Saturday, December 29, 2007

Yeah, I should have seen that one coming

The ringtone on the mobile I brought home from work is "Flight of the Bumblebee".

Last night, I finally got to bed around 2, having had to wait until the virus scan on my PC finished (must remember to reschedule that). I woke up at half seven, not feeling terribly good about things. My own fault, really.

Anyway, after getting a long drink of very cold water, I went back to bed, fully intent on not getting up, ever.

At 2 minutes past 9, I made the startling discovery about the phone's ringtone. Apparently, there's been a problem.

This is, of course, absolutely typical. The one and only night of the year (or even millennium) that I have too much to drink, on a Friday just after Christmas no less, I get called early in the morning and required to think.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Oh my....

I appear to be drunk!

Perhaps I shouldn't have consumed quite so much whiskey...

Friday, December 21, 2007

No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die!

So, I have finished work for the year. This is quite exciting, except that yesterday we had the long-expected conversation about providing support to the customer over the Christmas break. The upshot of this is that I an on-call. Which sounds horrible, but it's not so bad. Basically, I'm getting paid extra for carrying a mobile phone for the next couple of weeks, and paid more if it should actually ring.

I have, however, brought a complete set of kit home with me over the holiday, just in case. Which has led to certain upheavals...

Since I like to pretend that I work mostly on spy stuff, I have consequently had to set up an underwater lair. Of course, since the stuff I work isn't exactly Top Secret spy stuff, this has consisted of hanging a bucket of water from the ceiling.

It's all very exciting. I look forward to explaining my fiendish master plan to any super-spies who happen to drop in over the break...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I thought I had to know. I was wrong.

On Sunday, I recorded "Are you smarter than a ten-year-old". I was intensely curious about whether they had managed to find really dumb people to ask the questions, whether they had found the five smartest ten-year-olds in the country, or whether they were just asking really specialised questions.

Well, it turned out it wasn't that interesting. A fairly standard quiz show, in the conversational mold of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", with questions that were mostly pretty simple. (I must confess that the spelling question where the word was 'supersede' gave me pause, mostly out of doubt about whether the spelling is different in American English than in the Queen's English. Also, I didn't know how many of Henry VIII's wives were beheaded, so that's a fair cop.)

Of slightly more concern, though, was this question:

What is: 5 + 3 x 0 ?

For some bizarre reason, the contestant decided the answer was 15. But that's not what bothered me. What bothered me is that the answer given was 0. Apparently, the quiz-masters of the show aren't quite as smart as might be hoped.

(In case you don't see it: precedence rules state that the first thing that you do is the multiplication, so it becomes "What is 5 + 0 ?", which is 5.)

Dear me. I didn't expect the feel dumber after watching it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Oh no!

This is my 301st post on this blog. The 100th and 200th were about the antics of some celebrity or other, and my intention had been for that to become a tradition. I guess not.

As far as celebrity news is concerned, though, all such things have been rendered utterly unimportant today, with the news that Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. To say this sucks would be a major understatement. I just hope he doesn't go downhill too badly or too quickly - the more 'good' years he has, the better.

Debate topic...

Is it better to set modest goals and consistently achieve them, or to reach for the stars and consistently fall just short of greatness?


You know how I just posted about internal politics, and how they made an absolute mess of the latest committee meeting?

Well, tonight at band there was a big argument. It remains to be seen how the various pieces will lie. Personally, I expect to see a number of people leaving... and the band ending up stronger for it.

We'll see.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Get all your atrocities in at the outset

At the AGM, the Chairman of the band elected to step down, feeling he was getting too old, and that he didn't want the hassle any more. He nominated his successor, and then accepted a nomination to serve as Vice-chairman. Naturally, my immediate reaction to this was, "Uh oh." It's never easy taking over when you have your predecessor looking over your shoulder.

Still, things seemed to be going okay (mostly) until the committee meeting yesterday. At which the new chairman presented us with a document entitled "Chairman's Vision", and provoked a big argument. Our Vice-chairman took this as a personal insult, suggesting that the band hadn't been doing the right things thus far and, more importantly, that the new Chairman should have waited a few meetings before issuing such a document.

I'm somewhat torn about this. On the one hand, I can't agree with our Vice-chairman. As Machiavelli rightly points out in "The Prince", when a new ruler comes to the fore, if he must make difficult changes then they should all be made as early as possible, and all together. This does what needs to be done, and allows wounds to heal once the dust settles. (The alternative is to roll out the changes over a period of time. At each step, someone is sure to be offended, and things will never settle down.) This approach was also famously adopted by Orson Welles, who would hire an actor for the specific task of being loudly fired by Welles, thus establishing his authority on the set.

On the other hand, the changes that our new Chairman is seeking to make are utterly wrong in almost every particular. This makes supporting them rather difficult, despite my support for the principle that changes should be made, and should be made now. He also put things rather tactlessly in his document, but the worst offense of all was his use of appostrophe's to denote plural's in the Chairmans Vision, and not to denote possessives. I cannot support the misuse of such things under any circumstances whatsoever, even where it would be considered amusing.

Still, never mind. Internal politics are part and parcel of being part of a pipe band, and have destroyed more bands than any other cause. The key is for those of us who are apolitical to engage in a quiet revolution and improve the band without anyone noticing. Which is basically what I've been doing.

That's not even a word!

According to this article, "w00t" has been named the word of the year. Which makes me unbelievably depressed.

However, there is some joy to be had from the article, in the form of this quote, "People look for self-evident numeral-letter substitutions: 0 for O; 3 for E; 7 for T; and 4 for A," he said. "This is simply a different and more efficient way of representing the alphabetical character."

"More efficient"? 'O' is one character. '0' is one character. So, that would be a total saving of, um, no characters. Do I suck at maths, or is the person in question a blathering idiot?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Quest to Recycle the Toaster (version 2, now with 100% more dragons)

On Friday, my toaster stopped working. This was a terrible disaster, of course, not least because I was hoping to have some toast at the time. Anyway, somehow I managed to survive the weekend, long enough to purchase a new toaster, whereupon I could again have toast. Thus far, my adventure of the weekend appeared not to be one of my greatest of all times. I mean, it was thrilling in its own way, to be sure, but it wasn't quite on a par with blowing up the Death Star, or taking the tourist route to Mount Doom, or whatever it is that the cool kids do these days.

However, all was not lost, for as I was checking the user manual for my new toaster (in case there was a secret ejector seat or other Bondian gadget), I found a note to the effect that, per European Directive X, household appliances should not be thrown out to landfill, but rather should be recycled. And so began The Quest to Recycle the Toaster.

Now, you'd think it was easy. There are recycling centres all over the place, right? So, I'll just hunt them down, and Robert becomes some sort of distant relation. But no! For the recycling centres have particular things that they'll take, such as CDs and textiles... but absolutely not home appliances. So, I started looking for the solution in a slightly wider context. Presumably, if these things have to be recycled, the ability to actually do this must exist, right? After all, I can't possibly be the only person in history to have a toaster that has stopped working.

Well, it turns out that the plans to actually enable people to recycle home appliances were put in place... and then delayed, and pushed back, and delayed some more. They're in that bureaucratic hell known as "coming soon".

I can only assume from this that there are a multitude of people out there, all with dead toasters, all waiting for the councils to sort out recycling facilities so that they can dispose of their toasters. And now I am one of them. Frankly, this gives me a sense of belonging such as I have never before known. Plus, I have toast.

So, it was quite a good weekend, really. Also, there was a dragon.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Quest to Recycle the Toaster

On Friday, my toaster stopped working. This was a terrible disaster, of course, not least because I was hoping to have some toast at the time. Anyway, somehow I managed to survive the weekend, long enough to purchase a new toaster, whereupon I could again have toast. Thus far, my adventure of the weekend appeared not to be one of my greatest of all times. I mean, it was thrilling in its own way, to be sure, but it wasn't quite on a par with blowing up the Death Star, or taking the tourist route to Mount Doom, or whatever it is that the cool kids do these days.

However, all was not lost, for as I was checking the user manual for my new toaster (in case there was a secret ejector seat or other Bondian gadget), I found a note to the effect that, per European Directive X, household appliances should not be thrown out to landfill, but rather should be recycled. And so began The Quest to Recycle the Toaster.

Now, you'd think it was easy. There are recycling centres all over the place, right? So, I'll just hunt them down, and Robert becomes some sort of distant relation. But no! For the recycling centres have particular things that they'll take, such as CDs and textiles... but absolutely not home appliances. So, I started looking for the solution in a slightly wider context. Presumably, if these things have to be recycled, the ability to actually do this must exist, right? After all, I can't possibly be the only person in history to have a toaster that has stopped working.

Well, it turns out that the plans to actually enable people to recycle home appliances were put in place... and then delayed, and pushed back, and delayed some more. They're in that bureaucratic hell known as "coming soon".

I can only assume from this that there are a multitude of people out there, all with dead toasters, all waiting for the councils to sort out recycling facilities so that they can dispose of their toasters. And now I am one of them. Frankly, this gives me a sense of belonging such as I have never before known. Plus, I have toast.

So, it was quite a good weekend, really.

Feeling Especially Festive

So, there are but three short weeks until the Christmas holidays begin.

I have decked the halls with... well, okay, I have put up my one and only decoration. It is a bit of tinsel. Green flavour. It sits on top of my TV.

I have now done all of my Christmas shopping. This truly was an epic tale of love and loss, the overcoming of great odds, and a battle to the death against forces of darkness. Alternatively, I made a list of the people I have to buy presents for, I put the identity of a present beside each, and then I ordered these presents from the Internet. All that remained was a quick trip to Toys'R'Us on Friday to select a present for my nephew (he's a boy, obviously, so it's quite easy - something bright and noisy, preferably with moving parts. Beyond that, it's just a question of scale). Done.

