Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The ReBoot Conundrum - solved

About a year ago, I posted that I had decided that it was time to get rid of my Region One DVDs, but that there was an issue with some few discs that couldn't be replaced with Region Two equivalents, most notably the series "ReBoot".

Well, the good news is that I have been handed a solution that works out great, and will allow me to keep access to those few discs that can't be replaced. Huzzah!

It's still my plan to replace those discs I had selected for that fate, and also to get rid of the number of discs entirely - although this same solution would work for all the Region One discs, I'm preferring to use it only as necessary, rather than default.

24 Legacy

I'm fairly late to the party, but I finally got around to watching the 'new' series of "24" over the weekend. It was interesting, but very flawed.

The big problem, I think, is that "24" basically became its own genre of TV. By which I mean that there are a number of things that have to be in a series of "24", without which the viewer would feel cheated, and the plot largely exists to move the story from one of these things to the next. So, there has to be a mole somewhere in CTU, there has to be at least one section where the main character goes off-book, there have to be political shenanigans. And so on and so forth.

What that means is that "24 Legacy" was pretty much just "24 by numbers" - do the one thing, then the next thing, then the next, and we're done. Add to that the pressure of having to introduce an all-new cast of characters and a reduction from 24 episodes to 12, and you've got problems.

But it's probably also worth noting that what made "24" so compelling, especially in the early years, was that it gave us something genuinely new, at least in TV terms - it was the show that would go to places that other shows just wouldn't. As the series progressed, and it became more and more self-referential, it also lost that edge. And a remake that does "24 by numbers" lacks the edge and, I'm almost shocked to say, becomes actually quite boring in places - you know that this has happened and we're at that part of the story, so what happens next must be...

Anyway, if you're a fan of "24" and liked "Live Another Day", you'll probably like "24 Legacy". If you're a fan of "24" who didn't like "Live Another Day", you probably won't. If you didn't like "24", you probably won't like this. And if you haven't seen "24" but like action series, you probably would like this... but would be better seeking out the original instead.

Given that "24 Legacy" has been cancelled, of course, much of this is moot. But since they're apparently working on a new form for the show, some further thoughts:

  • I don't agree with the argument that "24" needs Jack Bauer. Jack was a great character, but other great characters are possible, and there's no reason the format needs him.
  • However, "24" does need two core elements in order to work: it absolutely must keep the real-time aspect (and, for goodness sake, don't cheat - if it takes 20 minutes to drive from A to B in the real world, it should take 20 minutes in the show, no matter how inconvenient that is); it is absolutely must have the full 24 episodes. If you can't commit to both of those, don't bother.
  • If you're doing a reboot, do a reboot. Name-checking Edgar and having Tony re-appear was quite cool, but it also meant that "24 Legacy" was inviting comparison with a vastly-superior original.
  • When constructing any new series, the first thing to do is throw away the playbook. As I noted above, the great joy of "24" was that it showed us something we hadn't seen before, so do that... and that means showing us things that "24" hasn't shown us before as well. So subvert those expectations.
  • Everyone should be expendable. And by 'everyone', I mean everyone. By series six or so of the old show, Jack and Chloe had achieved plot immunity, which meant that the peril they faced in the course of their adventures was inherently lessened. The moment that happens, and a character's life becomes safe, that character absolutely must be killed off. Then deal with the fallout.

That's what I think, anyway.

A Matter of Genetics

I should probably apologise for another post about Scottish football so soon, but something has really been bugging me since Sunday's match - specifically, Gordon Strachan's comment that part of the issue is genetic, in that Scottish players are on average smaller than most other Europeans. (Well, except those minnows of the footballing world, Spain, of course. But since they never win a match I guess we can discount them as being irrelevant...)

Bluntly, Scotland's problem isn't a matter of genetics; it's mostly a matter of mindset.

Scotland seems to delight in "glorious failure" - we consistently do almost well enough. And when the inevitable failure comes, it gets chalked up as another glorious failure, a mark of progress. Or, of course, we point to some singular bit of ridiculous bad luck, or a woeful refereeing decision, or something, and blame everything on that.

This applies to football, to rugby... and to most other areas as well. Even our history is littered with glorious failure, even such as William Wallace or the Darien Scheme. (And that's a ridiculously high-level summary.)

(Incidentally, Andy Murray is the exception that proves the rule. I'll get back to that.)

The problem with glorious failure is that it is, ultimately, still failure. And since winning and losing are both habit forming, that's a big problem.

But the genetic argument is nonsense, as evidenced by, yes, Spain. And the argument that we're making progress is likewise nonsense - by that metric, we've made more progress than just about any other country on the planet. Odd that we still keep falling short.

But back to Andy Murray. For years, he was yet another Scot who displayed all the traits associated with glorious failure - he'd keep doing quite well, but then he'd come up against Federer or one of the other big guns, and then he'd lose. Only he wouldn't lose every time. In fact, he was quite capable of beating Federer except when it 'mattered'. But on those occasions... glorious failure.

