Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Year in 2015

2015 barely seemed to get here, and now it is at an end. Which seems really strange, but I guess that's just the way of it. Actually, it has been a bit of a strange year, in that I'm left wondering just where the time went.

Anyway, time for another end-of-year round-up. And, as usual, we have the headings...

My Year in... Work

Work has been hard-going this year, but mostly successful. Not the heady heights of late 2013, but little cause to complain, at least for most of the year. Alas, it didn't end well, for reasons I can't go into here. Hopefully, the issue will resolve itself early in the new year. Oh, and there was no call to travel, again.

Probably of more note have been the developments with LC's work. She has spent 2015 working at a high school near Stirling on a year-long contract, which was generally been good. However, at the end of November she managed to get a permanent position near Edinburgh, which is excellent news. So congratulations to her!

My Year in... Health

A middling year, in that the IBS continues to annoy, my neck is never quite as good as perhaps might be hoped, and now my teeth have decided to be a worry (though it's entirely possible that some or all of these are bound up together - the IBS in particular seems to delight in coming up with new effects that leave me wondering "what fresh hell is this?"). But there hasn't been anything serious, which is good news.

The aim of losing weight was slightly more successful than last year, but still not going well. Sigh.

My Year in... Gaming

2015 has been a mixed year for gaming as well. I've run a good few games that have been mostly successful, but I've also had a couple of disappointments. Sticking to the positive, though, I've been very much enjoying my "Firefly: the Lost Episodes" games, and look forward to continuing them into the next year.

On the playing front, this year has been particularly poor, though - I basically haven't managed to get to the other side of the screen, which is a shame.

I'm also a little disappointed that both of the games I play have almost entirely ceased publication. But then, I'm not actually sure that more books really improves things. And anyway, there's always Pathfinder.

For 2016, it's hard to see what will happen - this will depend on where we end up living. So it might prove to be more of the same, with both the "Firefly: the Lost Episodes" and "Eberron: Dust to Dust" campaigns carrying on (and in which case it would be nice to play a session or two on the other side of the screen). Or next year may well see me playing my last, which would be a shame.

My Year in... Band

Band has actually been quite enjoyable this year, mostly, despite a very disappointing competition season. And although we've been downgraded, and lost a number of people as a result, there's a sudden optimism that we'll be able to promote our learners and that things are looking up. Which is odd, but definitely good.

My Year in... Resolutions

As always, the wrap-up of annual goals, and setting of goals for next year, are handled in another post.

My Year in... Travel

There have been several trips this year, taking in no fewer than four countries (or three if you only including independent countries).

In April, LC and I took our annual spring break, heading up to Banff for our anniversary. Which was a good trip, if a long way to travel.

In June, we spent a weekend in the Republic of Ireland, helping out at a church weekend for one of our partner churches (or 'helping' in my case). That was another good trip, but a strange one - it seemed no sooner had we arrived than it was time to pack up and come away. It was also odd driving home, when we crossed the border to Northern Ireland and I suddenly discovered that the hire car's speedometer was marked in metric only!

July saw us spending just over a week in France. Six days of this were spent in La Tranche Sur Mer with my family, and then three days were spent in Paris. Again, my biggest take-away from this one was to do with driving - I really didn't enjoy driving the hire car around the outskirts of Paris. But apart from that it was a really good holiday. The highlight was probably the day we spent at "Puy du Fou", which was great.

Almost immediately thereafter, we found ourselves heading to England for Grandad's birthday party - 90 years old!

And just a few more weeks after that, there was our trip down to Bridgnorth for Bex's birthday party. Another long drive for a fairly short visit, but good to see the extended family again.

Finally, in the recent October break, LC and I spent a few days in a parallel dimension, having driven up to Fort William. That was again a good trip, blessed with really great weather and a steam train.

So 2015 has been a rather busy year, really!

My Year in... Faith

There's not too much to tell, except that this year saw me asked to lead an occasional Bible study - the result of the normal leader being called away for much of the time due to work commitments. That went well, but felt a little odd.

2016 will see me tackling the second volume of Don Carson's "For the Love of God", and consequently going for another read-through of the whole Bible.

Otherwise, there's not much to tell. Things are proceeding much as they have done this last age.

