Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fast Food and Cheap Food

Today in the Observer, there's an article suggesting that we should rename "fast food" as "cheap food", thus better identifying why it is that people buy it. The comments on the article, predictably, note that fast food is in fact not cheap, and that instead it is cheaper to cook the same meal at home.

The thing is, both of these things are true, indeed are true simultaneously. It is indeed true that fast food is not all that cheap, and that it would be far cheaper to buy all the ingredients and make the meal yourself... if you're starting from a position of knowing how to do all that and having all of the requisite equipment in your kitchen. From a standing start, though, it's much cheaper to spend £5 on a McDonalds, or indeed £20 on a McDonalds for four, than it is to buy everything you need to equip a kitchen to make yourself burgers and chips.

In the long run, of course, it's far better, and cheaper, to make the investment in a reasonable set of kitchen equipment, learn to cook, and then produce most of your own meals cheaply, quickly, and healthily.

Which, of course, brings us back to the Sam Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socio-economic Unfairness - having the time, knowledge, and equipment needed to cook all your own meals at home requires an investment that the rich can make easily while the poor cannot, which means that the rich person gets to eat home-cooked meals most days. Those meals are typically better quality and tastier, meaning that the rich get to enjoy their food more and live longer, healthier lives.

And the poor get to enjoy the privilege of paying more for this lower quality of life (measured over a lifetime).

Perhaps the worst part of all that comes when you ask the reasonable question: "how do we fix this"? Because, sadly, the answer is "we can't". The sad reality is that the rich will always have the ability to make strategic investments that allow them to (a) enjoy a higher quality of life and (b) pay less in the long run.

(In the case of cooking meals, we can at least make a few inroads - we could prioritize the preparation of food as schools, thus ensure everyone leaves at least knowing how to knock up a few cheap and healthy means, and we could insist that all houses that are built and/or properties for rent must have adequate facilities. That would at least reduce the inequality a little... but it does nothing any of the other examples.)

Ultimately, those inequalities are probably just inherent in a capitalist society.

Although... it's always worth bearing in mind that even if all we can do is nibble around the edges of the problem, it's still probably a good thing to do that - the result might not be much, but at least it is something.

The Scottish Pipe Band Championships

According to our former MP, Eric Joyce, Falkirk is the constituency in Scotland that most closely resembles the country as a whole - that is, in terms of demographics and economics, we're proportionately as close to the whole of the country as anywhere. That being the case, it's probably fitting that Camelon & District, being a Falkirk-based band, so closely resemble Scotland as a whole's sporting prowess - typically oscillating between humiliating disaster and the most narrow, painful defeat, with the occasional minor success, just to keep the flame of hope painfully flickering...

Yesterday was the Scottish Pipe Band Championships, and it was another of our narrow, painful defeats. Following the Europeans, we had put in a lot of hard work to adjust our style and to tighten things up. And following our successes last week, we were confident of a success. Of course, it being a major championship there was a need for us to pass a qualifying round, but with 6 bands out of 14 going through, surely that couldn't be a problem, could it?

Well, I think we know the answer to that one!

Actually, I didn't think the performance was particularly bad - it seemed to be at a nice tempo, it seemed to start pretty well, and all in all I thought it was okay. Though many of the other people in the band didn't seem to think so - when we came off the mood was pretty depressed.

In the end, we were 7th out of 14, missing qualification by a single place. We were 9th and 7th in piping, 3rd in drumming, and 8th for ensemble. (That said, although this sounds like a narrow defeat, it's not all that narrow - that gives us 27 points, where the bands that were fifth and sixth scored 21 each. So we would have had to be significantly better to nudge one of them out.)

The one mote of good news in that was that our failure to qualify meant that I was able to head home early, and so avoided a fairly cold and unpleasant afternoon. But that's scant comfort - I would much rather have been there.

Oh well. Five competitions to go to the end of the season, including one major. Alas, there's little chance of us qualifying at the Worlds, given that only four of twenty bands go through. But that's okay - gives us a chance just to enjoy the remaining few weeks.

#37: "Matter", by Iain M. Banks

Monday, July 24, 2017

Stay on Target...

We've moved another step along the road to finally completing the epic of the house move... our mortgage offer finally arrived in the post today. (We'd received verbal notice that it had been approved on Friday, but my position through all of this is now that I won't believe something is well and truly done until I see it...) We need to check it over, just in case of any nasty surprises, and then I think we can conclude the missives, and then transfer the money, and then...

But the timescales are now becoming ever-more concerning. There are now only a few days before we pass a threshold beyond which it's not possible to finish all the paperwork in time. And, of course, there's the ever-present threat that something may yet go wrong...

