Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Getting the trick of it

There was a brief spell when I busied myself with Sudoku puzzles. However, I very quickly found that solving the puzzles required a very small set of mental tools, followed by a whole lot of tedious elimination, getting rid of dead possibilities until only the correct solution was left. My interest in doing them waned at that point, since I have no interest in the work part of the exercise - I was interested in the mental exercise.

I briefly moved on to the so-called Killer Sudoku puzzles, which use a rather different set of mental tools. These vexed me for slightly longer, being a bit more difficult. Sadly, though, once you master the mental tools that are required, it again becomes an exercise in elimination, and not necessarily the great mental exercise it once was. So, again, my interest wanes.

Now, it is fair to say that I don't solve these puzzles in the time guides they give for the task. But I will solve them all, and will do so accurately (unless I make a silly error). I could get my time down to the suggested values, but doing so would require practice, and I have no great interest in putting in the effort. Becoming good at Sudoku variants is not a priority.

By contrast, I am conscious that I should be putting in a lot more effort practicing my piping. More to the point, I should be putting in a lot more effort in practicing the very basic techniques that are used when playing, the very same areas which Ian has identified as a weakness. It is this practice, and practice in depth, that will lead to real improvement, not merely learning X number of new tunes in Y weeks. (Although, I do have to learn five or six new tunes in the next four weeks, for my trip to Italy.)

In my defence, I haven't spend an evening in the apartment in the last two weeks. I've been quite busy.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Is it just me, or has this January being dragging on forever? Honestly, the sooner we get to the end of this nightmare month, the better.

Of course, February is the shortest of the months, so pretty soon we'll be in March, and I'll be lamenting where the first sixth of 2006 has gone. But still...

(No, I don't really have much to say today. Why do you ask?)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cut off...

My broadband internet connection has been down since Sunday.

This really sucks, since I've since been feeling extremely agitated, disconnected, and generally morose about the situation since then. See, typically, I get home from work, get changed, surf for a while (there is a set of sites I visit every day), and then gradually start work on dinner. Not having the internet disrupts my ordered day.

In addition, MSN Messenger has become my main method of keeping in touch with people (well, that and email), and I can't check my email, and I no longer have easy access to endless news feeds, and...

Now, it is true to say that I'm not completely lost. I do have the option of using a dial-up connection for the time being. But it's not the same. Instead of instant response, I have to wait 5 minutes for a site to load. Plus, it costs money (yes, that's the Moore blood talking!).

Alternatively, I can do some surfing from work, outside of work hours. However, I don't have my bookmarks file at work, and anyway, I don't really want to spend a lot of extra time there - work is for working, not for internet access.

It's also worth noting that dial-up does give me access to my email (thank goodness), but only in receive-only mode. I can't access Hotmail from work (it's blocked, and rightly so), and it just will not load on dial-up. Which is a nuisance, since it's via Hotmail that my ISP are meant to be keeping me up to date on when the connection is coming back, and what I'll need to do to reactivate it.

(Which is an important aside - if you're developing a web-based email site, don't fill it with lots of unnecessary graphics and adverts. I want to use your site because I need some specific information. Don't screw that up for me.)

However, the absolute worst part of all of this is that no-one understands quite the impact it has had. I've had suggestions that I should do something else, questions about whether it's a big deal, and even gentle chiding that perhaps I'm too reliant on the internet. All of which really misses the point - I don't spend all of my time online under normal circumstances, but I really don't like the disruption to my normal routines of life. And I really don't want to have to face one more small annoyance in my life at this time - I just want to get on with things.

(For the record, my ISP are e7even.com, about whom I have had nothing but praise, until now. This is the first significant problem they've faced me with, and how they resolve it will go a long way towards cementing my opinion of them in future. To their credit, they have offered any customer who wishes to walk away the option of ending their contract and receiving a full refund.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Yeah, that paradigm needs shifted

I have found it very difficult to find things to watch on TV of late. Despite having Sky, with both the Films and Sports channels, there never seems to be anything on.

However, the problem is not that there aren't any good shows out there. Rather, the problem is finding the ones I want to watch, when I want to watch them, and making the commitment necessary to actually sit down and watch them.