I have also adopted appropriately festive dress, for 'tis the season. Specifically, this means that I have donned my Christmassical Trevor t-shirt, and brought my special Christmas socks back into the rotation. Well, okay, I wear my Christmas socks all through the year - the machinations of the Sock Conspiracy largely make that an essential step for all men - but I generally feel some slight twinge of embarrasment about it. But not now, for I can wear my strangely spangly rudolph-singing musical socks with pride.

Okay, so I don't have any spangly socks, and I most certainly don't have any musical socks. But the image isn't quite as amusing if I say, "mostly black, with a tiny mince pie on one side".

And that's it. My Christmas preparations are done, and now I can sit back and watch the world grow ever more frantic as they days tick on, and the to-do list never seems to get any shorter.

Ho, ho, ho.

The day I called in sick

Tuesday was a fairly dire day, with me finally dragging myself to the end of it, and going home. On Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling exactly as I had on Tuesday morning, which left me with the dilemma: do I call in sick or not? The problem was, I knew full well that I was capable of getting through the day, based on having done just that the day before. But, on the other hand, I really didn't want to go through that again.

So, I called in sick, and spent the day collapsed on my almost indecently comfy couch, watching things on TV. Mostly Stargate, the third season of which I have borrowed from a friend (it's okay, but not great, and really suffers from watching more than a couple of episodes at a time). Also, the most recent episode of Prison Break (also no better than okay), an early episode of Bones (again, just okay), and the film "John Tucker Must Die" (which is truly woeful from start to finish).

By the end of that marathon, I was definately ready to go back to work.

In the evening, just as I was about to watch the Celtic match, there came a knock on the door! Truly, this was an event worthy of note, for no-one ever visits, except perhaps to sell me things. So, I pulled on some clothes, and made my way to the door, only to be offered the opportunity to take part in a survey on people's TV-viewing habits. Huzzah!

Anyway, the most astonishing thing about this survey was that it ended with the exciting opportunity to have a ratings box attached to my TV, and thus to become one of those five thousand people who determine what everyone in the country watches. Oh yes, my friends, it turns out that our TV ratings aren't just made up numbers - they actually do monitor homes, and derive the numbers from that. What's more, those lucky people who are chosen get paid some nominal sum to take part.

I declined. I decided I don't want the responsibility of deciding the TV schedules for the whole nation. I mean, they might end up doing away with reality TV altogether, and then where would we be? Gosh, people might have to start watching other things, or perhaps doing other things entirely, and we can't have that, now can we?

On Thursday I was feeling much better, and went back to work. It turns out that calling in sick was the right decision for all involved - the company gets more from me at 90% for two days than at 20% for three, as would have probably been the case.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Under the weather

Yesterday, I could feel a sore throat coming on all day, gradually getting worse and worse. I knew what was coming. Last night, I barely slept at all, then overslept until 8:20 (I didn't set my alarm clock, deliberately).

So, today I have the sore throat, headache, blocked nose, sore shoulder (not sure that that's related) and other assorted symptoms of being NOT WELL. Yet, somehow, I decided it would be a good idea to come to work. Where all the magnetic fields could have their usual exciting effect of making everything just that bit worse. Genius! (Plus, since I got to work late, I have to finish late to compensate. Yippee!)

I don't really have any point to make or anything. Just felt like having a bit of a moan.

Corruption and Incompetence in one convenient package

I'm angry.

Last week, the government managed to lose the details of every parent in the country, by putting them in the post. So monumental was the incompetence of this, that they were forced to engineer a humiliating defeat by Croatia at Wembley to divert everyone from the fiasco.

This week, it has emerged that the Labour Party have accepted donations without going through the proper vetting procedures. In effect, they took money illegally.

I feel sorry for Gordon Brown. Most of this mess is not his doing, and he genuinely does seem to be a good statesman, and a moral man. Unfortunately, his leadership has been shown to be almost completely ineffectual, such that promises to sort out these various messes won't be greeted with any confidence. Indeed, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him removed before the next General Election. This, of course, won't help at all. Not only is there no clear successor, but it will do nothing to combat the underlying problems.

The very worst aspect of this, though, is that while we need a change of government Right Now, there is no viable alternative out there. We can stick with the current shower, or replace them with David Cameron's Tories, which almost certainly means a rerun of the Blair years. The Liberal Democrats have gone back to being a nothing party, and there just isn't anyone else.

Independence for Scotland is looking like a really good option right about now.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Breaking a rule

I have a rule that I don't start my Christmas shopping before the start of December. However, it should be noted that it is not the strictest rule in the universe, and I have been known to bend it on occasion. However, this year I have decided not just to bend the rule, but rather cast it to the winds.

My motivation for this is largely that work remains utterly insane, and December looks to be another tough month. In addition, the way the weekends fall cut down on 'good' shopping time considerably, as the weekend directly before Christmas it too close to Christmas to be of any real use. Further, with days 1 and 2 of the month being a weekend, a determination to not start until December begins would simply mean that that weekend would be wasted.

And so, yesterday I began the first planning in earnest, followed by the purchase of the first few presents. This places me at 45% done.

Better still, I now have the presents for perhaps the three most difficult people to shop for. The big dilemma now is: do I dare to get exactly the same present for three people with very similar tastes?

So, all in all, Christmas is going quite well. Next, on Sunday I will put up the decoration (yes, I only have one), and that will be my Christmas preparations all done. Huzzah!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Resurgence of English Football

I watched the match last night. Dear, oh dear. (Oh, in case you're worried, the title of this post is not meant sarcastically.)

One good thing that comes from the game, though, is that it gives me an excuse to share my patented "5-point Universal Disaster Recovery Plan". This is the procedure that I advocate for the recovery from any disaster, big or small. As the name may suggest, there are five steps, which must be followed in order. Any attempt to skip a step, or to switch the order is doomed to failure, and will probably only make the problems worse.

So, here it is:

  1. Stop assigning blame. This is mostly an instruction for those on the inside. It would be very easy for the players to blame the manager, for the manager to blame the players, for everyone to blame the keeper, or the FA, or whoever. It never helps, and just creates bad feeling, bad feeling that can utterly destroy the team. Besides, it's generally pointless; there is almost always enough blame to go around. There certainly is in this case.
  2. Stop making excuses. Again, it would be very easy to comment on how bad the pitch was last night, or that Rooney was well outside the box when he gave away that penalty to Russia, or note that England were suffering from a huge injury load. There is certainly some truth in some or all of these. However, once again, this does nothing to help the situation. The blunt fact is that England have failed to qualify, that they failed to win the game last night, and they did not deserve to do either of these things. It's invariably better to accept this as it is, and move forward.
  3. Soberly, and without blamestorming, work out what went wrong. In the case of England, I'm going to come back to this one. But for Scotland, the thing that ultimately made the difference was that our players froze in Georgia and failed to win that match. What this says is that the team have to go out and play every match as though it is vital to be at your best... precisely because it is. I'm not sure exactly why they froze up, but it's something that we need to sort out for the World Cup campaign.
  4. Determine what steps you are going to take to prevent the problem from occurring again. Again, from England's point of view, I will come back to this. From Scotland's, I don't think there's actually too much to do - just make sure you go into the next campaign with the same mindset as we did this one, and make sure we get the wins at Hampden and against the supposedly 'minor' teams. Oh, and don't start thinking the job is done until it is done.
  5. Execute the plan developed in step 4.

And that's it - the 5-point Universal Disaster Recovery Plan. It doesn't have a clever acronym, but that's okay - 'Universal' is such a great word that you want to say it in full anyway.

Now, about England... (the next bit may well read like a bloody Scot slagging off the English. If you are feeling especially sensitive, you might want to stop reading.)

The problems with England start at the top. It was right that Sven left after the World Cup, as his team had barely stuttered through their group, and only started playing in the tournament after Rooney was sent off against Portugal. However, the appointment of Steve McClaren was a mistake. It had become apparent that he just wasn't the man to take England forward, and even had England won last night he should have been replaced. If there is one good thing to come out of last night's result, it is that England won't waste another year on a manager who just wasn't the right man for the job.

Next, we have the players. Too many of them are automatic selections, despite the fact that too many of them have failed to pull their weight. It must be a damning indictment of English football that the best play of the night last night came from a half-fit has-been and the third-choice striker. Don't get me wrong, Beckham's cross was absolutely glorious, but what the hell was wrong withthe other twelve men (starting eleven plus three subs) who played for England last night?

A special mention must be made of the goal-keeping situation. A rookie keeper was installed for the match, and made at least one basic error. However, his selection was probably not a mistake. The blunt fact is that England have not had a decent keeper since Ronaldinho's free kick destroyed Seaman.

Oh, and finally... although they have no role in events on the part, some measure of blame should be levelled at the English media. The constant hype-ing of the team whenever they go into a tournament, followed by the inevitable slating any time they dare to not win a game 5-0 with a stellar performance does absolutely nothing for the players' confidence. There will come a time when England are genuinely amongst the favourites for a major tournament (assuming they apply a proper recovery plan, rather than just assuming that all their problems are solved by sacking the manager), but that time is a long way off. The media need to recognise that, and calibrate their expectations accordingly, or England are doomed to a repeat of last night's farce.

