Monday, June 27, 2016


Maybe the world should quietly agree to allow England a one-time only chance to redo the last week?

The European Pipe Band Championships 2016

It was another long weekend for the band, being our second Championship of the season (out of four), and it was a good weekend. I don't have time to tell the whole story in detail, so the highlights:

The bus left at 4am, which meant getting up at 2:30. This was not at all fun, especially since I can very seldom sleep on a moving bus. Next year, the suggestion is that we'll travel up on the Friday and stay two nights, which would indeed be better - but would also be much more expensive.

We played really well in the qualifier, giving our best performance of the year. In fact, we came 3rd overall, being 3rd and 4th for piping, 3rd for drumming, and 3rd for ensemble. We therefore qualified with flying colours. And given that that was our goal for the weekend, that was already a success.

We played reasonably well in the final, though not quite as well. In the end, we came 7th overall, being 5th and 6th for piping, 6th for drumming, and 7th for ensemble. Sadly, we were actually only a single point away from winning a prize. Which was a really good result, and yet still quite hard to bear.

The hotel was fine - it was a Holiday Inn in Inverness and did what was needed. The Premier Inn is indeed better, and especially the breakfast is better, but not by a huge amount. And since the Premier Inn breakfast is extra while the Holiday Inn is not, that's a consideration (especially with 35 people on the bus, several of whom may or may not have wanted breakfast).

And that was the weekend. We went, we played, we came back, and it was a good time. Huzzah!

The next competition is not for a couple of weeks now - we have a Gala Day on the 16th of July, then Paisley on the 23rd, and then the Scottish Championships on the 30th.

#33: "Doctor Who: City of Death", by James Goss

Friday, June 24, 2016

Relax. It Will Be Okay

So, the UK have voted to Leave, and all hell has broken loose. Actually, more accurately, England and Wales have voted to Leave - Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to Remain is part of what's causing the chaos.

Naturally, everyone is freaking out - the pound has tumbled, the final credit agency (S&P) are saying the UK should lose its AAA rating (the other two dropped it three years ago), Cameron has resigned, there are talks of further referendums... basically, it's chaos.

But here's the thing: the sky hasn't fallen. In a few days, people will gradually realise that these aren't the End Times, and things will start to calm down. The pound will rally a bit, the Tories will start the process of electing a new leader, and the BBC will find a way to blame Jeremy Corbyn. And all will be well.

Though I must admit that I'm glad I got my holiday money on Tuesday...

#32: "The Shadow of the Wind", by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (a book from The List, and the new candidate for book of the year - what a novel that is!)

Thursday, June 23, 2016


About a week ago, this joke of a referendum stopped being funny and instead became desperately sad. Thankfully, it's nearly over.

And, indeed, for me it is over - the vote was cast this morning. It probably won't surprise you at all to hear I voted "Remain". And now, we await the result...

(One last thought: apparently, this is post 1,400 on this blog. Yay.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Helensburgh Highland Games 2016

This weekend has basically been entirely taken up with band stuff, which really isn't for the best. It was always off to a bad start with us doing two gala days on the Saturday: Linlithgow first and then Grangemouth. This is never fun, although we did take the wise step of borrowing a mini-bus to get us from one to the other. And the band needs the money, so needs must.

Then Sunday was Helensburgh Highland Games, which was an altogether less enjoyable experience. This was my first competition back after missing the last two. It was also already somewhat controversial as we weren't playing until 2:45 in the afternoon and yet the bus left at 9:30 in the morning. Which meant an early morning followed by a lot of waiting around.

Still, we went, we waited around, then we got ready, and were all set to go on. And then it all went horribly wrong...

Firstly, the organisers changed their minds about when we were to go on - we were all set, and then we had to wait for another band to go first. Which was mostly fine, as it gave us some more time for a final tuning. But then, suddenly, we were being rushed to get on to the field by those same organisers. Which seemed rather poor, to be honest.

But that's not an excuse. Unfortunately, when we did go on, after everything having been fine during the tune-up, several drones just refused to strike up - a combination of residual damp from Saturday's exertions and, more problematic, rainwater from the heavens. And, as a consequence, it was a bad, bad performance. So we played, we came off, and there was just nothing to say.

Which, frankly, was just devastating.

The rest of the afternoon was miserable, and it was a huge relief when the march past was cancelled - a chance to get home more quickly and just put it behind us.

Only... we came 2nd out of 7 bands competing, being third in the piping and second in the drumming. Which is a crazy result, and I have no idea where it came from. But, hey, I guess we'll take it.

And that was my weekend. Not a good one. And now, next weekend, we have the European Championships in Forres, with a 4am departure time. Yay.

