Monday, January 28, 2008


Isn't it funny how a lack of sleep can really alter not just your mood, but also the entire structure of your day? Last night, I went to bed with all sorts of grand plans for what I would do today. So exciting was the outlook, that I utterly failed to fall asleep until half past one.

Consequently, on waking up this morning, I realised I just couldn't face actually executing any of these grand plans, and decided not to bother.

Speaking of band...

Four of our pipers quit on Thursday. Apparently, they had become bored and disillusioned with the band.

This is rather unfortunate, not least since it basically kills any interest we might have had in the upcoming competition season. Indeed, it may prevent us from completing at all, since a band must have six pipers to compete and we have eight left, two of whom are rather unreliable, and two of whom aren't really ready yet.

It also means I don't need to worry about not being committed enough to the band's future, though - for the next little while it doesn't have much of one.

As seen on TV

I spent much of Saturday hoping that the Falkirk v Celtic football match yesterday would be cancelled. Frankly, this seemed quite likely, what with Falkirk currently being submerged. But, no, they decided to go ahead.

So, yesterday afternoon, blissfully unaware of the events of interest that were to occur that evening, I made my way to the stadium, where I was due to play. And, after what seemed an interminable wait (at least, until it did finally end), I marched onto the pitch, took up position just outside the centre circle, and proceeded to play.

It was all very exciting.

Anyway, after a while, they wanted to start the actual match, so my band left the pitch, and let them get on with it. At half time, we went back onto the pitch, played for a few minutes, and then departed. This inspired the team to go on and snatch defeat from the fickle jaws of stalemate.

All of this was actually in aid of fundraising for the band. I suspect we did not too badly out of the day, although not as well as might be hoped, as the flooding will have kept the attendance down, and many of those who did attend were no doubt fish. It is well known that most aquatic creatures are loathe to part with their money (except goldfish, of course, who are both generous and forgetful, and so can be relied on to give both grandly and frequently).

Also of note: during the first half, we were shown to one of the hospitality suites, where we were told we could watch the match. Except, that we were told we were strictly not to touch the blinds. When we arrived, the ground staff made sure to go round the room and close all the blinds, just to ensure that we couldn't see the pitch. However, we were able to watch it on the TVs they had scattered around the room. I thought that was wonderful.

Oh, and: our half-time show was apparently seen on Setanta Sports 1. Hence the title of this post.

Tappy tappy tap tap

It was quite an eventful weekend. In particular, my experience at church last night was... interesting.

The evening began with Graeme phoning me at the last minute, asking if I would retrieve the laptop and run the projector. That was interesting, but was not the most interesting part of events.

I proceeded to make haste to the church, arriving a mere minute before the service was due to start. So, I dashed up the stairs, hooked up the laptop to the projector, and made ready. That was somewhat interesting, but was not the most interesting part of the sequence of events.

Dave then proceeded to issue me with the files for the projector - the hymn schedule and the slides for the sermon. All very exciting, especially when he noted that the last two hymns were not on the schedule. Moreover, one of them wasn't even in the laptop database; it would need to be added! That was a whole lot more interesting, but still was not the most interesting event.

More interesting still was the discovery that the hymn in question had no fewer than seven verses. Marvellous. Still, I quite like a challenge, so after the first hymn, while there was a quiet spell (technically, I think those are called prayers), I knuckled down and typed in the whole thing. Then, I checked that all the spelling was correct, that there were no typos, and even that the semi-colons were in the right place. After all, if something is worth doing, it's worth doing properly, no?

Anyway, huzzah!

Except that that still isn't the most interesting part of the story.

The most interesting part of the story was to come mere moments later, when during the middle group of hymns I decided to be clever, and add this new hymn to the schedule. A marvellous and clever idea. Imagine my horror when I discovered that the stupid machine had decided not to save those seven verses that I had just painstakingly typed in!

So, I had to re-type the whole thing. Only now, the pressure was really on.