You'll note that I haven't discussed the number of foreign players in the premiership. There is no point in discussing that as a problem, for two reasons. Firstly, European law means that there is nothing that the FA can actually do about it. Secondly, if the English players were good enough, they would be getting games with their teams. As businesses, the various teams want to win, and that means employing and playing the best players available anywhere. If those players aren't English then the answer is not to artificially remove foreign players from the domestic game... it is for the clubs to start producing better English players. (Yes, that's a very superficial treatment of this issue; this post is already too long, and I'm only halfway done, so I hope you'll forgive me.)

So, what is to be done?

Well, in short, the answer is revolution!

As I mentioned above, I felt that Steve McClaren had to be removed regardless of the result last night. He wasn't the man to take England forward. I also felt that the successor had to be English and had to represent "a safe pair of hands". Had things gone well yesterday, said person could have shepherded them through the tournament, and then built towards the World Cup. And, my initial pick would have been Terry Venables, him being the most successful England manager of recent years. Obviously, that is now no longer an option.

Looking at the various names in the frame, I see no credible English option. That being the case, and looking at the options, I'm going to recommend the man who was my preferred option to succeed Sven - Martin O'Neill. I don't think England could land either Mourinho or Scolari (and I'm not sure either is really the best choice anyway), which puts the Irishman head and shoulders above the remaining choices.

Once a new manager is in place, he absolutely must be given time to work. In fact, I'm going to argue that England should write off the World Cup of 2010, and instead build towards Euro 2012, with a view to being serious contenders to win that competition. (Qualification for the World Cup should be considered a minimal requirement, but I think that even being eliminated at the group stage could be considered acceptable. The long game is, at this stage, more likely to produce results than any short-term strategy.)

Next up, what to do with the team? Well, the first thing to do is to look to youth. Too many of the players currently in place are not pulling their weight, and a lot of that is because they are automatic picks for the side. By bringing forward credible young players, and being ruthless about dropping underperforming established names, the manager should be able to light a fire under his stars.

As for the specifics of the game... I'm not an expert. However, it was very obvious yesterday that England played best when they were in a 4-4-2 formation, so I would go with that in all but extreme cases. There is a reason it's a classic, after all.

Up front, they need a bit more strength in depth. Owen and Rooney both seem to be unfortunately injury-prone, so the team should be built under the assumption that one or both will be permanently unavailable. So, more good players are needed. (Actually, I would also be tempted to promote Crouch to first-choice striker, since he seems to have been the most effective for England for some time.)

In midfield, England have the opposite problem, which is a surfeit of decent players. The only problem here is that Lampard and Gerrard just don't seem to be able to co-exist. So, you have to drop one of them and build the team around the other. Simply saying, "as professionals they should be able to play together" doesn't help; they each obviously under-perform while the other is playing. Gerrard was the better during the World Cup, so I would give him the nod, although neither played well yesterday.

Again, in defense England need more decent players, and they have to come through youth development. None of the players who were on the pitch last night are good enough, and although England were missing several key figures, your second eleven really need to be good enough to step in as required.

Finally, England must find a decent (no, scratch that, a superb) keeper from somewhere. Until they do, they can forget about being seen as a major force. However, looking around I don't see any candidates.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Absolutely Devastated

Well, the dream is over. Scotland have failed to qualify from the Group of Death, and won't be going to Euro 2008.

The thing is, though, it isn't failing to qualify that really hurts. It isn't even losing the match. But the manner of the loss...

The thing is, the group we were in contained Italy, France and Ukraine. The best two teams go through*, so it was always a long-shot. To have done as well as we have is simply remarkable, and we can be nothing but proud of all those involved.

And, if looked at objectively, we should probably have lost the match 2-0. The Italians had a goal disallowed for an offside that wasn't, while Scotland's goal was probably offside. And although we were actually the better team for much of the game, that only counts if you convert it into goals. So, we can't complain too much on that front.

But, lucky decisions or not, the score-line was sitting at 1-1 with 89 minutes on the clock. The Italians had spent the last ten minutes timewasting to run down the clock. A draw didn't really suit us, but it left us in with at least a chance on Wednesday...

and then the linesman gave what was clearly the wrong decision, the Italians got a free kick in an almost impossible position, and scored. And then the referee blew for full time early. Game over, thanks for playing.


Meanwhile, over in Isreal, England were getting the luckiest of lucky breaks. Suddenly, their destiny is back in their own hands. Now, officially, I don't care. Unofficially, it is somewhat galling to put the two side by side.

(On the other hand, it is worth noting that Euro 2008 will be considerably more interesting if England do qualify. So, perhaps I would prefer that outcome. Of course, the same is also true of Italy and France. I don't claim not to hold to double standards.)

* Another thing: Euro 2008 is hosted jointly by Austria and Switzerland, which means they both qualify automatically. If it was hosted by a single country, there would probably be a qualification spot for "the best third-placed team". Guess who that would be?

(Edit: well, possibly. I've just noticed that the champions from 2004, Greece, are having to go through qualification. It seems likely that instead of a "best third-placed team" spot, they would have given them automatic qualification.)

Oh well. Roll on the World Cup!

Friday, November 09, 2007

An Update

So, remember that adventure that I painstakingly wrote for Worldwide D&D Gameday? Well, it turns out that not a single person actually used it. Which is nice, obviously.

Meanwhile, things at the band continue to be incredibly tedious. It turns out that when the Pipe Major asked me to run the band on those occasions when he wasn't there, this was in preparation for a bout of absenteeism on his part. This is fine, except that the band aren't really learning any new tunes, aren't really preparing for anything, and are really really bored. So, we show up, we play, we go home. It's all very exciting.

However, we do have the Armistice Parade on Sunday, which is always an important event. It was a disaster last year, but it should be better this year. Or, I'll implement my 5-point Universal Disaster Recovery Plan. I have my poppy, although it's one of the completely useless plastic stemmed ones, so I'll have to look out my Emergency Poppy tonight.

And then it's onwards and upwards towards Christmas. Only six weeks more work to go. Yippee?

Itsy-bitsy Spider

Back in days of Yore, when I were but a lad (1988 to be precise), my extended family decided to have The Family Holiday, an event of such importance that it must forever be capitalised. So, that summer we all went to a camp site just outside of Morcambe, where we spent two weeks getting thoroughly soaked by the endless rain. At the end of the holiday we were all miserable, the children of my grandfather had all fallen out with one another, and we'd all had a Jolly Good Time. It would be seven years until many of us would see one another again, at the sequel.

We travelled home over the course of two days, stopping overnight in a little village called Lockerbie, that would very soon be known to everyone. The travel for the first day was largely uneventful.

However, an hour or so into the journey I started to feel a strange tickling sensation in my left foot. Of course, I paid it no mind, merely wiggling my toes to try to stop it. But stop it did not. Eventually, I had to take off said shoe, whereupon I found that the cause of the tickling was none other than a Giant Hideous Spider that had taken up residence in my shoe! Said Spider had spent the past hour sleeping, and when it awoke it had wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside my shoe.

Anyway, I looked around for a bird with which to catch the Spider, but none was to be found. (Besides, then I would have needed a cat, a dog, and so on through the sequence, until I got to a horse, and who has ever heard of horses in shoes?) So, instead I followed the alternative policy of waiting until the next stop, then banging said shoe against the ground until the Spider departed its new home, and continued on its malevolent way. In hindsight, it would have been more humane to seek a waterspout before evicting my arachnid squatter.

Unfortunately, ever since that day I find that, when wearing trainers in a car, I find that my feet spontaneously tickle. And there's always that doubt: has the Spider returned? Is it angry at being evicted, or was that event that finally caused it to shape up its life and make it make something of itself? Who can say?

A few weeks ago, there was a giant Spider in my appartment, at the top of the stairs. I, naturally, completely ignored it. I'm not actually scared of spiders, and it wasn't doing any harm, so I saw no reason not to leave it alone. Over the next couple of days, it made the adventurous trek down to the bottom of the stairs, where our hero keeps his trainers. At this point, I must confess to a little nervousness - no one likes to be ambushed by nursery rhyme characters while driving. Then, the Spider disappeared.

Now, if you've read this far, you may be expecting some sort of conclusion to the tale, or perhaps a moral, or something at least. Sorry, but life doesn't work like that. The Spider was not in my shoes, and I haven't seen it again. I think it might have died in the cold. As for morals, how about this: never blog while unutterably bored at work? (Honestly, if they ever revive He-Man, I must get the gig based on that one alone.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

That's it!

We need a ban on Christmas adverts before the first of December. It's not even November yet, and I'm sick of it already.

My hat of Word 2007 know no limit!

So, I finished off the adventure for Worldwide D&D Gameday last night, and there was much rejoicing. I therefore promptly uploaded it to the appropriate place, and forgot all about it.


The new version of Word defaults to saving things in its new .docx format. So, before I could upload the files, I had to convert these to .doc format. So far, so good. I checked that they still displayed properly, and they did.

Today, I tried them on an older version of Word and, lo and behold, they don't display properly. Something has gone wrong in the file conversion, causing all my text to appear as just that bit bigger than it should be... and coincidentally just that bit bigger than the text boxes will allow.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Bitten off more than I can chew

Saturday is "Worldwide D&D Gameday", which is an entirely made up holiday invented by Wizards of the Coast as a bid to introduce new gamers to the hobby. The idea being that stores would run events, usually in the form of a DM running a game for some players. It's all very exciting.

Anyway, last year, WotC managed to botch the running of the event rather spectacularly. The pre-generated adventure packs were sent out late, so that a lot of stores didn't get them in time. Worse, the pregenerated characters for the event were utterly useless (the trapfinder character's Search skill gave him a 0% chance of finding the one and only trap in the adventure!). It was just bad.