Needless to say, I'm getting a bit twitchy!

Still, that's another positive step. With a lot of luck, we're now just eleven days from the end of the road. But I'll celebrate then, and not until!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Burntisland Pipe Band Contest 2017T

The pipe band season restarted this weekend with a trip to Burntisland. It was cold, wet, and miserable... but also surprisingly successful.

Our day began early - following the debacle at Forres our Pipe Major decided the thing to do was to travel over early and have a very long preparation. Unfortunately, this did not go to plan as the rain meant that spending a long time tuning up would ruin the pipes (until they then dried out, at least), so we instead hid within our gazebo until the last minute.

Anyway, we played, and it was... okay. But no better than okay. We actually started really well, but the phrasing in the third tune seemed to go (classic mistake, that), and bad blowing crept in as we went on. So, many of the things we'd been being told about all season. Still, it wasn't terrible - just a shame that we know we can do better.

Then we waited for the 4A contest, in which we were first. Again, we had an extremely curtailed preparation, and then on. This was a little better, mostly, although my fingers decided to cramp up half way through the last tune, which wasn't good. Still, it wasn't terrible.

And then there was a lot of waiting. In the event, the organisers decided to scrap their planned parade through the town, and instead have a very short prize-giving at three. I can't say I was sorry about the chance to get home, and get warm, rather sooner than expected... but I did feel bad for the organisers who had clearly put in a lot of effort, and spent a lot of money, only to see it washed out.

Anyway...

Our drum major did exceptionally well, coming 2nd (out of five). Even better, not only was the one person who beat her the current reigning World Champion, but he's also not really in her grade at all - in the minor contests the Juniors and Juveniles are merged together, with our drum major being in the Juniors and the other being in the Juveniles. So that was good.

Then, in Grade 4B (our grade) we came first! Yep, our first outright win in a very, very long time. (And, since LC felt the need to ask, it was out of six bands.) We came 1st (!) and 2nd in piping, 1st (!) in drumming, and 1st (!) for ensemble. Oh, and we also won an award for the best bass section in the contest. Huzzah!

In Grade 4A, we came... first! This time it was out of five bands, two of which were 4B bands playing up, and three were grade 4A bands. So that was quite a result. This time, we were 1st (!) and 2nd for piping, 2nd for drumming, and 1st (!) for ensemble, making this one of very few times that the pipers have helped elevate the band's overall position - usually, it is the drummers carrying the rest of us.

So, yeah, that was a rather decent result!

Next week is the third of our four Majors of the year, being the Scottish Championships at Dumbarton. That's another one where we have to qualify before the final, with six out of sixteen bands in each qualifying group going through. That's a big ask, but if we get a good run this week, and if the band has been lifted by this result (as it should be), then maybe...

Certainly, it's all looking a lot more positive than it was after Forres.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Our Last Bit of Extra Time

It's quite a thing to think that Terry Pratchett has been gone two years. Of course, part of that is that being dead seems to have barely slowed him down - in those two years we've seen the release of the final Discworld novel, two "Long Earth" novels, and two short story collections.

But, alas, today was the end. I finished up the last of eight Pratchetts I've read since 2015, "The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner", a few minutes ago. And there is no more. It was a good book to end on... but it's still sad to think that there is no more to be had.

I did actually consider stopping just short, and perhaps refusing to turn that last page entirely. But I'm a great believer in the notion that it will be all right in the end (and if it's not all right now, that's because it's not yet the end). So I turned the last page, and came to an end. And it was, indeed, all right.

Still, as I wrote once before: Ook!

Thank you Sir Pterry. It's been fun.

#36: "The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner", by Terry Pratchett

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Day 200: Update on Goals

And so we reach Day 200...

  • Weight: Nothing to report here. Our scales are currently packed away in storage, so there will be no news until we get to where we're going!
  • Books: By day 200 I should have read 32.9 books, so I'm in a good position here. As noted in my previous update, I've had to rejig my reading pattern somewhat to reflect the "Pathfinder Tales" line being put on hiatus, but the rest of the sublists are proceeding apace, and I've added more "New Books" to fill out the total. My expectation for this year is to be very close to the 60-book target, rather than well over it as was the case last year.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: We moved out of the flat at the start of July, and are due to move into the new house on the 4th of August (just in time for LC to be out of the country). So, by the time of the next update I expect to be able to report the completion of this goal. I'm very much looking forward to this all, finally, being done.
  • Part Five: The House: This remains on hold, though hopefully not for much longer.
  • Part Five: Church: Likewise, this remains on hold.
  • Part Five: Band: The second half of the competition season is about to start. My decision is now made - I'm going to see out the rest of the season and then leave at the AGM. I'm not inclined to go seek out a new band to join, at least for the foreseeable future - I'm inclined instead to play purely for my own enjoyment for the next little while.
  • Part Five: Gaming: This remains on hold.
  • Super Secret Goal #5: As noted earlier in the year, I decided not to pursue this goal, taking a different direction instead.