Unfortunately, having to retype the hymn in such a small spell led to a lower standard of accuracy in the typing, and a totally unacceptable error rate. Yes, I made a mistake, missing out a space character in the third line of the hymn. Shameful, I know. (I'm also pretty sure there was a comma where there should not have been, but that one is strictly not my fault; it was in the hymnary like that.)

Anyway, I was lauded for my abilities as a "computer whiz" at this point. This leaves me curious as to what people think I actually do all day. See, although I "work with computers", my job involves relatively little actual typing. Instead, it can perhaps best be described as "professional problem solver", where I spend a great deal of time thinking about complex software systems, and the problems inherent in such systems, and then apply a fix, preferably by doing as little actual work (typing) as possible. So, while I can type fairly quickly, and with a reasonable accuracy, it is strictly an ancilliary, rather than a core skill.

Still, that was my interesting experience at church this week.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I should note that my previous post was not intended as an attack on teachers. The education system has been mismanaged for decades, with teachers being swamped with an excess of bureaucracy, and being forced to jump to whatever trendy new educational scheme our government decide to impose.

Add to that parents who don't care, and kids who seem determined not to learn, and teachers really don't have a chance. Frankly, it's a miracle that as many kids learn as much as they do in our schools.


The government want 50% of all school leavers to go on to some form of higher education. At the same time, they have set a target that all schools should aim to have 30% of pupils achieve a 'good' grade in at least 5 GCSEs, including English and Maths. A 'good' grade is defined as anything better than a C. And, according to current estimates, only 46% of all pupils are achieving this target.

Something just isn't right here.

Actually, scratch that. Everything isn't right here. Firstly, the 50% figure is just plain wrong. I believe I've blogged about this before, but it bears repeating. Sending 50% on to higher education is meaningless if most of them drop out after the first year, or less. Far better to have fewer entrants to universities, but a much higher percentage of those who enter actually graduating at the end of the day.

Of course, there are other forms of further education, which I will discuss if and when I unveil my master plan for reforming education across the country. At present, they are badly undervalued, badly under-represented, and represent an area that the government really should take action on.

Then there's the target that 30% of pupils in all schools will achieve this minimum grade. Meaning that it's acceptable if 70% of the pupils in any given school reach the age of 16 without a basic grasp of Maths and English. (And, in fact, there are worse consequences of this. If I were running a failing school under these targets, I would indentify the 40% of pupils who represent my 'top' achievers, and isolate them from the rest. The target would be to get three-quarters of those 'good' pupils to achieve the required grade at any cost. As for the rest, well, no reason to bother with teaching them anything. We'll just keep them away from the rest, so they don't cause problems.) The target has to be for 100% of pupils to leave school with a working knowledge of the fundamentals of English and Maths, whether that is defined as a PASS in some exam or other, and whether or not there are other targets in place. Anything less is a disgrace.

Then there's the definition of a C as a 'good' grade. I'm sorry, but no. A C is a pass. It's an acceptable grade. Indeed, given that we're talking about GCSE level, a C does not bode well for the student's ability to achieve a pass at Higher/A-level, and so a C should be considered a barely acceptable result.

And then there's that statistic that 46% of all pupils are reaching the target. 54% do not. In other words, our education system is utterly failing more than half of all pupils nationwide.

I blame the politicians. Of both major parties. (Oh, and don't give me any of that shit about "but look how much it has improved!" I refuse to accept that being stabbed is a good thing, just because you've made sure I won't get shot.)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Living on the Landfill

I was going to post a big rant about how the rubbish collection service isn't very good. However, I decided I should have known this. It's not like they don't provide a clue...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Abbreviated Storytelling

Once upon a time, the A-team would encounter some problem, get locked in a garage, engage in some sort of 'rebuild the van' montage, and improbably fix the problem, all in time for the end credits. In another universe, the Enterprise would be attacked by some menacing special effect, red-shirted nobodies would die, Kirk would snog some alien princess, and it would all be back to normal within 42 minutes.