So, over on one of the D&D messageboards I frequent, a bunch of us thought, "We should do our own adventure and characters for next year!" Which seemed like a great idea. We batted around a few ideas, and some people, myself included, knocked out first drafts of adventures. So far, so good.

At that point, the project went on the back-burner. There were eleven and a half months to go, and all that needed done was a redraft, some maps, some characters, and some polish, which was a couple of days' work at best. So, I put it aside, fully intending to come back to it closer to the time.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

About two weeks ago, I did actually think, "Oh, must get that adventure finished off." It's not that I totally forgot about it, you see. There was plenty of time to do the required work in order to make the adventure available well in time for this weekend. Yep, plenty of time...

Then, suddenly, I was going to France, which knocked the plan sideways. Still, I had a whole weekend to go, which would be plenty. And, last Friday I finished off the design work, and just had to transfer everything to the PC, so people could actually use it. Provided there would be no distractions, that was plenty of time...

On Friday, Andrew phoned and asked if I could help him move house on Saturday. Ah.

Well, priorities being what they are, that removed most of Saturday from use. And that means that the job is now about 98% done. But that's all for nought if I can't complete those last 2% in the next day or two. Even so, that would be plenty of time, except for the pesky distration that is work, and then being at band tonight, and busy tomorrow night also.

I think perhaps I might not get it finished in time.

But the story gets even better than that: it seems someone at WotC actually paid attention to all of the feedback (complaints) from last year. This year, the adventure packs have gone out to most if not all of the participating stores. Also, the pregenerated characters are actually well-done, without a repeat of last year's fiasco. So, it would really appear this whole exercise is rather pointless.

Musing on recent events

I got my hair cut.
It seemed like the thing to do.
Now my ears are cold.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Much Ado About Nothing

So, JK has let the world know that the headmaster at Hogworts, one Albus Dumbledore, is gay. This announcement was then reported far and wide, as if it was actually news. In reality, of course, it is utterly irrelevant, not least because it isn't actually mentioned anywhere in the books, and most people wouldn't have had the slightest of inclings.

And yet, I'm posting about it. Why is this, you may ask? Well, I can't help but think of what might have been...

As we know, Dumbledore is quite a large man. Not as large as Hagrid, of course, but large nonetheless. We also know he is gay. Finally, his first name, Albus, could be shortened...

So, what would the Harry Potter books have been like had he truly been Big Gay Al?

Ah, politics!

How to spot a screw-job:

1) Some people will esconse themselves in a meeting. Although the topic of the meeting is one of interest to you, and although by right you should be there, you are pointedly not invited.

2) "I have asked {someone else} to {do what you were doing}"

3) This last will be paired with extravagant compliments, "because I need you to {do something else}"

The first time this happened, I was really angry about it for a long time. My opinion of those involved remains irrevocably lowered as a consequence. It would appear that I have since attained Enlightenment, since this time I'm not overly concerned.

If I were making this up, my lies would be more convincing

You'll recall that the last time I went to France, we got onto the plane on time, taxied to the runway, and then there was a "technical fault" that delayed us and set off a great odyssey, wherein I took 24 hours to get to Rennes. Well...

On Sunday, I awaoke at 20 minutes past nine, and began my day. It was a usual Sunday, with a trip to my parents for Sunday dinner interspersed with trips to Church. And not much in between. But things took an odd turn just before ten in the evening, for instead of preparing for the week ahead by making sandwiches, maybe watching a bit of TV, and gradually sliding towards bed, I instead put a DVD in the player, and settled down for a more eventful night.

See, my flight was due to take off at 6 in the morning. Being an international flight, they now specify a two-hour check-in. And, with the constant and imminent threat of terrorism (at least, that's what the government says), I'm disinclined not to follow that recommendation. But, an arrival at the airport at 4 means getting up at 2:30, by which point it just isn't worth going to bed at all.

So, I didn't. Instead, I put Hamlet on - the four hour Kenneth Brannagh version. And what a film it is! In addition to having the very best script, it was filmed on 70mm film, which means it looks simply glorious, far better than normal films. And the cast is simply astonishing. Good times.

And then, tired but ready for the day ahead, I started Monday with an early breakfast, a shower, a change of clothes, and then to the car. Driving to the airport at that time in the morning is fascinating. There isn't a soul about, and so it is almost as if the roads were made for you alone. Which is nice. (My favourite is the "Keep a Safe Distance" sign they were showing just for me.)

I got to the airport at four o'clock exactly... and found that check-in hadn't even opened! Rage! Still, no matter. I waiting, checked in, passed through security with absurd ease, and made my way to the departure lounge, where I passed the time reading some Poe. Then, to the plane!

We taxied to the runway on time, and things were looking good. The engines spun up, and we were about to launch ourselves into the darkened skies, and...

"I'm terribly sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but we've had a technical fault, and we're going to have to return to the terminal building to get it sorted out."

I suspect the gentleman sitting next to me might have been a bit unnerved by the sight of me battering my head against the wall at this point. He didn't say anything, though.

(Incidentally, this is how I know I'm not secretly trapped in a romantic comedy: in a RomCom, last time I was delayed, I would have struck up a conversation with a cute but distracted girl, with whom I would form an instant rapport, but be blocked from taking action by the fact of her boyfriend. Then, on the second instance, I would just happen to meet the same girl, now unfettered by aforesaid boyfriend. Instead, I was forced to establish an instant rapport with a packet of Cadbury Buttons. But, giant ones, so that's okay.)

But better was to come: when they got back to the terminal, they found the problem had sorted itself out, but they couldn't take off until the proper paperwork was filled out. So, I missed my connection because some guy had to have a form stamped. Huzzah!

Fortunately, my route on Monday took me via Paris Charles de Gaulle, so I knew I would get there that day, provided the French trains were running. And, in fact, when we did reach CdG, they simply booked me on the next flight to Rennes, and I arrived a mere four hours after the expected time.

Thus far, things were reasonably okay, but there was a further twist in the tale. See, my trip was set up at short ni=otice on Friday, with my boss booking the flights, his French counterpart arranging a hotel, and me quickly gathering laptop and assorted kit for the trip. So, I reached Rennes, laptop in hand... and found that the details of my hotel were conspicuously absent from my Inbox.

It turned out there was no hotel. Uh-oh. Fortunately, or so I was told, there is a bed tucked away in one corner of the office in Bruz. If all else failed, I could sleep there. Of course, breakfast would consist of a sugar cube and a cup of coffee. Oh, and the heating is switched off at night, so it might be a touch froid.

However, all was not lost. There remained time to resolve this small problem, and so a hotel was found. Our hero was saved!

I don't remember anything more from work that day. The emails I sent suggest we made some progress was made, but my mind is blank. In my defense, I had been up for thirty hours by that point, so it's no surprise that things were odd. At least I didn't start hallucinating.

You'd think that that was quite enough for any one trip to France. After all, what more could there be? How about this: I had carried plenty of spare clothes with me, in case of an extension to the trip being required. I had also carried four cans of Irn Bru with me, in case of a desire to feel a bit human during the trip. Unfortunately, my bag had obviously suffered a knock, and one of the cans had proven less than robust. There was Irn Bru all through my bag, Irn Bru all over one of the books I had brought, Irn Bru staining both of my white Magical Trevor t-shirts, Irn Bru everywhere. Suddenly, I had no spare clothes at all, except for two sets of socks and underwear that had miraculously survived the orange explosion.

It was an interesting trip. So, how has your week been?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Not the One

I've been dodging and weaving in a Keanu-esque manner for months, but my l33t skilz have finally let me down. I can't dodge the bullet any more.

Yes, I'm off to France again on Monday. Worse still, I have a 6 o'clock flight on Monday.

I wonder if I'll get there in less than 24 hours this time?

A stunning return to form

Perhaps surprisingly, I'm not referring to the Scottish team's being not only beaten, but thoroughly outplayed by a team of Geogian kids (we should have had a penalty... but still, the bottom line is that we weren't good enough to win that game). I'm not even referring to England's humilating collapse against Russia (and again, in fairness they should not have had that penalty awarded against them. Bluntly, though, they weren't good enough either).

Instead, I am referring to Avril Lavigne's latest effort, which I was unfortunate enough to see last night. It is awful.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How to: Teach the Bagpipes

There are two key pillars in my strategy for teaching children to play the bagpipes:

1) Be so incredibly awesome that they cannot fail to be inspired to learn.

2) Show them new things, and expect them to learn them, at a rate that is just within their ability to keep up.

It seems to work.

Last Thursday, I had a couple of my students complaining that I kept showing them new things and moving them onto new tunes before they had fully mastered the older material. (This is intentional - mastery of the old material comes with repeated practice, and I make sure to provide that, but also with the pressure of having to play with the band, or on parade, which is provided by other means.)

On Monday, I told my student that I wasn't going to show him any more tunes until after the Armistice Parade (Nov 11th), because I want him to focus on perfecting the ones he does know for said parade. Naturally, he complained at that.

It seems I can't win.

A busy bee

I have been absurdly busy lately.

At work, we've just finished off one major piece of work, and are now finally able to start work on the next bit. There are approximately ten weeks of work to do. It has to be done by the first of December. There might be a small problem there...

At band, things are proceeding apace. A week ago on Monday, the other instructor was back. This resulted in one of my students refusing to come through to be taught by him, and in fact collapsing in tears. Apparently, the last time these two met, there were some harsh words spoken, and now the boy is terrified. The upshot of this is that I am now personally taking charge of instructing this boy on a permanent basis.

I had planned to suggest, at the committee meeting last Tuesday, that perhaps I should likewise take over teaching the other two on a similarly permanent basis... but then the meeting was cancelled at 5 that evening. Which was a little annoying. No matter - it gave me a whole evening to myself.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how things work out over the next few weeks.

