Saturday, March 31, 2007


I've got a ticket to Ryde

I love playing Ticket To Ride. There are very few rules to learn, the board is well designed and the pieces are well made. At home we play the US and European maps frequently (and sometimes the UK map we printed off from some fan site).
In the photo below you can see railway lines snaking across the continent. At the start of the game you pick up some tickets which basically set the cities between which you need to build railways. These are built through the playing of cards you pick up through the game. In a 5-player game there is a lot of competition for routes so you need to target the lines that the others will want to build and get there first. For example, the Petrograd-to-Stockholm tunnel, the hardest to build and most rewarding link on the board. Which I was beaten to. Gah.



Rheinländer certainly looks impressive from the box art but the contents do not meet your expectations. The game isn't too bad - I did find myself actually starting to understand the underlying strategy needed to win as time went by (normally this doesn't happen for me). The pieces, though, do detract from the visual experience and not surprisingly a bad-looking game can real kill off people's enthusiasm, no matter how good the game-play. Here you have plastic figures (representing dukes), round wooden counters (troops), grey plastic blocks (bastions), and a very large wooden bowling pin (the arch-bishop). We felt that some consistency would have been better here. All plastic would have been fine, or all wood, but not mixing them. Makes you wonder if they run out of money when selecting the components and had to buy cheap stuff.
The game revolves around players placing troops on areas along the river and building up duchies of occupied territories. To take out neighbouring players, you simply expand up to their duchy and assimilate them in a Borg-like fashion. The areas you get to place in is based on random cards you pick up so you can be screwed by the luck of the draw.
Each player does have bastions which can be placed in any areas to make it neutral for the rest of the game and so blocking other players taking them over. This just seemed to be a bodge - I expect they found in testing that the game ended or became one-sided too quickly and couldn't come up with a neat way to modify the game mechanics. Grey blocks that look like concrete and cannot be moved do not fit well.
All that said, I would still play the game again.
I'm still surprised nobody said anything rude about the arch-bishop marker but then that may just be me...



Boardgamer category for Student Nationals 2007


Friday, March 30, 2007


City Centre Attractions of Edinburgh

From the bus (after our bout of tourism) we spotted this tea-time troupe of characters who are, according to the road sign, City Centre Attractions. The large pink creature is actually someone in an inflatable sumo wrestler outfit.



Edinburgh Dungeon

Being tourists we decided to walk around and find fun stuff to do. The Edinburgh Dungeons would appear to be the central trap for such people and we fell in, much to our cost.

Spoiler alert for anyone who is planning to visit the Dungeons.

The website declares:
"Transport yourself back to the darkest moments in the Scotland's history within the deep depths of the Edinburgh Dungeon. Live actors, shows, a spooky ride and interactive special effects ensure that you face your fears head on in this unique experience. Everything that you see is based on real historical events from the gruesome tale of Burke & Hare, to Edinburgh's Great Fire, torture and the plague. With a chilling boat ride into the lair of cannibal Sawney Bean the Edinburgh Dungeon provides a thrilling and fun experience that will leave you screaming for more! A day out for the family based on pain, fear, torture and death...are you brave enough?"

The best part of the "experience" is the live acting. A bunch of people take on the roles of various characters from Edinburgh's less publicised past and interact with the audience (you move round the dungeon in a group). They are fun people and everybody has a great time despite the chance of being forced to "take part".

The very first actor you meet plays a judge in his courtroom. He brings you in and then goes through a door to climb up to his pulpit (or whatever). I'm a sucker for the gag where you can hear him stepping up far more steps than there could physically be to get to where he's going. Gets me every time.

I was "lucky" enough to be commanded from the audience to the Dock. After I climbed the short steps, I automatically took a confident posture - leaning forwards with both hands on the rail - which caused the Judge to state that I was obviously no stranger to the dock {roars of laughter from those in the audience NOT selected, which continued louder when the false accusations of cross-dressing were read out}.

Next room is the graveyard. As we stood around by the gates waiting to left in, I could see a cloaked figure approaching but a couple of women with their backs to the gates couldn't. The squeals as he crept up and scared them were music to your ears. The actor then goes on to relate stories about the plague before handing us over to the lady who will entertain is with Burke & Hare tales.

The surgery is comical and her acting entertaining - I can imagine young children would be really amused. Again, the quality of acting is essential as the rooms are pretty drab and plain with little to look at or read.