So... things are finally moving on the housing front, which is fantastic news and a huge relief. My hope is that for the next update I'll be able to report the completion of that goal, and solid progress on the four linked goals.

On the other goals, things continue to go well with the books goal, but are going badly on the weight goal. So I guess I know what my priority is for the next little while... though I've said that before.

#35: "Pathfinder: Prisoners of the Blight", by Amanda Hamon Kunz

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Well Done BBC (not)

There are few things I dislike more than pre-announcements. If you have something to say to us, please just say it. If not, don't bother telling us that you don't have anything to say.

But one of the few things that I do dislike more than just pre-announcements are vague pre-announcements. Such as, just to give a completely random example, "we're going to announce the new Doctor directly after the Men's final at Wimbledon" - an event that might take anywhere between 2 and 24 hours to complete. So, effectively, you're telling us that you don't have anything to tell us, but that you will have something to tell us at some indeterminate time in the future... and you can't tell us that, either.

Grr.

Anyway, as it happens I don't mind watching the Wimbledon final, or at least the last bit - usually, it's a pretty good match between two superb athletes at the top of their game. Granted, it wasn't so good this year, as poor Marin Cilic was carrying an injury that meant he couldn't perform to his best. A real shame, but nothing can be done about it.

So Federer won, and well done to him - he's perhaps the single greatest tennis player in history, he's still one of the very best, and he's a fine champion.

And that, right there, is about all there really is to say about the match. Because it wasn't a classic for good, albeit sad, reasons, but Federer is a fine champion. Right, on to the announcement, yes?

Alas, no. Because the BBC felt the need to then spend 30 minutes giving us a content-free analysis of the match, of Federer's legacy, and other endless waffle about nothing. And, I'm sorry, but it was waffle about nothing - basically, everything they said about Federer was something they'd already said about Federer last time he won Wimbledon, as has happened plenty of times - he's just that good.

(I particularly enjoyed Tim Henman's analysis of why Cilic went wrong - his argument being that the emotions just got on top of him. Um, okay. The small problem being that that wasn't why Cilic lost. Shockingly, he lost because he was carrying an injury while playing the best player there has ever been.)

The upshot of all of this is that by the time the BBC finally got around to passing on their big news I just didn't care any more. Which I'm assuming wasn't what they were shooting for. (I'm guessing they'll probably put that down to the emotions getting on top of their trailer-making team. Since it was obviously that, and not their endless waffle about nothing, that caused the problem. Or something.)

Oh, as for the announcement itself: I'm sure Jodie Whittaker will do a fine job in the role. I'm not conscious of having actually seen her in anything - I haven't seen "Broadchurch", and although I have seen most of "St Trinians" I'm not sure she stood out (plus, I'm not convinced "St Trinians" will be at the top of anyone's list of top roles). But then, I wasn't really conscious of having seen David Tennant or Matt Smith in anything prior to DW, and they both did exceptionally well.

So, that's that. Fine news rather marred by inept handling. Well done, BBC.

#34: "Bearers of the Black Staff", by Terry Brooks

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Morning Practice

For various reasons, I'm not able to practice at LC's parents' house. And my pipes need to be played every day (or very close to it) or they really start to suffer. Consequently, in a bid to solve that little conundrum, I've been taking my pipes to work and practicing first thing in the morning.

Which mostly works - I'm usually the first to arrive, and so slotting in a ten-minute practice before 8 generally means I'm not affecting anyone. At least, that's the hope.

All of which is just as well, because the noise from the pipes is loud, especially in the warehouse in which I'm practicing - normally, I use a hall with wooden flooring and rafters, or a room filled with furniture, but at the moment I'm using an empty warehouse with metal walls and fittings. There's nothing to absorb the noise, and the echoes are fierce. Indeed, once I stop playing at the end of a set it takes a second or so before the echoes die down. So even through a fairly thick wall into the office proper it must be pretty noisy... not that that matters if I'm the only one here.

This morning, though, was a bit different. One of my colleagues plays the guitar and has been rather obsessed with trying "Mull of Kintyre" for quite some time. And with my being in early to practice, he's been especially keen for the last two weeks. So this morning was, finally, the day.