Unusually, I have also been busy on Wednesdays for the last few weeks. Two weeks ago, it was the band AGM, at which I was catapulted onto the committee. Last week saw me attending the retiral social for the church minister. And this week has the football, yet another nerve-shredding game in Scotland's bid to achieve the impossible and qualify for Euro 2008. Can it be done? Who knows.

The upshot of all of this is that I haven't had time to blog lately. And, it is likely that I'll be blogging in fits and starts for the next few months. You have been warned.

Bloody Stupid People

I really need to get a job at one of these 'think tanks' - the people paid to do pointless studies, and then comment on the results. Oh, and to make up the results if they don't match what they want them to say.

Today's example is this marvellous article on Yahoo, in which a group called Foresight have declared that obesity isn't just caused by people eating too much and not exercising enough, but instead should be blamed on features of modern life. Such as people having easy access to cheap food and labour saving devices, such that they eat too much and don't exercise enough.

So, instead of the obesity problem being caused by people eating too much and not exercising enough, it is caused by people eating too much and not exercising enough. Right. Glad that's cleared up then.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Silent Treatment

Based on the recent flurry of comments, I have detected that my female readership have clearly been offended by something, and are now giving me the silent treatment. As I don't know quite why this would be, there would obviously be no point in them telling me, and consequently there is no point in my asking.

Therefore, I am going to take this opportunity to talk about the football.

As we know, when Scotland were drawn against France and Italy for the Euro 2008 qualifiers, no-one gave us a chance, and quite rightly. This only became worse after the World Cup, when it became apparent that our group had both the finalists, and also the Ukraine, who made it to the last eight in the world.

Yet a few results on, a couple of truly glorious results, and... well, maybe. Despite beating France home and away, we still need seven points from our last three games to be sure, and those games include both Italy and the Ukraine (both at home, though).

Then, of course, there's Rangers, who got drawn with Barcelona, Lyon and Stuttgart. Again, not a group they would be favourites to progress from. And, although they won their first match, it was a home game. A match against the French champions was to follow, in Lyon, and as we know, Scottish teams never win in France...

Normality would surely be restored on Wednesday, though. Celtic had to take on AC Milan, the champions of Europe. Yes, the match was at Celtic Park, but still, that would suggest they might have a chance of snatching a draw.

Okay, at this point I must pause, and comment on the pitch invasion by one idiot fan. Regardless of the play-acting of the Milan keeper, the fact is that that so-called 'fan' shouldn't have been there, and may well have just cost his club the match (and, by extension, their chances of qualification). Good work, that man. Muppet.

Anyway, this is all obviously some sort of cruel ruse being propogated against Scots. In a couple of weeks, once the big jobs are done, we're obviously all going to collectively wake up, and find it was all a dream. Either that, or our various teams will somehow conspire to fail to qualify based on goal difference.

I got committed!

Yes, it's true, I'm now typing this from a padded cell.

Or, perhaps not.

Last night, my band had our AGM. As it all too often the case, it was an incredibly dull meeting, at which all the wonders of organisation by committee were displayed. I'm really not a fan of that structure, or democracy as a whole frankly, but some people seem to think it's a good idea.

Anyway, one of the features of the AGM was the election of a new committee, which generally involved the same people being appointed to the same posts without fuss (which is fair enough - the committee actually is doing a good job, part of the reason the meeting was so dull).

So, the 'big' positions filled up quickly: Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, Pipe Major, Lead Drummer...

but there's also a position on the committee for a "Piper's Representative", someone to speak for the little guy. And, when the selection came up, in an instant my name was put forward, seconded, and approved... all before I could say, "don't be foolish! You crazy people!"

So, now I'm a part of the system, working to oppress the common man by providing the illusion of representation. Or something.

On the other hand, this does represent an addition, if only a minor one, to my already PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS. So that's quite nice.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Oh that poor, stupid girl...

You know it comes to something when I'm expressing sympathy for Britney Spears. Undeniably, the most part of her troubles are her own damn fault. But it seems over the last little while that people have been queueing up to take their shots, it seems she may be being treated overly harshly by a judge with one eye on fame, and all the while, the tabloids gloat.

I've always kind of held the theory that Britney was so desperate for children that she persuaded herself that she was in love. Either that, or she knew fine well what she was doing, and did it anyway. Either way, to now lose her children, on top of everything else, seems extremely cruel. And, I'm not entirely sure the children can be said to be better off...

Oh well. It would be hypocritical of me to offer too much sympathy.

However, since everyone else seems keen to queue up to give Britney advice on how she should get it all back, here goes:


What Britney really needs to do, in my opinion, is simply turn her back on the entirety of her career, and her party-girl lifestyle, and her battle with the tabloids. She needs to stop thinking about a comeback, and instead check herself into a real rehab course, that she needs to treat with all seriousness, and needs to finish, no matter how much it hurts. She needs to stop drinking, and stop taking whatever drugs she is on. She needs to make peace with her mother, clean up her life, take stock... and then take back her children.

And only then, probably in no less than two years, can she consider trying to make a comeback.

Unfortunately, I fear this isn't how this is all going to play out. I hope she's not being left alone for any length of time...

Monday, October 01, 2007


I was going to blog about how it cost me £40 to fill my car with petrol yesterday (in fairness, the tank was completely empty), and about how incredibly unfair it is that the government have today imposed another 2 pence increase in fuel duty, with another rise due in April, and the third already in the works.

I was going to blog about how I have to buy petrol, because 90% of my driving is to and from work, and despite living right next to a railway station, and working right next to an airport (which should be a public transport hub) I still don't have a public transport option that doesn't take three times as long, cost twice as much, is horribly unreliable and deeply unpleasant.

I was going to blog about how great it is that this has been done to send the right signals about the government's commitments on climate change, since it's obviously not the government's place to actually do the right thing, but rather only to mess around at the edges so that it sounds like they're doing the right thing.

And I was going to blog about how I was actively considering voting Tory at the next election, just to get away from another stealth tax hike from this Labour government...

and then I remembered that the Tories are busy trying to outdo Labour in the "how environmental can we pretend to be?" game. So much for that plan.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Female Role Models

Apparently, Charlotte Church has had her baby. George Clooney has broken a rib in a motorcycle accident. And Clint Eastwood had a jam session with a legendary jazz musician, and has met with Neil Armstrong about a possible film about the first man to land on the moon.

In other celebrity news, the collapse of Britney Spears continues apace. She has now been charged with a hit-and-run, and faces the possibility of prison time.


At the outset, I should note that from the sound of things the incident in question, it would appear that actual jail time would be an extremely harsh punishment.

Still, this would make four: Lindsay Lohan faces jail time on drugs charges, Paris Hilton has done time, and Nicole Ritchie likewise. Furthermore, all four (and Charlotte) are noted for their 'wild child' party lifestyles, and assorted other scandal. It's really not a pretty picture.

And these are the role models for young girls.

Dear oh dear.

I mean, honestly, what the hell is going on? Do girls not see how poisonous these individuals are? Do their parents not?

Of course, these aren't the only role models for young girls. There's Jessica Simpson, who's notable for being less talented than Britney. There's Jordan. There's Jade, and Chantelle, neither of whom actually have anything to offer, but are famous for, um, something. There's the Spice Girls, and Girls Aloud.

Honestly, Avril, Christina Aguilera and Pink are looking really good about now.

Now, in the name of balance, I must state that a lot of male role models live the party lifestyle. And the entirety of the 'gangsta rap' and pro-wrestling fields are as dangerous as anything the 'fatal four' get up to.

But, also in the name of balance, you'll have to concede that in the fields of movie stars and sports stars, the males who get held up have talent far in excess of the controversy they generate. There are very few whose extra-curricular exploits have been nearly as scandalous as the lifestyles of Britney, Paris, Nicole and Lindsay. There are none who combine the same level of wildness with the sheer mediocrity evidenced by these four, and many of the others I cited above.

To a certain extent, that's an inherent unfairness in the system: women are judged on looks first and talent second; men on talent first and looks second.

But I'll submit that that has to change. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

Passing the Torch

This post is going to place together a whole load of events, people and things that have no business even being mentioned in the same breath. This is not me being disrespectful - I'm drawing a thematic link, rather than trying to suggest parity. Judge me kindly.

A few months ago, I posted about the demise of Dragon and Dungeon magazines. Due to a problem with the European distributors, the final issues of each were delayed; they arrived this morning. Last month, Wizards of the Coast announced the end of the third edition of D&D, in favour of a fourth edition, due in May. Due to the nature of one of the changes that are being made, it is entirely possible that at that point I may well not only not buy the new edition, but indeed stop playing any version of the game.

Last week, Robert Jordan died. At the time, he was working on the long-awaited final volume of his epic "Wheel of Time" series, the largest continuous fantasy series ever. (My standard WoT rant is inappropriate here, of course.) Last year, David Gemmell, my second favourite fantasy author (after Terry Pratchett) died.

A few weeks ago, Luciano Pavarotti died, rendering the world a much quieter place.

And today I attended the retirement celebration for my Advisor of Studies, one of the very best lecturers I had at university. His enthusiasm for his subject was always both obvious and infectious, and the university is all the poorer for his departure.

And my jar of peanut butter just ran out.

It all feels like the legends are leaving us. And it also feels like there isn't anyone or anything to take their place. Where are our great singers of the next generation? Who is going to teach maths to the next generation? And is Dairylea really a substitute for peanut butter?

Basically, what I'm saying is that we need new legends. Now would be a good time.