Most dramas these days feature long-running arcs. This is something that I finrst really noticed with Babylon 5 (although Star Trek flirted with some light arcs before then, and X-Files looked like it had an arc, although it really didn't - which was why I lost interest after that became so painfully apparent). The idea of an arc is that you can't really watch the episodes in isolation. Events carry on from one episode to the next (like a soap), with various clues being shown, character development occurring, and so forth.

These are all good things, but it means that you can't easily jump into a show beyond the first few episodes. Moreover, you have to be able to make a commitment to a show, generally for the 22 weeks of the typical season (24 has 24 episodes per season, of course, and Enterprise had 26, but 22 is most common in US dramas. I don't know why).

The problem is that I can't easily make that commitment. The new series of Battlestar Galactica started the week before last, and despite the episodes being on on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Monday, I failed to actually watch that first episode. Since I can't record my digital programming (probably due to a faulty SCART socket on my VCR, but I don't know for sure), I missed that first episode. And, consequently, the second episode just seemed wierd.

Will I be able to watch all the rest of the episodes in that series? Doubtful. And, if I miss more than a couple of the upcoming episodes, I'm just going to give up.

Frankly, I'm considering abandonning the show entirely, and instead waiting for the DVDs. That way, I can't miss episodes, I can watch them at my leisure, and things seem generally better. Also, no adverts, and no need to wait for a week between episodes. That's just better.

I'm gradually working towards a point here, and it's this: the traditional medium of broadcast TV seems to have broken down for me. I want to watch particular shows, and might well try others, but they have to be available when I want them. Otherwise, I see little reason not to abandon TV, and switch to pure DVD watching - for the price of my Sky subscription, I could buy a season of a TV show per month, and I don't watch them that fast any more.

There is, actually, a better answer, and it's one that they've talked about for quite some time: TV-on-demand. The idea is that instead of providing a set number of channels, the providers offer a number of shows. New episodes would become available for viewing at some appropriate interval - perhaps simply one new episode per week. However, instead of giving fixed start times, they instead allow the user to choose what to watch, and when to watch it. The user then downloads the show to his TV, and watches at his leisure.

It's worth noting that this mechanism already almost exists. It is possible, through a variety of download sites, to get episodes of just about any show at any time, downloaded straight to your PC. There are two reasons why I don't consider this a very good solution: 1) It's illegal. 2) It would mean viewing the show on my PC, rather than my TV, which is a vastly inferior medium.

More on Space: Above and Beyond

Turns out that the series ends a whole lot better than it starts. About halfway through, it all comes together. The actors seem to finally become comfortable with their characters, the story really heats up, and the CGI improves hugely.

Based on the start of the series, I'm not surprised that the show was cancelled. Based on the end of the series, I'm sorry it was.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Manly Handshakes

One of many silly disucssions held at the weekend involved the setting of an appropriate protocol for parting in an environment where different circles of family are gathered. Obviously, some of the persons there, it is appropriate to bid farewell with a brotherly embrace, while others might be better suited with a simple "Bye!". However, it is also important to not cause offense, by embracing some and not others. Hence, the protocol that was generated was to bid everyone farewell with a "manly handshake". This shows respect and affection, without being over-familiar, and without offending any. (Except Leigh, who was just being awkward. She received two such handshakes, on the ground that I didn't bid her farewell at Christmas.)

The weekend was interesting. This was the second of two family gatherings to celebrate my grandparents' 80th birthdays, and their 60th wedding anniversary. The first was in August, just before my move to Yeovil, and was attended by the entire family, with one exception.

I had assumed that having two gatherings would lead to smaller turnouts, and that one event would actually be poorly attended. Given the near-perfect attendance in August, therefore, coupled by the fact that this was a weekend rather than just a day, I felt sure this event would not have many people present.

I was wrong, of course. In the event, the entire family was gathered. Of course, silliness ensued!

The thing is, my grandparents have four children. Each of these four is somewhat alike in manner and temperament. Many of the same quirks are present in all four cases, and in each case, the child has found a partner who can, at least, understand and manage those quirks. Naturally, when the second generation themselves had children, many of those same quirks were passed on. Therefore, despite the fact that I have seen her about four times in the last decade, I have a great deal in common with my cousin Rebecca (to choose a random example).

