Monday, May 30, 2011

West Lothian Highland Games 2011

I noticed on Saturday that while the event took place in Bathgate, it wasn't actually the "Bathgate Highland Games". Not that it makes much difference.

Saturday was a mixed day, weather-wise. When it was nice, it was really quite nice. However, every so often there were showers, which were particularly nasty. Fortunately, I was able to dodge all but one of these; there was one shower during the results ceremony that there was just no missing out on.

We didn't take a bus to this one, which proved to be a blessing. Rather than being stuck there for an hour while the driver escaped the car park, I was able to slip out quickly and easily, and got home in less than half an hour.

In terms of the actual competition, well...

We went on, and we played okay, or so we thought. Certainly better than last week, although not as well as the previous week. The commentary sheet we received was also fairly complimentary - there was not a single thing that we had to work on.

Except... we came seventh out of nine, the same result as two years ago, and considerably worse than last year.

That was bad enough, but the choice of winner was... interesting, to say the least.

Oh well, so much for that. For next year, I'm planning on advocating skipping any contest that doesn't have a "Grade 4 MSR" competition (unless we get upgraded again), in which case we won't be competing here again next year. It's a shame, since this is actually a rather pleasant day. Still, there's very little to gain from playing in the 'wrong' grade.

#15: "Pathfinder: Broken Moon", by Tim Hitchcock

Friday, May 27, 2011

Seriously Domino?

So, after returning from Dunbar, I couldn't be bothered cooking, and so I ordered a pizza from Dominos. This isn't exactly an unusual experience, but I finally took notice of something that I'm sure has been there for some time...

After placing the order, there's a little button to click to add this little factoid to a Twitter page.

Seriously? Is this what we've come to?

"Dear World, I had a pizza today! It had pineapple on it!"

The thing is, I know that almost nobody reads the blog, and it's mostly just me writing stuff for the sake of it. I get that. But I do at least try to have some sort of content, or at least something that requires at least some thought.

I also understand that the blog medium is not the twitter medium, and that the latter is indeed well-suited to just posting random thoughts.

But still, an update on pizzas? I'm sure I would never do such a thing!

The Scottish Pipe Band Championships 2011

Last Saturday was the Scottish Pipe Band Championships, held once again in Dumbarton.

Unfortunately, it was a miserable day. The day started very windy, then shortly after we'd played it started to rain. And then it just didn't stop raining. Indeed, so bad was it that they cancelled the march past and prizegiving, and instead just gave out the results to the pipe majors in the hospitality tent at the end.

Tuning up was not a pleasant experience, as we were placed right on the water's edge, and the wind really destroyed the sound. This really wasn't a good idea; it effectively made it impossible to get a good sound.

Still, we went on, and we played. We were third on, so had had an early morning. It worked for the best, though, since we avoided the rain.

At the Championships, we only have to play once, at the Grade 4A level, playing our MSR. This week, we felt the performance was much better, at least from the pipers. The breaks were clean, the tunes were nice and controlled, and the sound was as good as could be hoped. Sadly, the drummers were less pleased with their performance, but we put that down to them having a bad day.

Unfortunately, the results didn't go our way. We were 7th and 15th in piping. Worse, the two judges failed to give consistent feedback; their remarks were directly contradictory literally on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. The drummers came 14th, and the ensemble 12th.

Overall, the band was 13th, out of 23. This was a real shame, since we'd actually dared to hope for a prize, but definitely thought top-10 was reasonable.

Still, it was not to be. Next up is the Bathgate Highland Games, and then we have several weeks off before the British Championships at Annan...

Dunbar Highland Games 2011

So, the piping season starts once again, this time slightly later than usual.

The first competition was, as always, at Dunbar. As with last year, they've moved the contest away from the seafront to another park. This cuts down on the wind considerably, which is a vast improvement.

For the most part, it was a lovely day - nice and sunny, with not too much wind. There was one extremely heavy shower, but it soon passed.

The band were playing twice - once in the Grade 4 contest (essentially, a Grade 4B contest), and again for a "Grade 4 MSR", which is basically a Grade 4A contest. This is a fairly new development at the minor contests - most of them still only have the one "Grade 4" contest.

We played really well at Grade 4 level, and left the field well pleased. However, there was a feeling that this was mostly meaningless, since it's not really the contest we're interested in. In the MSR, we unfortunately didn't play as well. The breaks from the march to the strathspey, and from the strathspey to the reel didn't go well. Also, the reel was too fast, causing it to fall apart a bit in the last part.

However, the results didn't seem to bear this out. In the Grade 4, we came third. In the MSR, we came fourth. (Unfortunately, the MSR only had a single prize for the winner.) So, a good result, albeit probably better than was really deserved.