My treacherous brain

There's a story from a couple of weeks ago that I can't possibly tell here. It involves a moving bus, cups of soup, and the line "if you spill that on me, I'll make you lick it off."

I'm sure you get the idea, although perhaps not the detail of why I can't tell the story.

There is a flip side story, which happened today.

I was at the retirement celebration for my Advisor of Studies from university. Having arrived, I found that I recognised exactly two people in the room. Since Dr Whitelaw, being the centre of attention, was rather busy, I joined the other person at her table. This placed me at a table with a bunch of people who graduated in the Eighties, and one girl who graduated in 2001.

As the conversation neared its end, the (rather cute) girl asked the table at large if they had any plans for the evening.

Three hours later, after I had travelled home, and while I was cooking my fajitas for dinner, my stupid brain decided to furnish me with the absolutely perfect response to this question.

My own brain hates me. Time for a new one, I think.

Monday, September 17, 2007

It's cold outside...

Back in the dim and distant past, there was a truly hilarious comedy show called "Red Dwarf". In the last episode of the first series of this show, the hologram Arnold Rimmer managed to create a second hologrammatic duplicate of himself. The two Rimmers proceeded to move into quarters together, where they were determined to go on a quest to better themselves.

Unfortunately, the petty competitiveness of the two led to them each trying to outdo the other in the most ridiculous of ways. There is one scene, in particular, where they are deciding when to get up the next morning. Early, they agree, but how early?

Eventually, they settle on half past four, a time neither of them wants to get up at, but must accept because neither can bear to be seen as weak in the other's eyes. One of the Rimmers then proceeds to head towards bed, only to be reminded by his duplicate that it's barely after midnight, and that he should put in an hour of study first...

I'm not sure why, but reading about the environmental policies of our various parties always reminds me of that scene.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Of course, there is another theory...

The other theory, of course, is that none of this is real, and I'm actually wired into the Matrix (or some equivalent). Thus, the 'dreams' are actually me starting wake up, in a Neo-esque fashion. This is the same theory that suggests that other people aren't really real (since 6 billion instanced delusions of the world are easier to code than a single shared delusion... if there even are 6 billion 'real' people, and it's not just me.)

In general, I don't put too much credence into that theory either, since it seems unlikely that I'm stuck in a computer game. However, on Friday I mistakenly received a letter intended for someone else on the street. The letter was addressed to the Sims...

Woah, freaky...

Like everyone else, I dream. Like a great many people, I usually don't remember my dreams.

However, on occasion, I'll be going about my daily life, and have the weirdest feeling of deja vu, as the events of my day bear an uncanny resemblance to the events of a dream that I have had, and have remembered, from some months previously. It's a very strange sensation, and always gives me pause.

But that's not the weird part. Of late, the dreams I have remembered are of me going about my daily life, and having the strangest feeling of deja vu. Twice now, therefore, I have been going about my business, doing nothing of consequence, and had the strangest feeling of deja vu... about having the strangest sensation of deja vu! It's all very strange and annoying.

Incidentally, I should note at this point that I don't for a moment subscribe to the notion that deja vu is somehow 'real'. I refuse to believe that, on the grounds that that would mean that the future is already written, that life is deterministic, and that nothing we do has any consequence. Which I object to on the grounds that it annoys me.

Instead, I subscribe to the opinion that when dreaming my subconscious will assemble images of the sorts of things I might do in my general life anyway, and since my days tend to look mostly the same, I eventually hit an event that mostly matches. And, of course, since I now associate dreaming with deva ju, my dreams now insert that sense. See, it all makes sense.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Oh, I almost forgot...

In all the excitement, I almost forgot...

This blog is two years old today! Yay, me!

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Of late, it seems that the baby living in the flat downstairs has found his voice. Looked at objectively, this is a good thing, as it indicates healthy lungs. However, it has a rather obvious down side. For the past couple of weeks, I have been woken up every night at some point between three and half past four by a crying baby, and then again just after six. This is, obviously, not good.

However, last night was the worst. I switched off the light at eleven, that being the hour at which I retire during the week, and as if on cue the child started wailing. He proceeded to cry for the next hour, pausing only to take a breath. Meanwhile, his helpless neighbour wondered if he would ever get any sleep.

The thing is, I actually quite like children, and don't even particularly mind crying babies in most circumstances. But this all seems rather unfair - I seem to have skipped a bunch of steps somewhere along the way.

Boring post about life

I haven't posted anything for a while. The reason for this has primarily been that for the last few weeks my life has settled into a kind of bland okayness that hasn't been particularly inspiring to live through or write about (or, I suspect, to read about either). So, I haven't had any monstrously humerous tales of woe to share, nor have I had any great triumphs to tell of. It's all just been... okay.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Into the Lion's Den...

It being Graeme's birthday soon, I found myself heading into Toys'r'Us to select him something age-appropriate and fun to play with. (What?)

However, on walking into the store, I found myself confronted with an endless row of Transformers toys. Thousands of them, all there tempting me. Aaargh! How to resist?

But even worse, Toys'r'Us have the exclusive rights to stock the reissues of the original Generation 1 toys, the very same ones I had twenty years ago. Including, worst of all, the reissued Soundwave, one of the most popular toys that I didn't own, and really wanted. I had it in my hand, and came within a heartbeat of shelling out the £25 for it (and potentially the £20 for Skywarp, and the £15 for Prowl, and...).

I was saved by an illusion of age, thankfully. The toy seemed so much smaller than it did back in the day. Was this really an identical reissue, or was it a new toy designed to be roughly the same? (According to the internet - 'cos I've since checked - it's identical. But I'm not going back... today.)

This could get expensive...

Friday, August 17, 2007

The man, the myth, the legend...

I haven't posted a rant about my experiences with the band recently, largely because it hasn't been necessary. A couple of months ago, we won our first prize in the modern era, and suddenly things have started to come together. The people who were constantly ranting about how the band was "seriously shite" have gradually stood down from that position, people are no longer pulling in different directions, and things are generally good.

Which is nice.

My own role within the band has changed, as well. Somewhere along the line, it was recognised by all concerned that (a) I actually can play a bit, and (b) I'm a generally useful person to have around.

As a result of this, there have been a number of practices where the pipe major couldn't make it, and I was asked to run the practice. There have also been a couple of times when the pipe major was there, but was busy with other things, and so asked me to take charge of the band while he was otherwise engaged. And, recently, the secondary instructor guy (who is going on holiday shortly) has asked me to take over the teaching of his students while he's away, with a view to bringing them on the play with the band.

All in all, things are looking up. The only concern I have now is that if the pipe major decides to step down, I think I've just nominated myself as the likely successor - the secondary instructor doesn't want the role, which means I'm it. Fortunately, I don't think the pipe major is going to step down... but then, I didn't expect it last year either.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Off on a bit of a tangent

You may not have heard of the little-known horror classic "Evil Trigonometry", largely cos I've just made it up. It is the story of a maths teacher so boring that his classes finally inspire a number of his students to literally eat their own branes, and thus become zombies. Naturally, this infestation is beaten back by a healthy infusion of shotgun blasts to the head.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is that I've just heard they're making a sequel: "Evil Trigonometry 2: Original Sin".

Monday, August 13, 2007

Back to work...

The first day back at work is, of course, the ideal time to start afresh, to clear out all the dross and bad habits that have dogged work for the weeks before the holiday, and to generally ensure that things begin again on the right footing.

And so it was that yesterday I ironed a 'work' shirt for the first time since Christmas, set my alarm clock in the full intention of actually heeding it, and generally made ready. Then, this morning, when the alarm went off (two minutes late - I will have to adjust that) I leapt up and began my day. (Yes, I am a morning person. Sorry if that offends you.)

Anyway, I went through the morning routine with all appropriate haste, leapt in the car, and drove to the office, keen to resume work and do many exciting things. Huzzah for enthusiasm!

Unfortunately, there is no indication of work that I need to be doing, my boss is working from home today, and the person he has said will tell me what I need to do is the very antithesis of a morning person, so hasn't arrived in the office yet. And, in fact, there's hardly anyone here to be impressed by my full-of-beans-ness, or whom I can regale with my adventures in Barcelona and/or mowing the lawn. Huzzah?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Prostitute

After having eaten dinner in my hotel on Wednesday night, I headed back out into Barcelona to see Las Ramblas at night. It was about 9:15 at this time. My plan, broadly speaking, was to walk up the street, then gradually wander down until I saw a nice-looking pub where I could sit outdoors and watch the people go past. I thought that sounded like quite a good idea.

Anyway, I got on the Metro, and sat down in the baking heat (the Metro was the only part of Barcelona that was truly too hot, although much of the rest of it was very hot, even just shortly after the rain). Moments later, the train reached its first stop, and the hottest woman I have ever seen in person got on. I was simply stunned. Long black hair, perfect hourglass figure, tight clothing. She jiggled her way onto the train and sat down.

Indeed, it was obvious from the way she moved that she was fully aware of how hot she was, which counts as a very mixed blessing. On the one hand, it speaks of a confidence that immediately confers an additional hotness. On the other, it very often presages an arrogance that is unappealing (an attitude of "who are you, and what gives you the right to speak to me?"). On balance, though, it's better to be confident than not - the girl who has just been shifted out of the "top 5" had terrible self-esteem issues, which led to her dating a whole string of guys who just weren't good enough for her, several of whom treated her quite badly indeed.

I would like to claim at this point that I proceeded to chat her up, but that would be a lie, of course. Actually, for the remainder of the Metro ride, she was actually talking to someone on her mobile phone. Naturally, the part of me that is a wireless comms expert was truly impressed by this feat; I wonder how it was achieved?