My Year in... Love

2015 has been one of those quiet years where there's not a huge amount to say. LC has been rather stressed out by work, and I think we've both come to find the flat rather oppressive (though perhaps for different reasons). 2016 will see significant changes in both these areas, which means hopefully we'll be able to find a better equilibrium.

My Year in... Departures

This year has, however, been marked with some sadness. We lost Leonard, and we lost Terry, and we lost Christopher...

And then we lost Jack. The passing of LC's Grandfather was one of those devastatingly sad things that you can know is coming and yet you can't actually be prepared for. At the end, though, he passed as well as maybe can be hoped - he fell asleep and never woke up again, with LC's parents with him so he didn't pass alone. I did think the funeral hit exactly the right note, with the minister's observation that we had to say two things: thank you, and goodbye.

Adieu, Jack. You are missed.

My Year... Overall

2015 has been a good year, for the most part, but also tough at times. In particular, the last couple of months have been difficult, and I've felt an increasing discontent with things generally. There's been nothing I've been able to point to as being the issue, but everything has just been... not quite right. I think a lot of that has been down to a combination of generally crappy weather (which has had a greater impact than it really should) and an impatience to just get on with things, and the house move in general. In reality, it's a good thing that this has taken longer than was hoped, in that LC's new job may change our analysis of what's the right next move. But it has been frustrating nonetheless.

It's fair to say 2015 hasn't been as good a year as 2014, but it's also important to note that despite that this was still a good year. 2016 looks hopeful, despite the uncertainties. A lot will become clearer once we've decided where to move, and even moreso once we've actually moved.

As with last year, this will be my last post of this year, so I'll end off by wishing anyone who still reads my nonsense a very happy New Year, and all the best for 2016.

End of Year Update on Goals

With the year rapidly coming to an end, it's time for the end-of-year wrap-up. And so my first post on the topic is the update on my goals for the year:

  • Weight: This one had some small progress, but fell well short of the target. Still, that's a little better than last year. Once again, this goal rolls over to next year, and does so unchanged.
  • Books: Done. The final list of books will be posted tomorrow, but the headline figure is that I have completed 60 books this year.
  • Games: Done. I actually completed this goal back in November, when I ran the ninth "Firefly: Lost Episodes" game of the year. Added to the three "Eberron: Dust to Dust" sessions that I had run by that point, I made the target of twelve game sessions. Unfortunately, the December session of "Eberron: Dust to Dust" was cancelled, but the "Christmas Game" did take the total to thirteen sessions for the year, just over the total. I never got a chance to actually play this year, which is unfortunate, but this still counts as a success.
  • Work: Done. Work was quite difficult this year, but also quite successful. All in all, I'm happy with that.
  • Band: The goal for this year was to see one of my learners break into the main band at some point during the season. In the event, he started competing quite early in the season, and played at pretty much every competition thereafter, including the World Championships. So this goal was completed quite quickly and surprisingly easily.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: Ongoing. The house move had to be put on the back burner for various reasons, but almost all of the preparatory work is now done. We're therefore hoping to get moved early in the new year.
  • Experimental Cookery: Done. It's been a bit tricky keeping this one going, as finding interesting and attractive recipes, and doing so on a weekly basis, has been difficult. However, the final tally is 52 experimental cookeries, which is good.
  • The Imaginarium: Done. Again, this was completed, with the final tally being 62 entries in that blog this year.

So, that's six goals completed, one failed, and one ongoing. I'm happy with that, though a little concerned at the repeated failure.

I'm going to set a much more restricted set of goals for next year, and so am able to do that now. I'm dropping the Experimental Cookery goal - I'll continue with the series, but I'm not going to attempt one a week, nor even number the entries in 2016. Likewise, I'm not going to set a goal for the band, nor for work (that wasn't a good goal anyway). And the Imaginarium will, I think, take care of itself, so no need for a formal goal there.


  • Weight: This is the same goal yet again: I'd like to lose a stone and a half next year.
  • Books: And, again, the same goal once more: 60 books. I only have three of my sub-series picked out, being 12 books from The List, 12 Pathfinder books, and 6 Pathfinder Tales.
  • Games: The goal here is simply to continue both the "Firefly: Lost Episodes" and "Eberron: Dust to Dust" games. One or both of these may come to an end in 2016, but it's hard to know at this time. I'm not going to set a goal for either the total number of sessions, nor for spending any time on the other side of the screen, though of course the latter would be pleasant.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: The goal here is simple: to move home in 2016. The target is actually to move as soon as is practical, but these things always take considerably longer than you think.

