts, which would also take time...)

But, ultimately, I think this can be resolved one of three ways:

  • The best option is for Westminster to concede the validity of the vote, to arrange another Edinburgh agreement, and let things proceed sensibly. This was the approach David Cameron took last time, and as a matter of principle it was the right one. (Of course, what they also should have done, either in the previous agreement or in the post-referendum settlement, was to formally devolve the right for the Scottish Parliament to hold future referendums with a specified cool down period between them. But I digress.)
  • The next best option would be for Westminster to try to block the vote. I suspect the consequence of that is that, eventually, there would be a vote anyway, and that such a vote would inevitably lead to independence - because a Tory government telling Scots that they don't get to decide for themselves won't go down well.
  • The worst option is one I've discussed before, where Westminster simply refuses to engage - they refuse to have anything to do with the referendum, then declare the turnout too low for the result to have any validity, and thus leave us in a complete mess.

Needless to say, I really hope they go for the first of these, but given the immense competence of the current government, I'm fully expecting the latter.

But perhaps the biggest question I have is about the No campaign itself - who leads it, and what sort of an argument can they put forward?

The problem is that all the leading lights from last time are utterly discredited: Labour in Scotland have imploded; and Darling, Brown, and Murphy have lost all credibility up here. So the best candidate I can see to lead the campaign is Ruth Davidson... but, again, a Tory leading the campaign to keep Scotland under the control of a Tory government we didn't elect and widely hate isn't going to go down well.

And then there are the arguments... But most of the old ones are now useless - every promise that was made has been broken, and every threat that was made has come true anyway. (Well, except the loss of the pound. But that has been devalued so thoroughly that that threat is now a hollow one.) They can't even argue that independence would cause uncertainty, since Brexit has already done that.

Just about the only ammunition they have is the price of oil and the question over which currency Scotland would use. Which are fair enough, but I really question whether they would be enough. Especially since the Yes campaign (a) have known they need answers to these questions and (b) have had two years to come up with them.

So, I guess we'll see.

(As for me: I'll be voting for independence again, unless something very significantly changes in the meantime. After all, the reasons I voted Yes last time haven't changed, and indeed have become much, much worse. And all the reasons I had some doubt last time have become very significantly eroded in the last two years. So no change for me.)

An Update

Dear Microsoft,

I appreciate that sometimes it will be necessary to update my PC for security reasons. I further appreciate that applying those updates will sometimes require restarting my PC. And I even appreciate that some updates will take longer than others to apply.

What I don't appreciate is that you don't tell us beforehand when a 'restart' is expected to take a particularly long time, leading to my PC being out of action for an hour and three-quarters when I have better things to be doing than watching your largely-illusory count of the percentage completion.

And I really don't appreciate it when the counter gets to 100%, the PC restarts for the final time, I log in, and then have to wait another five minutes for a painfully slow "we're getting your PC ready" presentation. If you still have work to do, your update is not 100% complete.

(Even more galling still is that, as far as I can see, the net effect of the updates has been to cause my PC to run 10% slower than it did previously. Gee, thanks!)

Just an idea: maybe in future you should consider giving an estimate of how long a 'restart' is expected to take?

#55: "Pathfinder: The Thrushmoor Terror", by Tito Leati

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Drawing a "Must Win".

I didn't bother to predict that Scotland won't qualify for the World Cup. I figured that was obvious. And, in all honesty, in the group where we're third seeds and where only one team goes through (and that will be England), it's probably acceptable for Scotland to fail to qualify.

But we need to be targetting second place in the group, and we really need to achieve a minimum of third place. Because as long as Scotland remain third seeds in qualifying groups, we'll always be finding ourselves in groups with at least two better teams in the groups with us, in groups where only one or two teams qualify, and it will always be an uphill struggle. We really need to be working upwards, with a hope of getting into that group of second seeds, and then maybe we're in with a chance. Maybe.

But in addition to that, what Scotland really need to be doing is routinely beating any of the teams that are 'worse' than us, and doing so both home and away. And in the current qualifying campaign, that means Slovenia, Lithuania, and Malta. (And I mean no disrespect to any of those teams, hence the quotes around 'worse'. It's not as if there's any evidence of us being any better than Slovenia, for one.)

So last night's draw against Lithuania is a failure. Indeed, that draw is probably worse even than the 1-nil loss we narrowly avoided - the late goal, and the point that it brings, is probably enough to mask the obvious deficiencies in our play, and delay some much-needed corrective action. A shock defeat would have enforced that be done immediately.

I should note that "corrective action" doesn't necessarily mean a change in manager, largely because I don't see who we could replace Strachan with who would be better. But it does mandate a change in approach. The fundamental issue seems to be that Strachan is excessively loyal to players who may have served him well in the past but who are just not doing the job now. Coupled with a seeming reluctance to play actual goal-scorers - an absurdity in a must-win game.

(Amusingly, the team he played last night is probably the correct team for Tuesday's match away to Slovakia, when a defensive approach is required. I therefore expect the team to go out attacking, and lose the match.)

And I suspect that's all there is to it - no need to change the manager or to change the squad, just change the approach. Against the stronger teams, it's right to go for a defensive approach and try to nick something; but against the weaker teams, go out and win the match.

Not that it really matters. We won't be qualifying for the World Cup in 2018. And unless they just let everyone in, we won't be going to the Euro 2020 party, either. In fact, I'll go one further: Scotland (or, rather, Scotland's men) won't be at a major football championship this side of independence.

(And, yeah, it's possible that independence may never come. In which case, there's only one way I can see us ever being invited to the party.)

#54: "Storm King's Thunder", by Wizards of the Coast

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Experimental Cookery 2016 #7: Slow-Cooker Chicken Tagine

This is an odd one: it's from "The Hairy Dieter's Fast Food", which promises to be a book of 30-minute recipes, yet this one took eight hours to cook. But that's okay - the meal only really took 30 minutes to prepare; it then just sat in the slow cooker for a very long time.

And the meal was quick and easy to prepare. I did adjust it slighty, because of the nature of our slow cooker - I took the opportunity to sear the chicken a little before layering everything into the cooker. But that was only a small additional step.

And, yeah, it was good. Not the greatest meal ever, but certainly enjoyable - enough so that we'll certainly have it again. Just one modification, I think, though - we'll probably have rice next time, rather than couscous.