And then he hired Ivan Landl as his coach, and within a very short time he was Wimbledon champion, and things went from there. Lendl's main impact on Andy Murray's game? It was about the mindset of a champion - Andy Murray already had all the tools he needed to win, he just needed a few tweaks to his game... and a shift to his expectations from "I'll try" to "I will".

(Incidentally, that's why Murray was right that Mauresmo was a perfectly fine choice of coach. No, there wasn't really much she could teach him about the game, but then that was true of just about anyone he could have chosen. But she undoubtedly knew what it took to be champion, and it was that mindset, more than anything else, he needed. Alas, it didn't work out, but that doesn't mean the selection process was wrong.)

So, as I said once before, a long time ago, the problem with Scottish football is that we expect to lose in the big matches. And we grind out draws in the must-win matches, or we otherwise fall short.

Sunday's score against Slovenia was a good result - 2-2 against tough opponents, away from home, where the opposition hadn't conceded a goal on their home soil? Yeah, that's a good result.

The problem was that we needed to win, not draw, and we should never have been in that position to start with - the damage was done much earlier in the competition when we scraped a 1-1 draw against Lithuania at home. That was the must-win match, and we blew it.

For us to make real progress, the mindset has to change. We should treat every match as a must-win match, and when we're playing the supposedly 'lesser' teams, especially at home, we need to deliver that win. Get in the habit of winning, and success will follow. And stop talking about 'progress' when you mean 'failure'.

Incidentally, that's why my threshold for us achieving qualification is independence - not because independence has anything directly to do with football, but because of the question of mindset. A country that does not have the confidence to believe it can run itself is not a country likely to have the confidence to compete on the world stage. And while a lot of people voted against independence for a lot of reasons, the bottom line is that an awful lot of people accepted that we were just too poor to give it a go. There is a positive argument for the union, but that wasn't the argument that won it - "what currency will we use?" was the refrain.

Of course, it's possible for the football team to adopt the winning mentality without the country following suit, but I just don't see it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dear BT Sport...

Look, I understand that you would like feedback, and don't mind you contacting me with the occasional survey.

But...

When I've been working on your survey for 10 minutes and the status bar says I'm only 22% of the way through, then you're taking the piss. Frankly, if I've been working on your survey for 10 minutes, that's already too long. A survey should be five minutes or less.

Experimental Cookery 2017: Beef Stroganoff

In theory, I really like beef stroganoff. But I say "in theory" because all of my attempts to make it have met with abject failure - indeed, to the point of leaving me quite ill at times. Plus, it's not something I get to try very often; being a mushroom-based meal, it's not something LC will even try.

However, LC was late home last night, which meant I was left to fend for myself. And I had recently found yet another take on it, this one from the second "Hairy Dieters" book, so...

As always, the meal was quick and easy to put together, rendered only slightly more awkward because I forgot to put the rice on until late in the process. But that was okay - the sauce also took longer to thicken than I'd expected, which allowed me to bring it all together.

And the result was fine. Not the greatest thing ever, but a massive improvement on previous efforts, and no signs of food poisoning. So that's a win... sort of. That said, I'm not sure I'm really keen to try this again. It was fine, but not exactly the greatest thing ever.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Wish I Could Say I Was Surprised

The worst thing about supporting Scotland is the hope. After a very poor start to our qualifying campaign, the team somehow managed to turn it around and get themselves into a position where two wins in the last two games would win them a play-off spot, and then they managed a jammy last-minute winner in the first of those two matches. (Well, I say 'somehow'. But the answer is actually fairly simple: Scott Brown came out of retirement.)

Of course, I've predicted before that we weren't going to the World Cup, and indeed that we won't be going to any major tournament for the foreseeable future. (Well, unless they change the rules and just let everyone in.) But I did kind of expect the team to manage a win - and then get drawn against Italy, pull off a remarkable 0-0 draw in the first (away) leg, and so know that they only needed one heroic performance, at home, to get through... and then be denied at the last gasp in truly outrageous style. Because Scotland specialise in failing in the most painful way possible, and the was about as bad as I could come up with.

But even that was not to be. About a week ago, Scott Brown got injured and had to pull out. Faced with that, and faced with two very tough games, the manager decided to revert to "tried and tested" players - relying on experienced heads to keep it together to see him through.

Just one problem with that: those players had indeed been tried and tested. Unfortunately, in that testing they had been found wanting. If the definition of madness is trying the same things over and over and expecting different results... well. (Of course, he could have gone with young new, in-form players, and we still wouldn't have qualified. See above.)

So, what now?

Well, we try again next time. After all, you have to, don't you? And we'll need a new manager - Strachan did a mostly decent job, and it's hard to see who would do any better, but he's had two attempts and two failures, so we need to try something different.

Mostly, though, the answer is "nothing". I'm sticking with my prediction: unless they change the rules to massively expand the number of teams that qualify, or unless we amalgamate the leagues and the national teams to compete as Team GB (or UK), Scotland won't make it to either a World Cup or a European Championships this side of independence (and if we never become independent, that means never).