And that's it. The goals for next year are probably a bit trivial, but given the difficulties I've faced with the first for the last several years and given the upheaval represented by the last, I think that's enough to be going on with.

I also need to note that the Gaming goal is provisional, based on the results of the house move. If we remains within the Falkirk area, it can continue unchanged. If we end up moving further afield, however, this goal may cease to be relevant and so will be dropped.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #52: Spicy South Indian Chicken Curry

For Christmas I received a new cook book, "The Hairy Bikers' Complete Mum's Know Best". I also received a new pot suitable for cooking many things. And so, for the final EC2015, I made use of my new book to cook something in my new pot. The chosen meal was a very hot, very dry curry.

The recipe was quick and easy to make, though it did remind me again that we really should get a spice grinder - there was really too much to do with a mortar and pestle. But once the paste was made up, it then became just a case of adding things to the pot in order, which isn't exactly challenging!

The resulting meal was very nice, but near-nuclear in heat. Seriously, my mouth was burning for twenty minutes after eating! So, that's not entirely ideal. LC felt also that it needed more of a sauce, rather than being the very dry curry that resulted. I can't say I disagree.

And that's that - the last experimental cookery of 2015. I'll still do some in 2016, but I'll not be numbering them, nor will I aim for one a week. It's a fun series, but it's also a bit of a hassle coming up with something new every week.

#60: "Dune", by Frank Herbert (a book from The List, and also the book that sees me complete that goal as well! This may also be the last book of this year, though there's a possibility that this month's Pathfinder may yet arrive in time to be read before Friday. We'll see.)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

LC and I went to see the new Star Wars film last Thursday at midnight. I've held off on doing a review since then, as it's one that I do think should be watched un-spoiled if at all possible. That said, a week on we're now past the statute of limitations for spoilers, so here we go.

Seriously, if you want to see it unspoiled, you should probably stop reading now.


I thoroughly enjoyed the new Star Wars film, which felt much closer to the original trilogy than any of the prequels. Indeed, I watched all seven Star Wars films over the course of eight days (in a really odd order: I, VI, V, VI, VII, II, III), and AotC and RotS are actually quite painful in places - they're just so bad. TFA isn't - it's at least as good as RotJ. (Not as good as either SW or ESB, but then nothing could be.)

Having said that...

TFA very much feels like a "Star Wars Greatest Hits" compilation - we have another desert-dwelling kid who turns out to be powerful in the Force, we have another plucky droid with a secret message to deliver, we have a desperate escape from a planet in the Millennium Falcon, we have another attack on a Death Star-like superweapon, we have X-Wings and TIE Fighters, we have the shocking death of a mentor-figure, we have parental angst, we have a Jedi master - hidden on some remote world he is, hmm? - we have a new rebellion (sorry, Resistance) against a new empire (sorry, First Order)...

And so it goes. This actually works out quite well for anyone seeking to run an RPG in this new era - there's almost no need for any official support, since virtually everything already exists, even for the ancient d6 system. So that's cool.

The other thing that I didn't like about the film was that Captain Phasma has joined Boba Fett, Darth Maul, and General Grievous on the list of characters who look cool, are heavily-hyped, and then turn out to be a waste of screen-time. I felt this character was not only a wasted opportunity, but was actively mis-handled - apply just a hint of pressure and she folds like an umbrella? Lame.

But I liked the three new leads (Rey, Finn, and Poe - I'm assuming the last will be a bigger character in VIII). I liked the new droid BB8. And I thought the direction they took the new Darth (okay, "Knight of Ren") was particularly interesting. Plus, it was good to see Luke, Leia, and Chewie again - I thought they were in the film just enough to anchor it to the originals, without over-shadowing the new heroes. So that's cool.