Gradually, though, things have changed. Series now have ongoing plotlines, where things can and do change, and characters refer back to what has gone before. This is a good thing, since it allows longer and more complex stories to be told, and allows a larger cast of characters to be developed (Star Trek only ever had seven core characters, the A-team four. The new Battlestar Galactica has about two dozen).

However, the down side to this expansion is that it has allowed a lot of really sloppy writing to creep in. This is seen most readily in Lost, where they've thrown out a huge amount of character exposition, and dozens of exciting mysteries to tantalise the brain... but refuse to actually ever explain anything or to move the plot forward. Or then there's the new BSG (again), the most recent season of which starts really strongly, ends really strongly, but utterly sucks for the 50% of the episodes in the middle.

And the same is true in movies as well as TV. The average film now runs somewhere between two and two and a half hours. However, there is very rarely any more story packed into that time slot than was the case when the average was half an hour less. Characters are just introduced more slowly, or given more 'depth'. This would be a good thing, except that the writers only have about half a dozen character traits or plot twists that they actually know how to use, so we already know what's coming. Consider: virtually any Jennifer Aniston film is really just "The Continued Adventures of Rachael" (that being why people go to see them, and that being why they get made), so do we really need to spend half an hour introducing the new 'Rachael' to the audience? Or the token boyfriend, or his inevitable betrayal while they're 'on a break'? We get it - just get on with it!

Then there are novels. I read a lot of fantasy fiction. No, more than that, I read a LOT of fantasy fiction. Problem is, no-one writes a fantasy novel any more. They're all multi-book epics, with an undetermined number of parts, each of which is now longer than "The Lord of the Rings" on average. (Insert standard anti-"Wheel of Time" rant here, except that while Jordan was one of the worst offenders, they're now all like that.)

The original "Dragonlance Chronicles" trilogy was 1,056 pages long. Each part, therefore, was an average of 352 pages in length. The Dragonlance book I read most recently, "Dragons of the Dwarven Depths", clocks in at 608 pages, and is supposed to be comparable to one of those three parts. But much less happens in the more recent book than any of the previous ones. We don't get character development of note - what passes for characterisation is generally yet another explanation that Sturm doesn't like Raistlin because he's secretive. Well, gosh, I didn't grasp that fact when I read the first trilogy twenty years ago!

It's all very annoying. It seems that there aren't any decent editors out there these days. That, or people just like having these yarns spun out endlessly.

I should note that I'm not objecting to the length of the stories - the 'eternity version' of Hamlet runs to four hours, but is well worth the running time. The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is about 11 and a half hours long, and if anything is over-abridged. If the story requires a certain amount of space to tell properly, then by all means take the time and tell it properly.

Just get on with it!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The resolutions I'm not making

As I mentioned exactly a year ago, I don't make resolutions for the New Year. Therefore, I am now going to take a moment to look back at the resolutions I didn't make, and assess how I did, and then not make some resolutions for this year.

So, firstly, the resolutions I didn't make last year:

1) To lose weight. As I stated at the time, I was determined to not actually do anything about this, on the grounds that it was too much effort.

Success? Sort of. I was all set to end the year at exactly the same weight as I started it, but on Saturday I was at a ceilidh, as a consequence of which I lost three pounds. This is, of course, a trivial and termporary loss, but it did mean that I ended the year lighter than I ended it. So, I'm counting that as a win.

2) To put an end to the singleton life. As I mentioned at the time, I held no hope that this would or could be achieved.

Success? No.

However... it was pointed out to me in November that I predicate my faith on the existence of an all-powerful and benign deity. Under those circumstances, giving up hope is not only logically inconsistent but actively sinful, as it implies a limit on the capabilities of that which is by definition limitless.

This was promptly followed a week later by a reminder that I'd given up hope precisely because it was just too damn painful.

