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.