#30: "Pathfinder: For Queen and Empire", by Stephen Radney-MacFarland
#31: "How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps", by Jared Blando

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

How "The Death of Superman" Ruined Everything

About twenty years ago, probably in a hope to shore up falling sales, DC comics ran the "Death of Superman" story in which, as the name implies, Superman dies. This was a huge event in comics, so huge in fact that it actually made the mainstream news.

Unfortunately, it also ruined everything. Well, not everything, but it certainly did no good for comics or for "Superman" movies.

The fundamental problems with the "Death of Superman" storyline are two-fold: firstly, it's such a huge story that it has come to overshadow everything since; and secondly, it's just not a very good story.

The primary influence of the DoS story on the films has been seen in two of the three "Superman" films released since that storyline: "Superman Returns" features a moment where the world isn't sure if he is dead or alive (spoiler: he's alive), while "Batman v Superman" takes that storyline as one of its two primary inspirations ("The Dark Knight Returns" being the other). And if DC were to ditch their current plans for a Cinematic Universe and reboot the character again, you can be sure that pretty soon they'd find themselves doing "Death of Superman" again. Because every Superman story now lives in the shadow of this one.

But "The Death of Superman" just isn't a good story. Basically, Doomsday appears, being a thug with no personality, no motive, and no backstory, and proceeds to lay waste to things. Superman faces off against him, the two spend numerous pages trading blows, and finally Superman kills Doomsday. But he then dies from his injuries. And that's basically it - the whole thing is basically just a way to get to "Superman's dead", with no character development to speak of and only the barest hint of a plot.

And so we find ourselves in a position where any cinematic version of Superman must address this story and this story just sucks. That's not exactly a good position to be in.

But it gets worse. Because the "Death of Superman" wasn't the end. Of course it wasn't! It took a little while, but that story is inevitably followed by Superman's return from the dead - and, in the DC universe, the opening of the Revolving Door of Death. (Which, coupled by the constant need to reboot and update means that nothing can be permanent in comics. Any character who 'dies' will be back in a couple of years, if Peter Parker gets married that whole arc will be retconned out of existence on a whim, and so on and so on. Nothing sticks, so nothing can have a lasting impact, and any impact it does have will inevitably be muted.)

In the short term, the "Death of Superman" storyline was interesting and probably had the impact that was hoped for. In the longer term, though, it really has ruined everything.

Strathmore Highland Games 2016

This was the second competition of the season that I missed, and the second time the band came away with a prize. It seems they do better without me. Maybe that's a sign.

Anyway, the band came 3rd out of 7, being 3rd in piping and 1st in drumming. (So, once again the drummers won a competition outright, which shows just how strong our drum corps is. On the other hand, this means both that they're carrying us and that we're letting them down, depending on whether the overall result is a success or not.)

This weekend we have the third and fourth of our five Gala Days of the year, both on Saturday, and then the Helensburgh Highland Games on Sunday. Again there are seven bands competing, and in theory we have a much stronger pipe corps this week. So we'll see how that goes...

#28: "Ilse Witch", by Terry Brooks
#29: "Moriarty", by Anthony Horowitz

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Experimental Cookery 2016 #4: Ultimate Pork Tacos with Spicy Beans & Avocado Green Salad

It's hard to believe that we're already in June and yet this is only the third Experimental Cookery of the year. This one comes from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", and took me about half an hour to prepare - mostly because I got everything else ready before I started cooking the pork or beans, thus allowing me to give that my full attention. If I'd dared to multi-task as he'd described, I could probably have done it in fifteen.

This was an easy meal to put together - it was mostly just a matter of chopping and mixing, with just a tiny amount of actual cooking (and that simply a matter of moving things around in two frying pans).

The end result was... interesting. The only thing I didn't like was that the taco shells I had were, perhaps inevitably, far too narrow and so not able to carry much. But the pork and the beans were both good, though I think I might handle the pork a little differently in future. (In particular, cut it into smaller pieces, and cook for 'longer' so it becomes a bit more crispy. 'Longer' is in quotes because the smaller cut in turns reduces the cook time, so it may turn out the be the same overall.) The salad was particularly interesting - the combination of avocado and apple into a single salad made for a very odd flavour combination, though not an unpleasant one.

We'll certainly be having this again, if only because I had to get enough taco shells and pork belly for three meals. But that's no bad thing - this was a nice meal, albeit one that proved no threat to my "nominated nine"!

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Changing Email Address

I have a confession to make: I fell into one of the classic blunders. Not the most classic, of course ("never get involved in a land war in Asia"), or even the second ("never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line"). Not even the third ("never start a multi-volume fantasy series until the last book is published"... though I have done that).

No, this was the fourth of the classic blunders: "never use an email address provided by your ISP".

(There's no prize for spotting the movie reference. But you get to bask in the fleeting glow of being right.)