The vampire hunter in the next room was a laugh - and there were actually some props around to look at while he went through his script. Unfortunately he leads you onto the "chilling boat ride" which I admit is a bit scarey as it is very dark. It is not scarey from any of the flashing lights and noise they use - I am still confused as to what the whole point was.

Off the boat we get to Sawney Bean (a character played by an earlier actor) which is Ok but the props seem to be showing wear and tear. I'm starting to tire of the grubby greyness of the place.

Lastly we are McDonalds trapped in a cottage beset by Campbells at Glencoe. It isn't very often you will see a group of adults all pretending to be sheep so that the Campbells move onto the next cottage.

And then it is on to the shop, which is very extensive. I can see that they bring in a lot of income per square foot from this place compared to the whole Dungeon labyrinth. If you do wish to take in this attraction, I suggest picking up any discount vouchers you can find and making sure you move through the gift shop ASAP.


Thursday, March 29, 2007


Spring colours

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I'm burning, I'm burning...

Every time I think I'm making progress, my avocado plant lets me know that this isn't the case.

Throughout the winter, the tiny greenhouse had been keeping the plant just warm enough to keep going. The inside always seemed damp with condensation on the walls, even when the garden was covered in a layer of snow. And every time I touched the soil, it seemed wet as well. What I don't think was happening, though, was any of this moisture was reaching down to the roots.

So cold wasn't the biggest danger, it was me not thinking I needed to water the plant. The end result is that the leaves at the extremities of the plant turned to brown crisps - which showed how cocky I had got as that sort of change doesn't happen overnight.

Similarly, the twigs the leaves were on were so dry they snapped easily.  The damage only affects the thin, upper twigs and the top 6 inches of the main stem as the rest is healthy, as you can see from the long leafy branches lower down.

Hopefully, in the summer the leaves will come back again although dehydration does seem to be a common problem at that time of year too.

Maybe I should go and find out how to grow avocados properly. I wonder, for example, if they appreciate ants digging a large nest into the earth in the pot as I spotted today.
Parched avocado plant
Parched avocado plant
Parched avocado plant

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Hazy days

Monday, March 26, 2007


Inconsiderate ... people

You are walking down a corridor in an office or other building. It's not too wide but two people could comfortably pass each other. So, why is that when you are approaching a couple of people - and it is usually a couple in the relationship sense and occasionally there will also be a pushchair - that they insist that everyone has to squeeze past together?
The alternative is very simple - the person in the middle drops behind the partner on their left (or right) and, when the oncoming traffic has passed, they step up level with them again.
But no, that's not going to happen. Are they glued to the other person? Or is it some bizarre loss of face to give way to someone approaching them? I've no idea.

Friday, March 23, 2007


You know you've been playing Crackdown too long when...

Walked out of the underground carpark at work today, looked up at the campus buildings, and thought "eeek, I'm still in Crackdown!" Luckily I resisted the temptation to pull-leap myself up to the roof in search of agility orbs...

((photo taken ages ago when we used to get snow...))


Sunday, March 18, 2007


What do points make?

With a sigh of relief, I note the 1-1 scoreline of the Baggies-Brummies match which leaves Wolves still happily in 5th and only 5 pts behind automatic promition but the remaining games are going to be tough ones.

Derby are top and we don't play them again but worrying about winning the division ahead of them is a trifle premature.

Birmingham are second but with a game in hand. Wolves host them on 21st April. Their recent away form is pitiful - losing to Norwich and Hull before their last-gasp goal today gave them a point.

Sunderland are 3rd are being reborn under their new manager and Wolves travel up there on April 7th. They are unbeaten in the league in 2007 so I expect us to lose badly and them to eventually get automatic promotion.

Preston are 4th and performing inconsistently so hopefully will start to falter over the next few weeks.

WBA are 6th and have on paper a pretty easy run-in to the end of the season. They face no opposition above 9th although the matches against relegation-battlers may be tough.

Cardiff, early runners for promotion, have fallen to 7th. Wolves conceded 6 goals in the two meetings this season which is surprising considering our season average is only one a match. Cardiff play Sunderland next which should keep the Taffs outside the playoffs for a while longer.

Southampton are 4 points short of the the playoffs in 8th place but I can't see them giving up yet. They visit Molineux at the end of March but hopefully they will leave with nothing.