And that takes us to the Scottish Championships at Dumbarton...

Experimental Cookery 2011 #6: Sticky Lemon Chicken with "Champ"

Source: Gordon Ramsay's Fast Food
Cook Time: About 20 minutes prep plus 20 minutes cooking
Difficulty: Easy
Servings: I made enough for three
Equipment used: Frying pan, 2 saucepans, chopping board, sharp knives, spoons, etc.

Well, I was due another complete disaster, and this was it.

The cooking of the chicken was nice and simple. I perhaps added too much salt and pepper, but it wasn't bad. Otherwise, it was just a case of adding things at the right time, and keeping a watchful eye.

But with the potato, I went badly wrong. Basically, I added way too much milk and cream to the potato. My own fault really, but I ended up with a runny slop that was fit only for the bin. Rather annoying, that, since it looked great right up to that point.

Result: 7/10 for the chicken; no score for the mashed potato


I finished "Les Miserables" last night. It was a good read, not as good as "Tale of Two Cities" or "To Kill a Mockingbird", but certainly the best book I've read so far this year.

But I'm not sure what to make of the ending. Jean Valjean dies, of course, and it seems he dies rather unfairly, having been wronged one more time. And yet, he dies happy, and secure in having redeemed himself. As the bishop at the start claims, he has indeed "bought his soul for God."

So, is a happy ending, or a sad ending?

"It's an ending, and that's enough." - Marge Simpson.

#13: "Pathfinder: Trial of the Beast", by Richard Pett
#14: "Les Miserables, Volume Two", by Victor Hugo (a book from The List)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Culling the Wardrobe

Once again, I've been going through my wardrobe, sorting out the things that don't fit (actually very few), the things that haven't been worn in some time (also few), and the things that are just a bit too worn.

The end result is that I need to pick up a handful of items, mostly printed t-shirts. For the most part, though, I'm in surprisingly good shape. Huzzah!

However, in amongst all this, I was confronted with the ultimate question: just how many socks does one man need?

After some consideration, I came to the conclusion that the answer was "enough pairs for six weeks."

Allow me to explain: obviously, I need a two-week supply (in case I miss a wash). However, I also need a backup supply, in case of sock-conspiracy action. And then, there needs to be a backup backup supply, just in case.

So, six weeks.

And, just in case you are wondering at my logic here, or indeed whether this truly is the ultimate question of not, allow me just to point out that six weeks times seven days equals 42 pairs of socks. QED.

Experimental Cookery 2011 #5: Incredibly Naughty Mini Toad-in-the-Hole

Source: Baking Made Easy, by Lorraine Pascale (p. 102)
Cook Time: Approx 80 minutes, including a 30 minute wait and a 25 minute wait.
Difficulty: Easy
Servings: The book claims 12, but I made a half batch. The book seems accurate
Equipment used: Chopping board, sharp knife, fork, teaspoon, tablespoon, measuring jug, baking tray, muffin tin

This is one of my dad's favourites, but done in a rather more involved style. I was curious to find how this version stacked up.

The truth is, not too well. The major advantage of toad-in-the-hole is that it's dead simple, and the same is not true here. Sure, it's easy, and the results are a little better, but I don't think they're "better enough" to justify the extra effort.

That said, they were nice indeed. It's also worth noting that "Baking Made Easy" is rapidly becoming one of my favourite cook books.

Result: Excellent. 7/10

Experimental Cookery 2011 #4: Peanut Chicken Noodle Salad

Source: Chinese Food Made Easy, by Ching-he Huang (p. 64)
Cook Time: Approx 45 minutes prep, though I had a second pair of hands to help
Difficulty: Easy, but quite fiddly
Servings: 2 large servings, as claimed in the book
Equipment used: Loads of stuff! Wok, chopping boards, 2 saucepans, knives, spoons, bowls

This was a fairly easy, and very tasty stir-fry. With this book, I've found that it's extremely important to prepare the ingredients before starting cooking - once you start, you have no time to do anything else.

(Actually, that's something that's quite annoying about this book. I quite like the format in Jamie's "Ministry of Food" book - ingredients, then preparation instructions, then cooking, then serving. However, that seems to be the only book I have that adopts that format.)

Anyway, once it was all put together, it made for a very filling meal for two, and was extremely tasty. Recommended.

Result: Excellent. 8/10

Some Follow-up

On Voting

I voted as described.

I was surprised by the results. Not the nature of the results, but the magnitude. In all honesty, I'm not convinced it's a good thing for the SNP to have quite such a strong position in the Scottish Parliament - in general, I think very slight majorities (or even slight minorities) give a healthier politics.