I have much more mixed feelings about Han, though. On the one hand, I was very happy to see him "going back to what he does best" - the EU applied way too much hyperbole to Han Solo (and the Falcon), making him the best of the best of the best, and I much preferred him as the cynical smuggler made good, and by extension as the solely-wounded failed 'husband' and father ('husband' because it's not clear is he and Leia married or were simply lovers). And while I thought he was a little too prominent in the film, that made a lot of sense in light of his death. Which was cool.

And so, that's that. I'm hoping to see it again once more in the cinema, probably in glorious 2D this time, and then will certainly get it on blu-ray some time around May. And now I'm looking forward to "Rogue One" and also to Episode VIII, rather more than I have looked forward to a new Star Wars film for some time. Well done, Disney - as with Marvel, you've treated it right.

Though the 20th Century Fox fanfare was a miss.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #51: Tonkatsu Pork

The penultimate Experimental Cookery of the year was another entry from "The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure". Once again, it was very nice but very unhealthy - breaded pork steaks shallow-fried, and served with a sauce. The sauce, in particular, was very nice, and I may well make that again even without the steaks.

There's not much more to say, really. It did what it said, it was very nice, I'll probably make it again, but it doesn't make the top nine. The end.

I don't know what the final EC2015 entry will be, but I'm determined that there will be one more, and indeed that there will be one more. I'm hoping to tackle it this weekend, if only to get it done.

#59: "Red Dwarf: Last Human", by Doug Naylor

(I'm still working my way through "Dune", which I should get finished by the end of the year. But even that's now looking a bit doubtful! I still haven't received the Pathfinder for this month, so may or may not get to read that. We'll see.)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Congratulations to the BBC

I must congratulate the BBC on this year's wonderful Christmas advert, featuring a poor lonely sprout on his travels through winter, before being properly honoured at Christmas. They've successfully joined this blog in the modern era of 2006. Next thing we know, they'll be scheduling a Christmas special of "The Office"...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Death of the Christmas Present

I had to abandon my initial version of this one - it turned into an entirely different rant than I'd expected and intended. Sometimes that happens, as my thoughts disappear down a rabbit hole.


'tis the season to go shopping, and as a consequence of this there has been a great deal of swapping of wish-lists. Because at this point most Christmas gift shopping now boils down to asking the person what they want, going on to Amazon, and buying that exact thing. Which isn't exactly the stuff great Christmas songs are made of, I'll grant you.

But there's a growing problem even with the Christmas list. We're increasingly moving towards a world where everything has become a digital download. Want a book? It's very likely you want it on Kindle. Want some music? That'll be MP3s, then; CDs are pretty much obsolete. Want a video-game? That'll be a "season pass" for a download. A movie? Well, we're not there yet, but we're not all that far away from DVDs and Blu-rays being a thing of the past. (Indeed, blu-rays were already yesterday's technology before they even came out. We just haven't caught up yet.)

All of which rather sucks for the whole "need something to unwrap" thing. Which isn't exactly ideal - and it's not going to change. In fact, I think we may be coming to a point where, beyond the age of ten or so, the giving of actual presents will just become a thing of the past. Which is a shame.

(As a consequence of this, one of my gifts this year is going to be a nice, shiny USB thumb drive - 32GB, if I recall correctly. Which isn't actually the gift at all, although it's a generally useful thing to have. But, instead, it's going to become a useful physical token which I can reuse as a gift at each Christmas and birthday - load it with the appropriate digital downloads, wrap it up, and there's at least something there to be handed over. Of course, it's still a bit of a cheat, but it's as close as I have to a solution.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #50: Bulgogi Beef

Another quick and easy Asian Adventure from the Hairy Bikers, this one was pretty much a matter of marinating thinly-sliced steak in soy sauce overnight, and then frying it for a few minutes. The results were extremely tasty, especially given how easy the meal was to produce.

And so #50 in this series was a resounding success. Two more to go!

24: 100 Episodes In

Last night I reached episode 100 in my re-watch of 24. Obviously enough, this means I've now completed the first four series plus four episodes of the fifth.

Thus far, it remains much as I remembered - it's a really, really good show, if rather far-fetched at times. And thus far I remain of the opinion that the third season was the best, though that may change. Certainly, I had forgotten just how good series four was!

Of course, the worst thing about revisiting a show of the calibre of 24 is the cruel reminder that it has ended, and that we just don't have anything that quite hits the same spot. For a while there, it looked like "Homeland" might be it, but that turned out not to be the case. Still, better to have a show that shows us just what television can do, rather than not have one at all.