March 31st - Southampton (Home) - 8th place chasing playoffs
April 7th - Sunderland (Away) - 3rd place chasing automatic promotion
April 9th - Hull City (Home) - 19th place fighting relegation
April 14th - Crystal Palace (Away) - 11th place and season over already
April 21st - Birmingham Home) - 2nd place chasing automatic promotion
April 28th - QPR (Home) - 21st place fighting relegation
May 6th - Leicester (Away) - 17th place and season over already

Friday, March 16, 2007


Speedy passport return

Old passport posted on the 6th of March, new passport delivered to me on the 16th (as well as a return of the old). Not a bad turnaround at all, considering the days in the postal system and the weekend in the middle. It was a standard renewal and all you need to do is send them cash and new photos with your old passport. As long as the face in the photo hasn't changed too much, you don't need any extra paperwork or getting the photos signed by your doctor. Looking at the photos, my face is now quite a bit rounder than than the handsome 33 year old face staring out from my now-cancelled passport.

One thing I miss from the past is getting visa stamps when you through passport control. Travelling in Europe gets you nothing; even the US didn't bother with ink last year. Here's my total collection:

Entering Canada to stay for a few days before moving on to Hawaii:

Entering the US through the middle of the Pacific for my sister's wedding:

Entering Croatia to visit the local bank (poorly computer system):

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Beating the AI

I'm not a big fan of Bosses in RPG console games. When you get to the end of the level and meet the Boss, you might not want to go through the fight-die-reload-fight loop until you work out how to beat them. You may, like me, get more enjoyment out of the rest of the game and find the bosses a bit of a chore.
Take "Baldur's Gate - Dark Alliance 1", for example - we are bleeding edge in our household. The king of the lizard men is a lumbering thug with a massive club that smears your character in a few blows. You, on the other hand, appear to be armed with a fly-swatter.
So, face-to-face combat (or, more accurately, running away with the occasional swipe) is going to be drawn out and painful. Sometimes it can save a lot of time if you use the game limitations against it.
Here is the master plan that I drew up:

1 painstakingly steer all the barrels of explosives across the corridor
2 save game
3 meet lizard king
4 run away and leap the row of barrels
5 fill lizard king full of arrows as he prowls back and forth on the other side of the barrels (to the game's AI, the barrels cannot be moved)
6 ignite the barrels for the coup de grace
7 do happy-happy dance

Monday, March 12, 2007


Silver lining

As I mentioned recently, I am not able to go to Sweden to visit a customer (tomorrow) because I sent my passport off for renewal. On the bright side, I am so ill today that I have spent most of the afternoon and all the evening in bed with a cold. If I had had my passport then I would have had to cancel the flight anyway.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


St Peter's Close

Should I worry? Does this mean that the Pearly Gates are just around the corner and I'm about to meet my maker?


Heaven is at Molineux and that's where we come from

Is it really two and a half years since I last travelled to Molineux? On a lovely September day in 2004, I watched Wolves snatch a point in the dying minutes from soon-to-be-mighty Wigan.
The team today had definitely changed from back then - Paul Jones and Newton had yet to move to London; Naylor and Miller were still waiting on their Scottish call-up and Cooper hadn't crossed the border into Wales; Lescott and Seol Ki-Hyeon continued to assume that they would play in the Prem with Wolves instead of Everton and Reading respectively; Ince still had aspirations to manage Wolves; Clarke, Cameron and Sturridge continued to warm the bench). The team of 2004/5 managed 64 points from 46 games, something the team of 2006/7 passed today with 9 games left to go. Good times, good times.

Other things have changed too. They don't play "Hi Ho Silver Lining" anymore (except on the telephone queue for the ticket office). They do have boy bands and female dancers (word of advice - "sports-bras").

As usual, I took loads of photos and barely a handful were any good. I'm either concentrating on the game or the speed (lack of, rather) of the camera means the action has already moved on. For example, here is the impressive Matt Murray taking control of the ball:

Here's Michael Kightly doing a sort of dance. In fact I had quite a few photos of players in weird postures.

One problem caused by being a fairweather fan is that, although I may be able to list the starting 11, I have no idea what most of the players look like...

but I quickly picked up the fact that the blond kid was Andrew Keogh:

Mad scramble as the corner kick comes in:

The game went well and I am still surprised that we won and that Wolves are now 4th in the division. The Baggies seemed to have the stronger side - physically larger and faster - but they just couldn't get past Matt Murray today. West Brom also had a disappointing tendency to fly to the ground at the slightest touch - I assume this was something they picked up whilst in the Prem - and the ref eventually brought out a yellow card when he had seen enough dives. Pity he wasn't as generous with the penalty calls although Wolves' record with converting these into goals is not great.