Still, I'm quite hopeful, as I wouldn't have been had Labour won.

(I'm not even remotely surprised at the Lib Dem wipe-out. Nor terribly upset.)

On the Peanut Butter Cookies

They went down very well. Nonetheless, I'm going to give them 7/10 - they weren't as nice as the brownies, and there was an awful lot of eating in them.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Updated on Goals

We're now four months into the year, so I think it's time for an update on my goals for the year. Back in January, I listed seven goals. I also specifically didn't give a reading goal. Nonetheless, I'm going to give an update on that as well, and also on the painting of my Ork force.
  • Super Secret Goal #3 is well in hand.
  • My goal to "blog more" has been successful, but has now been superseded by a more specific target - I want to get to 1,000 posts. Probably not by the end of the year, as I don't think that's realistic, but early in 2012.
  • I've made some progress towards getting back to my "fighting weight", but it's slow going. Plus, I miss Irn Bru.
  • The band did indeed get promoted to grade 4A. Therefore, our goal is to get promoted again this year. This looks to be ambitious.
  • The plan with the Saturday game is that we're going to try to get together one Saturday in each month (though not in May). Also, I'm not now running a game for that group, so don't have the same level of investment in it.
  • I haven't yet written anything of consequence.
  • I have indeed been more relaxed this year, though there is still a ways to go.
  • On books: I'm halfway through "Les Miserables", haven't started "War and Peace", am up-to-date on Raymond Feist's novels and the Pathfinder books, but am behind schedule on reading the 1st Edition hardbacks.
  • I finished the second of four batches of Orks on Wednesday, and varnished the two batches to date on Thursday. I'm now taking a short break to paint some miscellaneous other figures, but expect to have these all done fairly soon. My current projection is that I'll have the Ork force complete somewhere around October, unless I find myself even busier than expected.

Another One Bites the Dust

Despite the huge weight of advice to the contrary, and indeed despite knowing that other products are better, I still make heavy use of Microsoft software. Truth is, the products are still just about good enough to dissuade me from getting to know the alternatives.

But as time goes on, it gets increasingly difficult to do that.

Of course, it's well known that Windows Vista is just awful. Sadly, my current PC can't take an upgrade to Windows 7. And Windows is the one area where Microsoft still have the edge - I'm not ready to make the jump to Macland, and Linux just isn't for me.

Office, on the other hand, has been almost unusable since they brought in the "ribbon interface" in 2007. It's hard to express just how awful that interface is. Sure, the old interface wasn't exactly great, but at least I was able to use it. The ribbon... not so much.

And so, it has been very clear for a long time that my next PC (probably bought in 2012) will be installed with Windows 7 and OpenOffice.

But until this week, I hadn't really given any great thought to my choice of browser. Once again, I'd concluded that Internet Exploder was just about good enough for my purposes.

This week, Microsoft elected to 'upgrade' to IE9, with the consequence that Blogger doesn't work. The "Publish Post" button doesn't actually do anything.

Good work, guys! Thanks to your marvellous upgrade, I've just switched to Firefox!

Dealing With Sectarianism in Football

Given that I don't really like complaining about things without offering suggestions for a better way, here are three ways to deal with sectarianism in football. I should note that one of these is radical to the point of being utterly irresponsible.

1) The SFA/SPL could ban all football chants. Instead, allow people to bring in instruments (maybe even issue vuvuzelas to the crowd). This immediately limits sectarianism to those with the discipline to learn an instrument - and when there's trouble, it's considerably easier to remove "the guy with the bagpipes" than "whoever started that chant". (You'd continue to allow cheering, of course - just no chants that have a recognisable tune.)

2) The SFA/SPL could embed a couple more officials in the crowd, and if they hear sectarian chants, have them order the match abandoned. Afterwards, the points get divided based on the nature of the chants and the current score - the default is "no points for either team", but you need some process in place to avoid fans from deliberately getting games abandoned when their team is currently losing.

Or, of course, simply deduct points from teams whose fans do engage in the chanting.

3) Remove the police presence from the inside of grounds entirely. Instead, license the grounds to host football matches. The moment there is trouble, including sectarian singing, strip the club of the right to host matches. That this then provides clubs with a massive problem of fulfilling their league obligations is their problem (they would have to find a new ground, at short notice, and that ground would be at risk of also losing its license).

(If this were done, clubs would have to have the absolute right to ban away supporters if they felt that was necessary. The clubs would also have to massively increase the level of stewarding at games.)

And, yes, #3 is the one that is potentially irresponsible. To be honest, I think #1 is probably the best solution.