The reason you should never use an email address provided by your ISP is that changing your email address is a massive pain - it's basically used as your login everywhere on the internet, and there's a whole address book of people who might use it to contact you (though that's less common now - email has largely ceased to be relevant as a means of communication). This means that changing your ISP becomes a massive hassle, which means you're locked into a single company. It's just a bad idea.

In my defence, and it's a bad defence, back when I got my current email address Hotmail was generally not regarded as very good for use as a 'primary' address, while Gmail was very much in its infancy. Getting a fixed address of your own at that point probably meant paying for the privilege, where the ISP gave them out for 'free'. And, also, I was in a hurry since my previous ISP had died suddenly, taking my then-current address with it. I needed something I could use right then. So I got their address, added "sort something permanent" to my long-term To Do list, and then didn't.

All of which was fine until a year ago, when my ISP decided they wanted out of the ADSL market to focus solely on cable, and sold my account to another company. (Who I've complained about before - that company promptly lost a whole bunch of customer data... luckily, not including my own.) As part of that transition, everything moved across, with the caveat that the email servers were to be switched off in June 2016.

And so I find myself forced to move to a new email address. And it's exactly as much of a pain as I'd expected - every account I have online uses the old one, and some of those accounts haven't been used for years, and some of which I've no doubt forgotten entirely. Which will be fun if and when I try to use them again later, only to find I've forgotten my password (and can't have them reset it via email, since I don't have that...)

On the plus-side, this means I'll no longer have that email address tethering me to my ISP. Which, given that the old provider was already sub-optimal and the new provider has had that disaster, is a really good thing.

The other thing it means is that my contact details are changing. And, in fact, I'm going to consolidate down to a single email address for all non-work uses. So, if you want my new address and are in possession of either of my old addresses (the hotmail one or the virgin one) or my mobile number, please drop me a line and I'll send you the new address. But do so by the end of the month, or those contact details will become obsolete!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

How Politics Can be Fun Again

As I've mentioned before, I've basically given up on hoping that politics can get us any sort of a better world - in light of last year's election results and, especially, the reaction to Jeremy Corbyn in the media, it's apparent that the Tories have won. For the foreseeable future, all we're ever likely to get is a Tory government or, if we're very lucky, a Labour government in the New Labour mold (which isn't the same thing in some areas, but is indistinguishable where it matters).

So I've largely started using it purely for entertainment purposes. Though even there it's been pretty slim pickings, especially this tedious EU 'debate' which has largely convinced me that we'd be better off without a government at all than with the current mob.

But two interesting things might combine for some real fun:

Firstly, it looks increasingly like we might actually have a vote to Leave the EU after all. For a long time, I assumed that we'd see some movement here and there, but in the end there would be a last-minute swing back to the status quo and that would be that. But the polls seem to be shifting in only one way, and the Remain campaign has been disastrously mismanaged (I did say not to re-use Project Fear... oh well). Oh, and there seems little doubt that Scotland will vote to Remain, but that's not even the biggest fun.

Secondly, there are ongoing investigations into alleged election expenses irregularities in some two dozen of the Tories most marginal seats. If found guilty, the MPs responsible could find themselves banned from holding office for three years, triggering bye-elections, and removing the Tory majority (at least temporarily; probably permanently).

If those two conditions are combined, then in order to retain office the Tories would have to do a deal with the (hugely pro-EU) Lib Dems, or alternately we'd likely see them replaced by a three-way coalition between the (pro-EU) Labour, (hugely pro-EU) Lib Dem, and (hugely pro-EU) SNP parties. And either way, we end up with at least one strongly pro-EU party in government when the expressed will of the people is to Leave.

(And that's assuming that the pro-EU Tories don't promptly dump Cameron and refuse to back any anti-EU successor. Potentially, they could force an early General Election, or could even allow Corbyn to form a government and deal with the mess. Either way, Labour then have to deal with the situation where their preference is directly at odds with the expressed will of the people.)

Of course, while all this is going on, a UK vote to Leave paired with a Scottish vote to Remain would almost certainly lead to a second referendum on Independence (though it's much less clear which way that one would go). Indeed, it's not entirely impossible that the SNP could find themselves in government in both Scotland and the UK as a whole, duty bound to take rUK out of the EU, while at the same time campaigning to take Scotland out of the UK to keep it in the EU. And if they achieve all that, those Scottish MPs leave Westminster, and the arithmetic changes again - the Tories regain their majority.

And God forbid that the Queen should die while all this mess is going on - the last thing we would need is a new King thinking that what's really needed right now is an exercising of Executive power to steady the ship...

If it wasn't such a total mess, I'd be buying in the popcorn.

#27: "Curse of Strahd", by Wizards of the Coast