1999 All Over Again

"The Force Awakens" opens in the cinemas tonight, and LC and I have tickets to a midnight showing. Which is all rather exciting - as is so often the case, it seemed ages away when it was first announced, then it gradually crept closer, then the tickets went on sale, and then it was suddenly here.

This will be the fourth Star Wars film I've seen on opening day: I was too young for the first three, but in 1999 I left work early to see "The Phantom Menace" as soon as possible, I went to a midnight showing for "Attack of the Clones", and then just went to a regular evening showing for "Revenge of the Sith". (I've also only been to two midnight showings before: AotC as mentioned, plus the first "Spiderman", which I actually saw in an advance screening, which was nice.)

Part of the reason for going so soon is simple impatience - I want to see it as soon as possible, and anyway my next viable opportunity would be Saturday which is a veritable age away. But part of it is also a desire to avoid spoilers, which will become increasingly difficult as time goes on.

Indeed, I've even avoided reading any of the reviews of the film for this reason - one of the reviews of AotC dropped a massive spoiler in the text with no preamble, about which I was not best pleased. But the other part is that I don't trust the reviews to be accurate anyway - as with any J.K. Rowling novel, or a new season of Game of Thrones, or similar, I suspect many of the reviewers are reviewing the name "Star Wars" and not the merits of the movie itself. Indeed, they could probably have written their reviews without bothering to see the film.

Today is in many ways like that day back in 1999 - a new Star Wars trilogy is beginning, a new hope that this time they might have gotten it right. And, if only for a brief moment I'll be back to those Saturday mornings where, week after week, we'd get up early to watch the first film (on Betamax no less!). It's going to be weird having the Disney logo instead of the 20th Century Fox fanfare that nature intended, but then we'll be off on the adventure...

But, mostly, I still trying desperately not to get my hopes up. After the crushing disappointments of the Star Wars prequels, and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", and the Lord of the Rings prequels, and SPECTRE, I've found it's best just to assume everything will suck until I've seen it.

Which is probably wise, but I can't imagine it will survive once the text "A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away..." appears on the screen. And we'll be back to 1999 all over again.

Please don't suck...

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #49: Chicken Shichimi Katsu Curry

This was great, but oh-so unhealthy. It was the second recipe taken from "The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure", and was a nice, simple meal to prepare - bread some chicken and then shallow-fry for a few minutes on each side. And, of course, make up a curry sauce and some rice to have with it.

The result was extremely tasty, and the whole meal was pretty quick and easy. But we won't be having it too often - it's just far too unhealthy! And in future I think I'll use the deep fryer instead, as that's a bit more controlled and rather safer than a precarious frying pan.

But I'm well pleased with this week's meal. Next week should be another exploration of the same book; I'm sure there's something that we can find to tempt us.

Not Historic Enough

Last night featured a brief respite from the crushing normality of life. Due to a complete lack of other things to do, I found myself watching Reporting Scotland, and there was a feature on the search for someone for the new £10 note. Apparently, they wanted someone who was a Scottish historical figure and who had made a noteworthy contribution to science or innovation.

"Huzzah!" I thought. "It could be me!"

So I rushed through to the Spare Room to fill out my application form online, only to have LC crush my latest life's ambition. She feels I'm just not historic enough to qualify, by virtue of not being dead.

How disappointing.

#58: "The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy", by Jem Roberts

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #48: Seared Asian Beef, Best Noodle Salad, and Ginger Dressing

This week's Experimental Cookery sees us returning to "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals". There aren't too many things in that book left that I'm inclined to try, but this was a good one. Quick and easy, and it tasted nice. The dressing was especially nice, with the combination of strips of ginger and the heat from the chilli. The salad was also okay, although there was a bit too much of it!

I do have two criticisms of the meal: there wasn't enough steak relative to the rest, and the noodles weren't terribly pleasant. In future, I think I'll forego draining them, and thus leave them warm.

Otherwise, this was a success. We'll no doubt try it again, although I think we'll mix up the selection of vegetables a bit in future!

I have no idea what's on the menu for next week. I do want to fit one more cake in before the end of the year, but other than that I'm flexible.