On the way out, I noticed they'd erected an impressive wall of iron to prevent local fans having a pop at the departing visitors:

The temporary wall was effectively extended across the road via police vans, human bodies and finally the Snack Shack, famed purveyor of hot dogs and burgers:

Talking of Keogh (as I was earlier), don't you want to tell him to put his tie on properly like he was still at school? Maybe I'm getting too old...

He does make up for it with one of the most useful autograph styles:

Which reminds me - I stepped in front of someone to put the programme on the wall so I could tidy up my bag. He said "do you want me?", meaning for an autograph. Not being too quick off the mark, I said "no". Of course, once I realised he was a player (whom I obviously didn't recognise anyway - Seyi, maybe?), I was too embarassed to approach him later.

Hopefully I have this correctly identified as Jay Bothroyd, match winner and style'n'bling guru.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today

Back in early February I decided that it was time to renew my passport as there were 3-4 months left. My work colleague was going to be away on vacation for 3 weeks which meant I wouldn't be able to take on any work abroad anyway so I filled in the paperwork and had some photos taken.
A month passed and, on March 6th, I finally got round to posting the envelope.
Today I get a call ... "can you go to Stockholm next week?"

Monday, March 05, 2007


I hate misleading packaging

My favourite cereal (when I get up in time) is Frosties - or, more accurately, Waitrose Frosted Flakes as there is no point paying extra for something that tastes exactly the same. What has annoyed me with this product - well, with this company - is the diabolically misleading cover. See the picture on the right? Sorry for the size - the Waitrose website didn't have anything bigger. That is a bowl of frosted flakes with a spoon ... but the flakes look suspiciously large. This is because the spoon is a TEASPOON which makes the bowl in reality very tiny.
Below left is a photo of a proper-sized bowl containing a suggested serving - look how empty the bowl is. I would be most unhappy to be offered that for breakfast. But then I do tend to take the rim of the bowl as an indication of how far to fill it up to. (The Coke can is to provide a reference for scale.)
Waitrose Frosted Flakes
Bowls of Frosties
On the left, a suggested serving of 30g (175 calories); to this should be added 125 ml of semi-skimmed milk (60 calories); total - 235 calories (10% of your daily guideline)On the right, a human's serving of 75g (440 calories); to this should be added 275 ml of semi-skimmed milk (130 calories); total - 570 calories (23% of your daily guideline)

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Blood moon? No, not September yet

It was a lovely clear night for viewing the lunar eclipse. With the bird-watching binoculars it was possible to see the seas and later the reddish tint to the moon from the light reaching the moon through the earth's filtering atmosphere. Unfortunately my experience with night-time photography isn't up to capturing enough light to show the red - now I think about it, obviously I should have been reducing the shutter speed as the eclipse progressed so that more light reached the sensor. I started with 1/1000 of a second which was great for showing the seas and not ending up with a wash-out white blob but useless as the shadow started reducing the reflected light. Next time I'll try harder!


Friday, March 02, 2007


Hilarious house numbers ... #37 in a series


Punt and Dennis at 21 South Street

I really enjoy comedy at 21 South Street.

  1. It is cheap
  2. It is local
  3. You can ALWAYS get seats at the front, even when the gig is sold out (like tonight). Comedy gigs always fill up from the back...

Tonight Punt and Dennis were here for a warm-up gig, something which I enjoyed more than, say, a mid-tour polished performance. They weren't finished yet - some jokes were being tested for acceptability and the running order was still on a clipboard rather than in their heads. All this and the banter between them when things didn't go as planned really made the pair appear more human.

Spoiler warning

If you plan to see any of their 32-date "Stuff and Nonsense" tour then don't read the rest as it will spoil the surprise.

Here are my favourite (or at least memorable) bits of the concert (in no particular order):