Still, there have been certain developments that are at least intriguing.

3) To be better, generally. This was regarded as being too amorphous a statement to be considered a goal, as such.

Success? Yes.

Professionally, 2007 was an extremely strong year. Despite a couple of key setbacks, I have done a lot of good work in the last twelve months. I have also been travelling to and from France extensively, which has led to a massive improvement in my French. Finally, at least where work has been concerned, I have been more vocal than previously was the case, which has led to several of my suggestions being adopted as the final solution to problems.

In the band, I have done some teaching, leading to a massive improvement in at least one of the students, have been appointed to the committee, which will provide some much-needed stability in a time of turmoil, and have introduced a number of new tunes to the repertoire. All good things.

However, where gaming has been concerned, things have not been rosy. The year has principally been one of broken campaigns and total party kills. And Shadowrun sucks, big time. I either need to take some time away from gaming altogether, or I need to spend some time just playing. And Neverwinter Nights II is a poor substitute for the real thing, it must be noted.

Also, I visited a nightclub for the first time in December. (I'm not sure this fits here, really. However, I think it is worth mentioning somewhere, and I didn't talk about it at the time.) The experience was much as I expected.

4) To continue being practically perfect in every way. This was noted as being nonsensical.

Success? But of course. Enough said.

So, anyway, on to the list of resolutions I am not making for this year. Which, in fact, will take the form of my master 'to-do' list for the year. So, here they are:

  • Move house. Seventeen months ago I moved into my appartment, on what should have been a six-month lease. The time to move has long since passed.
  • Attend Captain Ric's wedding. This takes place in a mere 93 days, and promises to be the key event of the year. I have been asked to pipe at it, and so I shall. This leads to a small concern, in that Ric himself plays the pipes very well (better than anyone else at whose wedding I have previously played), thus raising the bar on required quality.
  • There are two awkward conversations I need to have, and soon. I can't say what they're about, or who they're with, so you'll have to excuse my secrecy on this matter. However, both were born out of the events of the 31st of December. And speaking of secrecy:
  • There's a gap in my skill-set that needs to be closed up before it is shown up. There is actually a quick and easy way to bridge the gap, but I'm wondering if there might be a better solution than the expedient one.
  • Go to the dentist. Technically, I have to find a dentist first (a nigh-impossible task in Falkirk) and then go, but it is something that needs done.
  • Visit another country. This year, it's either Portugal or Belgium (or, hopefully, both), those being the last two 'easy' European countries to visit.

And that will do me.


The end of one year and the beginning of the next is always a time to mark a clean boundary and start afresh. So, for example, before the end of the year, I take down the Christmas decoration I have so artfully strewn around the appartment, and I shave off my festive beard. Except that this year I have elected to keep the festive beard, and promote it to the status of regular beard. Apparently, my nephew is scared of me without the beard, but think I exude the calm of a Jedi master while sporting it.

Or something. There were certainly lightsabres involved in the decision.

I have also made a few changes to the layout of the blog, although you might need to check carefully to see them. Note the new warning about punnery, and the more stylish black Google search bar. I have also trimmed the redundant "Edit Me" links from the sidebar, and might even consider adding some real links there at some point.


This morning, my alarm went off at 7:01, and I leapt from bed, full of beans and ready to start a new year of exciting work. Around the apartment I flew, like some bizarre person who likes work, got ready, and left for work. Work beckoned, and so I was going back to work.

I got to work, signed in to work, and sat down, ready to do some work. That was just after 8 o'clock.

Unfortunately, there was no work.

Just before the Christmas holiday began, I finished off the existing issues list. And, although one issue was raised over the course of the break, it was investigated and passed back to the customer for clarification. Until we get that clarification, there's nothing more to do about it. Plus, the people who might have received that more information, or who might have more issues to raise, are still on holiday.

So now I'm at work, where there is no work, waiting for there to be work, so I can do the work. It's all very exciting.