Amongst the traits that have been passed on is a somewhat zany sense of humour. The third generation are intelligent children of intelligent children, who themselves were around for Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and many of the other offbeat comedies the first time around. We're all rather crazy. And we play off against each other, so when there's a gathering like this, one person will generate a silly notion, another will run with it, and the whole will loop back on itself. Given that we each have similar comic timing, and the ability to refer to things that happened an hour ago, and be understood (or even to refer to things from the last major gathering in '95), it all gets really crazy. Frankly, I dread to think what the staff of Guy's Thatched Hamlet (where we were staying) thought.

There's one more wrinkle to the silliness. In addition to the core family (if you will - I mean the blood relations), this gathering was marked by the presence of a significant number of partners for the third generation. Claire's husband and Amy's husband were both present, of course, as was Richard's fiancee, Andrew's girlfriend, Rob's girlfriend, Rebecca's boyfriend and Peter's girlfriend. This was something of a departure - Mark was at the '95 gathering briefly, but none of the others had really been at anything like this before.

It's interesting to see the different approaches. Leigh, Lauren and Paul seemed definately bemused by all the silliness. By contrast, Mark and Chris were definately key players in the madness. (I didn't quite get a reading on Aileen and Anna. I think they leaned more towards bemusement, but both displayed hints of a capacity for great silliness, so I'm not too sure.) It appears that, for the members of the clan, there are two valid approaches to finding a partner: find someone who will tolerate the silliness, or find someone who will enhance the silliness. I must confess, I find the latter approach more appealing, although both are valid.

Anyway, it was a good weekend, and a gathering that largely lacked some of the spite and recriminations that had appeared at past gatherings.

Friday, January 13, 2006


As a public service announcement, allow me to advise you never to get a combined Washer-Drier. They're really crap.

To be fair, it washes my clothes quite well. However, the drier requires to be run twice on the 'ultra powerful dry mode' before the clothes actually come out dry. But that would be acceptable, if not for one other really nasty side effect.

All my trousers and shirts invariably come out of the drier really badly creased. So badly creased, in fact, that even after I iron them, they're still really badly creased. (Yes, I iron my shirts. I do try to make some sort of an effort, and there's no-one else who's going to do it for me.)

Of course, when I bought it, I knew that the combined device would probably suck. Sadly, there was room in my kitchen for one appliance, and not for two, or I would have made a point of getting the two. Oh, well.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Space, Above and Beyond

It's funny how memory can play tricks on you.

I got the DVDs of this show for Christmas, and have been watching them on and off since I got back. I have vague memories of it being rather entertaining, sort of a worthy precursor to the new Battlestar Galactica.

But I guess I was wrong. The CGI is sub-Babylon 5 (which was in its 3rd series when this was made), and shockingly bad at times. The plots are okay, if rather simple. The acting is often laughable, with two exceptions, neither belonging to the main cast. All in all, it's just a poor show.

Still better than Voyager, though!

Way to ruin my entire evening, morons!

One night, about a week before Christmas, I actually had a really good day at work (shock!). The drive home from work was also surprisingly pleasant (gasp!). I arrived home in a good mood, only to have that mood stolen from me by a letter that was waiting for me.

The TV Licensing agency had written to me. My address was, according to their records, unlicensed, despite two previous reminders (which I never received), and their inspectors were coming around to assess me a £1,000 fine.

Naturally, I was horrified. The very first day I arrived, I made sure I purchased a TV license. I did this before I plugged the TV in, despite the lack of anything to do in the apartment in the meantime. Hell, I did it before my brother headed home on that first day, which should give some indication of just how high a priority I made it (more on this later).

Anyway, I phoned the number given on the letter, which alleged to give details of how to get a license. I spoke to a surprisingly helpful assistant, and found that there were two licenses assigned to "Flat A", but none for the "Ground Floor Flat". Never mind that the "Ground Floor Flat" is "Flat A". Anyway, I had them transfer my license over, threw away the reminder letter, and tried to get on with my evening.

Sadly, my entire evening was ruined by this experience. See, the tone of the letter I received was not "we've noticed a problem, let's work to resolve it". Instead it was "YOU'RE A FILTHY CRIMINAL, AND WE'RE GOING TO GET YOU!" The fact that I knew that this wasn't true didn't really help - my mood was soured by the whole experience.

The thing is, I actually agree with the TV license on principle. I like having an independent BBC, and am willing to pay for the priviledge. (Although, it's somewhat galling to think that the only thing I'm likely to actually watch on the BBC this year is the new series of Dr Who, and possibly some of Wimbledon. But that's another rant.)