  1. In a sketch about the health service, MRSA was how the middle class pronounce pop star Morrisey. Didn't necessarily work for everybody so I don't know if it will make the final cut. The photo below was part of a Florence Nightingale sketch but I think it would make a good "Caption Contest":
  2. Brand names - why do people pay extra for brand name medicines when the supermarket versions, containing exactly the same molecules, are far cheaper? But then, they aren't experts on drugs like Pete Docherty. On the subject of supermarkets, apparently Tescos now do mortgages - Punt only found out when he received one as an alternative to an avocado in his Internet delivery.
  3. Immigration and passports had a large chunk of time. Punt and Dennis proposed (and demonstrated) how much easier it would be if passports were musical and identified your country of origin when you opened them.
  4. Bird flu - Bill Gates is happy as at last there is a virus that Windows couldn't catch (strangely everybody but me laughed at that one). H5N1 - the only virus with its own post code. Dennis reported how the RSPB spokesmen's comments about the whooper swan that was found dead in Fife last year were censored by the BBC. The explanation that the infected bird, flying from Germany, must have "felt crap" and landed was changed to "felt grotty" instead.
  5. Sir Walter Raleigh - the person who has killed more people that anyone else in history through bringing tobacco and potatoes to Europe.
  6. The veloceraptor walk - always a winner.
  7. Biggest cheer was during the "history of broadcasting" when Dennis reached the 1990s - the notorious "Milky Milky" period.
  8. Below is the winter Olympics impression of landing from the ski jump:

  9. The queen has had 160 birthdays - no, the pedant inside me cried, she hasn't as the official birthday didn't kick in until after she was crowned.
  10. Because the stage is so small, they couldn't just march off-stage in darkness when the lights went off between sketches for fear of crashing into the tables and chairs.



Some people are really heartless

This week someone tried to convince me that McDonalds owned Subway. They seemed so certain and I was worried that I would no longer be able to eat another Subway sandwich again. Dire times. Luckily t'Internet has come to the rescue and I've now found that Doctor’s Associates Inc. (DAI), a privately owned company in Milford, Connecticut, USA, is the franchisor and not the Evil Empire. Or is that Coke? I get confused.

But for every silver lining there is a cloud. Today I gave technical advice to one of my colleagues out in the American MidWest who - without warning me - passed it on to McDonalds. I wish she had told me first as then I could have made something stupid up instead. Bah.

Thursday, March 01, 2007



I've just taken the "Are you a geek" test on MSN and thankfully I came out with:

Well balanced individual: So what if you answered hell yes to some of the questions!?
You are in touch with your inner geek and you aren’t ashamed to admit it - but there are limits…

Pretty random bunch of questions and I feel I need to justify my answers.

You can recite an entire scene from a Monty Python filmMy wife sadly remembers how she thought I was so clever and erudite with the stuff I used to come out with, little knowing at the time that all of it was either from Monty Python or HHGttG.
You've blasted a few monsters in your timeMillions of them have met pixel death
You know more than 20 Windows shortcuts off by heartAlt-Space... Alt-F4... Alt-Tab and its friend Shift-Alt-Tab... oh dear. I blame my MS-DOS inheritance.
Your friends list in instant messenger is longer than your address bookIt's a close-run thing.
You get slightly anxious if you haven't checked your email in an hourReading email is a distraction activity which I undertake at quarter-hour intervals.
You think lightsabers are coolLightsabres are cool - being filmed playing with one is not.
You set up a wireless network in your houseUsed to be the only wireless network in the area for a few years
Your mousemat cost more than £20I do indeed have a leather mouse mat made by Aquascutum, stamped with the Microsoft logo which can't have been cheap.
You often carry more than £300 of equipment in your pocketsYes, and no. There's a Smartphone (the original SPV running the 2002 operating system), a digital camera (Sony Cyber-shot) and a Cream Selector MP3 player. New, they may have totalled over £300 but I bought them all second hand from various people at Microsoft for about £20 each.
You are more comfortable using a keyboard than using a penI can no longer fill in a cheque without getting cramp in my hand from holding the pen.
You met one of your best friends onlineNo
You can rebuild your own PC / MacOf course!
You can spell your name in ElvishNot really a Tolkien geek
You often lie about how much time you spend playing computer gamesNo, I don't need to. When I say I was playing "Baldur's Gate" until 3am, people just need to look at my haggard, sleep-deprived face to know this must be true. I do lie on surveys to join software betas, though, to try and boost my chances.
Starbuck is a girl 
This is more an age question than one to measure your geekness - basically, which Battlestar Galactica did you grow up with? Of course, Starbuck is a bloke, as everyone knows:


You can explain why 1080p is better than 1080iNow if I had an HD-TV then, yes, I would care about my progressive versus my interlaced but I don't so I don't.
You can do more than 10 emoticons in messenger with just the keyboardHmmm.... :-)    :-(   ;-)   nope, that's me done.
You still have an action figure in its original packagingYes, I have a couple of 2000AD characters (Durham Red, Judge Death) bought cheap off eBay and both still unopened.
You read graphic novelsThere are other types of novels?
You can speak KlingonDefinitely not a Star Trek geek! Babylon 5 is the true religion.

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