Anyway, my station was reached, and I departed the train, and proceeded to walk up Las Ramblas, marvelling at the street-life, especially the 'living statues'. In every art-form, there are a key group of innovators. In living statuism, those innovators work in Barcelona, where they have determined that the public is no longer amused by simply immobile living statues, but rather would prefer their statues to somehow express something of their intent through silent motion. This whole new artform is truly spectacular, such that I feel it needs a whole new name. That said, I can't help but wonder how long it will be before these 'moving living statues' will innovate again, and perhaps incorporate sounds, or perhaps even words, into their acts. Truly, these are wondrous days we live in.

As I walk, I'm all the while reeling from the need to suddenly re-calibrate my hotness-meter, and at the same time trying to work out just how to embellish this story for best presentation on the blog. Little did I know that an entirely different story was looming.

I reached the top of the street, and started retracing my steps. However, before I got far, I determined that I actually needed to make a stop before proceeding. So, a quick visit to Starbucks ensued, an enquiry about door access codes, and...

So, I returned to the street, and resumed my saunter. Moments later, I noted a fairly attractive girl dressed all in white moving to cross my path. So, I subtly slowed my walk and adjusted my path to allow her to pass without walking into me. However, she adjusted her path to match, then moved again when I adjusted to walk past her - I wasn't keen on the distraction, not least since my guidebook had stated that there was a high rate of petty crime in Barcelona, and one should always be careful, especially when one thinks one might be being distracted.

"Hello," she said, "I've decided to talk to you."

"Okay, that's nice," say I. I shrug my shoulders slightly, so my wallet slides into the gap between arm and side.

"Where are you from?"


"Oh, that's nice. And do you have a name?"

"Stephen," I say, still scanning the crowd with my peripheral vision. I'm quite glad I chose to wear my contact lenses at this point.

"I'm Sharon," she says, although the name may have only sounded a bit like Sharon. "Let's go back to your hotel room."

O-kay, that's a bit odd. At this point, I revise my thinking from theory #1 (pickpocket/distraction) to theory #2. It is with some sorrow that I must confess that I never considered that this could be genuine. Such things just don't happen to me. However, it would be nice, I think, to not be so jaded that I simply discard the possibility out of hand. The fact that I was actually right is scant consolation.

"I don't think so. Thanks anyway," I say, and move away. Only to find this girl pursuing me.

Well, I can put on quite some speed while remaining at a walk (I avoid running in public; it's generally undignified), and especially when moving through a crowd. However, she continued to follow. Shortly, therefore, I stopped and faced the issue.

"So, where's your hotel?" she asked. (Actually, that's skipping a bit - first there was the instance where she accused me of "walking funny", and suggested I should relax.)

"I'm not taking you back to my hotel," I say.

"Oh okay," she says, taking my arm. "In that case, we'll go back to my hotel. It's this way."


"Come on, please?" (What the hell, I'm thinking.) "50 euros?"

Ding! Theory 2 has it. I'm going to guess, based on the way she said it, the €50 is considered a good price. I wouldn't know. Still, doesn't really make a difference.

"No. Sorry."

"Why not?" she asks.

Now, there's no answer to that question. I tried to think of one, but all the truths can't be said. "I don't trust that you won't have a bunch of guys beat me up," doesn't sound like something to say (especially if there is a bunch of guys, and she's ready to signal them). "I don't trust that you're clean," must surely be considered highly offensive (even if it's an obvious worry - and, statistically, things don't look good for 'Sharon'). Then there's the harder truth: "If I start paying for it, then that's an admission that I have to." But that's frankly not something I'm going to get into with a random person on a street in Barcelona. Or perhaps, "I already have a hard enough time maintaining any sort of empathy with people - the last thing I need is another reason to think of people as commodities."

I did consider an easy lie, and pretending to be gay. And later, on the train ride back to the hotel, I also considered briefly whether a harder lie, of pretending to be a terrible racist, would have solved the problem. The truth is, though, I wouldn't have been comfortable with either of these.

"Just no," I said. "Please leave me alone."

But she would not. She continued following me down the street, gradually deciding she would latch onto my arm (this had the advantage that at least I knew she wasn't picking my pocket). Then, she decided it would be a good idea to start tweaking my nipple.

By this point, I have given up trying to shake her off. She's not going to go. And this is the bit I really don't get at all. I'd said "no". I'd been busily trying to get away. There had been no indication that I was changing my mind. So why the hell did she persist? Surely there must have been easier marks out there? It's just crazy.

Anyway, I make all due haste back to the Metro station, where she finally gives up. I can only assume that either the extensive camera system in the Metro is unfriendly to 'professionals', or perhaps that the system is worked by other girls. Either way, she finally went away, and I went back to the hotel.

As I said before, Barcelona was definately a mixed bag.

Guess I'm okay, then

I speak neither Spanish nor Catalan, although I did find that I can read these with reasonable accuracy (as I did with Italian in Rome). This led to me feeling somewhat less that good about myself as I went about my holiday, for not even attempting the language of the day. But, what can one do?

Anyway, I was musing on how terrible this was in McDonalds, having just ordered but not yet received my meal, when my mind was suddenly put at ease. An English family arrived at my side, and started discussing what they were going to order. The father's voice was indistinguishable from that of Richard Sharpe, so I was forced to check that it was not, in fact, Sean Bean (and despite this, I still fully expected him to exclaim "bloody 'ell, Pat" and whip off some cunning disguise, but no).

And then they came to order, "I want three chips," said the father, waving three fingers under the nose of the assistant (who spoke perfect English, I should note), "and three beers."

Suddenly, I didn't feel so bad about not trying the language; at least I hadn't been too offensive.

Of course, I was also reminded of a time, long ago (June 1992), when some friends and I were refused service of beer in McDonalds in Austria, because their corporate policy was that they didn't serve alcohol to unaccompanied persons under the age of 21, despite the legal age for drinking in Austria being 16. That was the day before my sixteenth birthday, so I didn't feel too aggrieved, especially since we just went somewhere else.

But, ah, we were so young back then. So young, and so foolish. Not least because we thought McDonalds was a place to buy beer, as opposed to any pub in the whole town. I guess we hadn't quite realised that on the continent they don't worry about such things, taking a rather more sensible view of the consumption of alcohol. But I guess that's another rant.

Everyone wants to be Paxman...

On the Wednesday, I wanted to reach into my Tv and beat some sense into one of the interviewers on BBC World. He was interviewing the UK ambassador to the UN about the recent resolution on Darfur. Which was fine, and said ambassador was providing some interesting information... when the interviewer let him.

Of course, that wasn't terribly often. Our interviewer had clearly been watching Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, and so knew just how an interview should be conducted. So, he opened with, "Aren't you disappointed at how this resolution has had to be watered down to placate the Chinese?" which struck me as being overly confrontational.

Still, the ambassador took it with good faith, and was actually answering, providing real information, when the interviewer decided to cut him off, and asked another confrontational question. Then another, and another.

I am vexed by this, because it does seem to be a rising trend in interviews. And the thing is, although Paxman has been known to interrupt an answer with another question, he generally only does this when confronted by evasive politicians who are carefully not answering. When the interviewee actually is answering, he's generally allowed to do so. And that's as it should be.

(On the other hand, I did have to cheer another BBC World interviewer yesterday, who was interviewing some American sports 'doctor', who had been convicted of doping, served time, and was now claiming some huge credit for working with the authorities at 'clean up' sport, probably as part of his settlement/plea bargain. Anyway, said 'doctor' was claiming huge credit for this noble gesture, while at the same time being utterly unrepentant and smug about his past actions, which he considered entirely fair since the testing schemes were "laughably weak". The question that earned a cheer was when our interviewer asked, "so, you don't feel at all bad about your time as a cheating drug dealer?" Huzzah!)

What I did on my holidays

Barcelona was very much a mixed bag. On the one hand, there was a great deal that was generally awesome... but it also seemed that almost everything was tainted by some circumstance that seemed designed to annoy.

The first thing of note was that I booked before purchasing my guidebook to the city. On reading said guidebook, I found a note to the effect that the worst possible time to visit Barcelona is in fact August, as a lot of places shut down and the heat can be overpowering. Oops.

Well, never mind. The flight out was rather tedious, as all such things are, but bearable. I had a whole row to myself, which compensated for their only be sufficient leg room for very tiny people. The airline then decided to wait just long enough before returning our bags to really worry us. And then, it was off to the hotel.

I was staying in the "Princessa Sofia Gran Hotel", which I had selected because it was second on the "Expedia recommends" list, and because they had a "3 nights for the price of 2" deal going on. As a result of this, it worked out at something like £60 per night, which for any hotel in any major city is a pretty good deal. It proved to be even better when the hotel came into view, and I discovered that it was in fact a ***** establishment.

So, the hotel proved to be astonishingly good. Indeed, it counts as the second best hotel I've ever stayed in (the best being the "Jung Frau Victoria" which I stayed in in December, which is regarded as one of the very best hotels anywhere in the world... and which my company were paying for. This is rather a difficult combination to beat, I think).

Anyway, the only slight downside of the hotel was that I didn't have opportunity to make full use of the facilities, as I hadn't actually gone to Barcelona for that purpose. Oh, and the restaurant was okay, but rather overpriced for the quality of it, especially given the availability of good food in the city at large.

Having checked in and dropped my bags, I went out for a wander, to see what I could see. And, en route back to the hotel I stopped at a restaurant and ate a meal. And, in the field of surreal events, I present this entry: during the course of the meal my waiter, who was Indian, engaged me in polite conversation, initially thinking I was from England. Undeterred by my saying I was from Scotland, he proceeded to ask me whether Scotland have a cricket team. To which I said that we do, but that they're not very good. And so, we had a Scotsman and an Indian discussing cricket in a Spanish restaurant.