Anyway, if the story ended there, I wouldn't be posting this now. But, no.

Yesterday, I actually had a really good day at work (not that big of a shock any more), and I had a good drive home (also not a shock, since I worked later than usual). Upon arriving home, I received another letter from the TV Licensing agency. Apparently, my address is unlicensed, and their inspectors are going to be on my street in the near future. If caught, I will face a £1,000 fine.


I threw this letter away without further action. If they call in, I will wave my license at them. If they don't, and send me the fine, I'll phone them and try to persuade them it's not my fault they can't keep their records up to date. If they persist, I'll meet them in court. I rather suspect, cynical as I am, that if I show up in court with a valid license in my hand, they might not have a strong case.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Dreaming of a Place Called Home

In "Hero With a Thousand Faces", Joseph Campbell explains that in the last stage of the Hero's Journey, the hero returns home bearing boons for the people he has left behind. Changed by his experiences, he returns wiser, stronger, and generally better than before. However, the hero also finds that he can never return to the way things before his Journey. He is forever changed by his experiences, and can't pick up the threads of his life as though nothing had happened.

Which pretty much sums up my experience returning to the parental home over Christmas.

During the month of December, the main thing I was looking forward to was going home. Work was an ordeal, for reasons I can't really go into, and my personal life was (and is) a mess. However, in X days, I could go home, and get some rest.

The drive back to Scotland was really good. The traffic was surprisingly light, and I made really good time. When the sign declaring the border rolled past, I let out a huge cry of "Freedom!", as would any true Scot in exile. And just under two hours later, I was "home".

But it wasn't quite home any more. Once the initial flurry of greetings was done, and once I'd answered the questions about how life in Yeovil is for the hundredth time, I found myself adrift. I no longer had the personal space I enjoyed in my past life, and felt somewhat cramped. I was bereft of the comforts that I am afforded by having my own PC and my own TV within easy reach. And I didn't really have anything obvious to do. That was probably the hardest thing of all to bear - there was no work, the people I had to talk to all had their own busy lives to lead, and so I very often found myself sitting, trying to read a book, often in a room with others talking or watching a TV that was on far too loud. Not really what I was looking forward to upon my return "home".

Another problem was that it was really hard to express that malaise to anyone there. They tended to hear comments of that sort as being statements that I wasn't enjoying myself, at which they tended to become hurt or offended. Neither of which was my intention. I was truly glad to be there, to get some rest, and to see people again. However, nothing felt quite right, or normal.

There's a flip side to all of this. The drive back to Yeovil was miserable. The traffic was heavy, the weather not good, and every mile took me closer to work. (In the event, the return to work has been really good, but I didn't know that at the time.)

I arrived back in the appartment in a wierd funk. Christmas hadn't been what I'd expected. The parental home is no longer quite "home", but Yeovil isn't yet, either. It's hard to express what's really missing, but something's not quite comfortable as yet. In the meantime, though, this means I don't really have any place to truly call home.

Pain and Improvement

It has been years since anyone really criticised my ability to play the bagpipes. I mean that in a constructive sense, of course, but there hasn't been anyone in a position to really point out my flaws since Mrs Currie died. In most cases, I've been at least as good a player as those around me, and in the remaining cases I wouldn't have taken criticism from those people, for reasons of personality.

In the band I've joined since moving down here, that has changed. One of the top pipers in the band has taken a very keen interest in pointing out the flaws in my mad skilz. I'm not sure whether this is because he's just pedantic, whether he really doesn't like me, or whether he's just genuinely interested in improving my technique (and, as a consequence, the band).

It doesn't really matter: he's annoyingly right in the things he points out, and as a consequence my technique is gradually improving.

This gradual improvement is not coming easily. I'm having to really practice techniques I've known for twenty years, and I'm having to unlearn some bad habits I've had just as long. Furthermore, it's a major blow to my pride to have these things picked apart - I thought I was quite good at playing. In all, it's a painful process, and a slow one.

Not that I would necessarily expect any different. The blunt fact is that it's relatively easy to become passably good at something (whatever that is). To become really good, though, takes discipline, effort, and a lot of pain. And that's true almost regardless of what the challenge is.


I've just discovered I can post here from work. Meaning I'll be able to post updates in the 15 minutes or so of "dead time" I have each day at lunch!

Or, more likely, I'll post a few times, and then lose interest.