Naturally, today was also the day that it seemed half the office decided to come in early, only to get subjected to us playing a tune we'd not tried before, that wasn't played terribly well, and that was repeated again, and again... and again.

Which wasn't ideal. Thus far, we've escaped the complaints. I do hope that doesn't change, because while I do have a backup backup practice location, it's even less ideal than the office first thing in the morning...

#33: "Madame Bovary", by Gustave Flaubert (a book from The List)

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Some Stuff About Doctor Who

For the most part, I very much enjoyed this year's series of "Doctor Who", although I did feel that the BBC gave far too much away in their "Next Time..." segments. Overall, this was Peter Capaldi's best series, and Steven Moffat's second best (his best being the first Matt Smith year).

But I didn't like the finale. Or, rather, I didn't like the last few minutes of the finale, and particularly the resolution of Bill's story.

My issue with it is not really what happened (which was indeed foreshadowed, and did make at least a little hand-wavey sense), but rather how it was handled - Moffat pulled back in a very minor, seemingly throwaway character from the first episode, who Bill had a little bit of a crush on, and used her to magic away all the problems?

Yeah, that's not good.

For what it's worth, I think they'd have been better placed to feature Heather more prominently in the series - introduce her in episode one, have her become Bill's on/off girlfriend, and then have her become The Pilot. That gives her a stronger involvement in the story and, more importantly, an actual bond with Bill (beyond a little flirting that really goes nowhere). Plus, conveniently, it mirrors what happens to Bill just a few episodes later...

But most of the rest of the episode was fine. I very much enjoyed the interaction between the Master and Missy, and much as I'll miss the latter it was a fitting end to her story. And I'm really excited to see the First Doctor back, even if just for a little while. (Interestingly, it appears that his appearance is right at the end of his timeline, which suggests that the Christmas episode will feature the First and the Twelth both coming to terms with their impending regenerations. It does occur to me to wonder whether Susan might also make an appearance, given that the First did promise to go back to see her and, as far as I know, never has...)

Anyway, that's that.

In light of Capaldi's tenure coming to its end, I've also given a little thought to his placement in the overall scheme of things. Back in 2014 when I rated the Doctors (http://wherearethefrogs.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/the-doctors-rated.html), I placed him tenth, above only Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Three years on, though, I'm inclined to rate him more highly - Capaldi's acting has undeniably been very strong, and some of the best material he has been given is very, very good. (He's also had some rather weak stuff to deal with, too, such as last year's Christmas special, but that's true of all the Doctors.)

So, I'm inclined to push him up a few notches - just above Christopher Eccleston and after Peter Davidson, making him fifth. (Had Eccleston done more than a single series, it's likely that he'd move up a notch again; it's all a bit wibbly.)

Finally, on the question of Who should be next?

Personally, I'm leaning towards Tamsin Greig as my choice, if she'd take the role. Between "Black Books" and "Green Wing", she's clearly got the comic timing and the ability to do the slightly zany character that is required. Of course, part of my reason was that she'd previously worked well with Michelle Gomez on "Green Wing", which is no longer valid, but never mind.

(Incidentally, on the topic of a female Doctor... while I don't subscribe to the notion that the new Doctor must be female (or black, ginger, etc), or even to the notion that the Doctor must ever be female (...), I equally can see no reason at all why the Doctor should not be. Unlike James Bond, the character really could be anyone, so find the best candidate and offer him or her the role.)

#31: "Pathfinder: Siege of Stone", by Thurston Hillman
#32: "The Long Cosmos", by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Saturday, July 01, 2017

The End of Part Four

By the time you read this, LC and I will have (or will be very close to having) moved out of the flat in Falkirk. I've been there a little over eight years, that being fully a fifth of my life, and LC has likewise lived here just over five years. It's also the first home that we've shared together.

It's a bit of a strange feeling, that we're now finally nearing the end of this journey. And it is a little sad... but only a little. I suspect I'd be more bothered if we'd sold the flat really quickly, rather than having to endure the last eight months or so.

I'm rather more sorry to be leaving Falkirk, which has generally served me well. But, on the other hand, I'm sure Livingston will do just as well. It's not as if I knew all that much about Falkirk before I got here.

And that's about it, really.

Except for one question: if Part Four is at an end, does this mean Part Five begins? Well, not quite. Because we're moving in with LC's parents for a time, this isn't really the start of Part Five. Rather, there's a gap between the two.

So, really, this is the start of Part Four and a Half...

See you on the flip side!