Wednesday dawned, and looking out the window I found that it was raining. Raining!

Outraged by the lies of "My Fair Lady", I discarded my initial plan of riding the sightseeing tour bus, and instead took the metro to Las Ramblas, which is apparently the street to see in Barcelona. Being Scottish has the advantage, of course, that rain doesn't bother me overly, although it was a little unsettling that it was warm. Such things are not meant to be.

So, I saw the sights, and the rain eventually stopped. So, I decided to have an early lunch, then ride the sightseeing bus. Of course, seeking an early lunch meant that most places were closed, and so it was off to McDonalds. Nothing like eating local cuisine to get a feel for the place, no?

Having eaten, I left McDonalds and found that it was raining. Raining!

So, I once again abandoned the bus idea, and wandered lonely as a cloud once again. Of course, the actual clouds didn't seem lonely, but who can speak as to their innermost thoughts?

At length, I decided I'd seen enough, and I would return to the hotel to wait out the rain. So, back on the Metro.

When I emerged from the station close to the hotel, the rain had stopped, and did not return. At which point I cast my eyes skywards, and complained, "Oh, come on!" Nonetheless, I decided not to press the issue by riding that bus, but instead went back to the hotel and changed into some dry clothes. Then, I planned my next steps using my guidebook.

So, I dashed off to La Sagrada Familia, one of the 'must see' buildings in Barcelona. Which was very impressive - a fine example of Gaudi's work. So, I paid the entry fee and went inside... only to find it is a building site in there, and that actually there's nothing in there to see. Yippee! Still, there was the gift shop, where one can presumably purchase a commemorative piece of scaffolding.

For the remainder of that afternoon, I went to the Musea Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. The Romanesque and Gothic art was quite impressive, especially as it was laid out in a fairly chronological manner, so it was possible to see the development of different styles and techniques. The audio-guide was useless, though, as although it did explain the art, it did so at great length in a tedious monotone. Even worse, at times the droning voice would talk about features in the art that I'm sure weren't there, as though it was talking about something else entirely. It was just annoying, so I abandoned that in short order.

But that was no loss. What marred this activity was that when I tried to pay using my credit card, the guy had me input my PIN, then handed back the card... then apologised that the machine hadn't read it properly, so took back my card, had me enter my PIN again, returned my card again... then apologised that the machine hadn't read it properly...

At this point I paid in cash, but was then left with a significant worry - what had gone wrong? Three possibilities occurred: one, there was some sort of con going on (surely not in an art gallery?), two, the guy was just incompetent, or three, something had gone wrong with my card. It was that latter possibility that really worried me, since that card represented some 90% of the funds I had available with which to pay for things.

(Anyway, it turned out that my card was fine, although there are now two charges of €8.50 that I'm going to have to have removed from it. I'm still hoping theory #2 was right, but suppose I'll never know.)

After the museum, I returned to the hotel and ate at the hotel restaurant. Then I went out again, to see Las Ramblas at night. The events of the next few hours require their own post to detail.

Thursday dawned bright and hot. So, I got dressed and went to the beach, which was nice but very busy. So, I walked the length of the beach, enjoying the horizon, then walked along the beach the other way. I took the chance to observe the 'finest seafood restaurants in Barcelona'. I suspect this might have been more impressive if I didn't hate seafood, but nevermind.

The afternoon I spent seeing more buildings, parks and sights. The cathedral turned out to be another fine example of Gaudi's work... or would have, had it not been shrouded in scaffolding and green mesh. As it was, it was a fine example of scaffolding and green mesh. Which is something, at least.

Finally, I went to see the Arc del Triomf, which is different from the similarly-named landmark in Paris in that it is made out of brick, and not quite so ornate (it also doesn't sit at the top of a hill, so it is difficult to get a sense of the relative sizes of the two), and the Parc de la Ciutadella, which was a very fine park.

That done, I headed back towards the Metro, and chanced to be passing a fine-looking restaurant just as it opened, and so there I ate. Unfortunately, my credit card was once again rejected (this time the machine just didn't recognise it at all, so there was no potential problem lurking), so I had to pay with the last of my cash, which was more than a little annoying.

Then back to the hotel, where I had to get some more cash to pay for my taxi back to the airport, and then I gave up for the night. I had considered heading out to one of the clubs nearby, but given the unexpected outlay of cash, given that it didn't open until midnight, and given that I had an early flight, I elected for bed instead.

Friday I had to wake at 5, then pack and leave, and get a taxi to the airport. I now have a new least-favourite airport in Barcelona, which was truly annoying, being hot, stuffy, full of people, and staffed by the living dead. Still, I escaped alive. Then I endured a packed flight in which I was wedged in another row with insufficient leg room, and packed with a rather large couple filling all the remaining space in the row. And then I was home.

I should probably say at this point that although each event seemed to have something that went wrong with it, I did actually have a good time in Barcelona. My major objective had been to get away, get a break, and get some rest, and I actually did achieve that. And there was a whole lot in that city that was pretty awesome. It's just that sometimes it seemed things were designed to be annoying.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Formally invited

Oh, yes...

I have had it pointed out to me, by a usually reliable source, that one of the differences between men and women is that men tend to act as though anything that is not explicitly forbidden is allowed, while women tend more towards the view that anything that is not explicitly allowed is forbidden.

Well, just so there's no confusion: if you feel like commenting, go ahead. And feel free even if you disagree with what I have to say (especially if, in fact. Indeed, if your argument is sufficiently persuasive, then you may well change my mind on the topic at hand. Which would be nice).

In general, it is not my intention to censor comments. However, just in case, I will reserve the right to do so, especially in the case of spammers.

Well, that's it

It's dinner time on Friday, which means it is officially the weekend. Since I return to work on Monday, I guess that means my holiday is finally over.

Over the next few days, I'll tell you about Barcelona, and a few of the things I've been thinking on since flying out there. I'm sure you can't wait.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


That last post didn't quite end up how I thought it would be. I wonder what I was trying to say?

Luck, Talent, and Skill

The band were competing again on Sunday. We came second. However, as there was a shortage of bands for the competitions at the next grades up, we (along with most of the garde 4 bands) also stepped up to compete in the Grade 3 competition, where we competed against at least three 'true' Grade 3 bands.

We came second. This constitutes a good result.

However, just before we went on for our Grade 3 performance, I had a brief conversation with two of our pipers about luck, talent and skill.

One of our players, A, noted that it should go well, "if we're lucky."

To this, of course, I was forced to reiterate my belief that there's no such thing as luck. (This is actually an exaggeration, of course, since there is clearly randomness and Uncertainty in the universe, and the net effect of such things can certainly be labelled 'luck'. However, in general, I find that the influence of luck is far less than it's given credit.)

Anyway, at this point, another piper, S, stated that it was all "raw, natural talent."

Oh, boy...

Here's the thing: talent has almost nothing to do with how well a band does at a competition. Success is basically down to a couple of factors: how much acquired skill the weakest members of the band have, and how the players respond under pressure. The first is largely down to practice, both individually and as a band, while the latter is a matter of psychology: under pressure, some people focus and others fold. The latter will never perform well at competition, no matter how much talent they have, or even how skillful they might be.

Of course, handling pressure is largely down to confidence, so there are ways to fake it... The key there is to know the tunes, yes, but to know them well enough that you know that you know them. Once you've got that, playing under pressure is easier, because you don't feel the pressure so much. (The other key is to get a good start, which is always tricky in piping. However, it's good advice generally. Next time you have to give a presentation to strangers, try this: insert a title slide with just the title of your presentation and your name on it. This is information that you're not going to mess up, and by taking the time to tell the audience these things, you achieve that good start that makes everything else easier.)

All According to Plan

On Monday, I finished off the work I was doing on the garden. It's still a mess, but I'm happy with it as it stands - I think the main thing it needs now is some good showers so it can recover.

Yesterday, I cleaned the appartment from top to bottom, including cleaning the oven. In hindsight, I should probably have cooked dinner before I cleaned the oven, so I wouldn't have to order in, but never mind.

Today I washed the car. Additionally, I finished reading "Promise of the Witch King", and am about to finish "Expedition to the Demonweb Pits".

This brings me to the end of my to-do list for the holiday... well, except for one thing. If I can just work up the motivation required, I will proceed to book a trip away for next week. I'm thinking Barcelona.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Holiday Fun, Day 1: Mowing the Lawn

Yes, it's true: I have mowed the lawn. No longer shall the tiggers have long grasses in which to hide themselves.

Of course, it's worth noting that this is not the end of the job, but rather only the start. The grass has gone from being knee-high to an average of 7cm. I will have another go at it in a couple of days, on the next lowest setting, and gradually work it down to the shortest setting.

I really must at this point take a moment to hail my new lawnmower, which is a FlyMo Compact 3400, which turned the job from an epic of mowing proportions into, well not a pleasure, but at least not nearly the ordeal I feared it would be. Instead of being the several-days' work I expected, the whole took just over 40 minutes. Given that the first ten of those involved me swearing at the machine for constantly jamming, because I hadn't weighed up that '1' was the shortest rather than the longest setting, that represents particularly good time. (I could have found this out more easily had I read the instruction book, of course. But I am a Man, damnit, and Man-law clearly states that one has to figure these things out for oneself. I mean, how hard can it be?)

In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea to put clean clothes on immediately before mowing the lawn. Oh well, never mind. I was doing a load of washing anyway...

The other problem with the relative swiftness of completing this task is that I no longer have big plans for the next few days. I guess I'd better make some...