#45: "Pathfinder: The Lost Outpost", by Jim Groves

Friday, October 06, 2017

Experimental Cookery 2017: Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons

The first Experimental Cookery of the new house is another entry from the second Hairy Dieters book (the one with the yellow cover). As I've noted before, I'm inclined to think this is the best of their diet books, although in fairness I haven't tried their fifth one since the notion of going veggie doesn't really appeal.

The meal itself was quick and easy to prepare, though it does take a while to cook - basically, you gather the ingredients, add them to a pan in several stages, and then simmer for 45 minutes or so. It's not difficult, and you can go do something else during that simmer step, but it's a good idea to start long before you actually want to eat - as we found to our cost.

It's also very tasty, with the preserved lemons making a big difference to the whole. LC also approved, though she doesn't like olives (which is an issue, since I suspect they're actually pretty integral to this meal - I don't think it would work without). I expect we'll have this again.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Khaaaaaan!

A decade ago, I had a bit of an issue with Scottish Gas, who messed up my gas bill and gave me a massive runaround trying to get it sorted. I was not best pleased and promptly decided never to give them my custom again. And so, when I bought the flat, it was with no small pleasure that I contacted one of their rivals to set up my account.

But a decade has passed since then, and in particular it was a decade where I had had occasion to make use of some of Scottish Gas' other services, notably their one-off boiler repair. And, having been pleased with that service, I removed them from my "never deal with these people" list.

Guess where this is going!

After signing up to receive gas and electricity from Scottish Gas, I was encouraged to sign up to have a Smart Meter installed. Which was a nice reminder and generally a good thing. And so I promptly did exactly that. That appointment was booked for today.

Being at work, I arranged for my father to house-sit today. Which isn't ideal, of course, since it's a big hassle for him, but it's a necessary consequence of having to work full-time. And so I came to work and waited for some indication that they were on their way...

After lunch, I decided to check the status of the appointment online, only to be met with a note that our boiler isn't suitable for a Smart Meter - they'd be in touch. Uh-oh...

So, I spent several minutes hunting down a way to actually contact them (which wasn't easy), and made the call.

And it turned out that their automated system can't accept bookings to install a Smart Meter within a month of a change of supplier. So it automatically cancelled the appointment and didn't deign to inform me.

I find myself at something of a loss as to how exactly to categorise this new level of incompetence. Is it where the system encourages you to book an appointment before they're able to accept the appointment? Is it that the system cancels the appointment without telling you? Or perhaps it lies in hiding the customer support numbers that you need in order to get any actual, usable information about this?

Incidentally, the automated switchboard informed me that Scottish Gas might call me back to get feedback on my experience today. If that does indeed happen, it will make for a very interesting conversation...

(It's worth noting, of course, that I'm not at all convinced the competition are any better. As far as I can tell, they're all pretty much equivalently shit. Something to do with them all providing the same gas/electricity via the same pipes/wires, and so meaningful competition being essentially impossible.)

#44: "Anne of Green Gables", by L. M. Montgomery (a book from The List)

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Impossible Dream

This morning, for a brief and shining moment, I thought I had achieved the impossible - that I had managed to completely use up a bar of soap!

But, alas, my triumph was punctured almost immediately, when I discovered that I had in fact just dropped the final tiny square. The bar had therefore defeated my efforts to use it up entirely.

Hopefully, that won't prove to be a metaphor for the rest of my day.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Labour: What the Hell?

A year ago, Jeremy Corbyn was widely hated by the powers-that-be in the Labour party. This year, at conference, those same powers-that-be have been lauding him as the second coming, with their chants of "Oh Jeremy Corbyn", the bearing of the portrait of the sainted one, and other such nonsense. It's turned into a really bizarre cult of personality.

And let's not kid ourselves: this isn't due to some mass conversion to Corbyn's policies. Rather, it's due to one thing only: Labour's election success.

Except...

Labour lost the election. Worse than that, Labour ran the most energised and successful campaign of the last 20 years, were up against the most pathetic Tory campaign for a similar length of time (though, in fairness, it's a toss-up whether Major in '97 or Hague in '01 was worse), and still couldn't win.

Sure, it's a kind of success, but only relative to the utter pounding that they (and I) thought they were going to get. It wasn't an actual success, as indicated by the current inhabitant of No. 10.

So all this business of being on the "threshold of power" is a nonsense. Firstly because there is unlikely to be another election for four years, and it's damn-near certain the Tories won't make the same mistakes again (which isn't to say that they won't make all-new mistakes, of course). Frankly, though, all of this triumphalism feels awfully like the exact same mistake the Tories made earlier this year - that of taking the voters for granted.

So, really, I'm wondering what the Labour party are currently thinking? Is it just sheer relief that they're still in jobs? Or is it perhaps that the country is so screwed that they figure they might as well party before the apocalypse comes?

(And, also, I'm wondering just how to deal with all of this. Within the UK, the only choices are a Tory-led government or a Labour-led one. The thought that this represents our only hope is pretty galling.)

#41: "Pathfinder: Vault of the Onyx Citadel", by Larry Wilhelm
#42: "Go Set a Watchman", by Harper Lee
#43: "Surface Detail", by Iain M. Banks