Monday, March 31, 2008

The Excellent 1000 Whisky Challenge!

I've decided to set myself a new challenge. It's one I've been thinking of for a while. Here's the challenge:

"I have to drink 1000 different whiskies before I die".

1000 is a little arbitrary but it's a nice round number and I think anything smaller, like 12 would not be enough of a challenge.

Here are the rules:
1. All whiskies count - Scotch, Irish, Bourbon, Japanese, single malts or blended, all are good.
2. Each different whisky can only count once.
3. A 12 year old Glenlivet is different to an 18 year old Glenlivet.
4. A 12 year old Glenlivet in 2008 is not different to a 12 year old Glenlivet in 2010. They are the same.
5. Doubles count as singles.
6. So do trebles.
7. I have to write them in my little notebook once I've tried one. I'll probably set up some kind of online list too.

This is a good challenge because it involves lots of whisky and it is also SMART, apart from possibly the A. In fact, I have no idea whether there are 1000 whiskies or not. It'll be fun to try and find out!

Since I started this on Saturday, I'm now up to 3:
12 yr old Glenlivet
12 yr old Highland Park
Standard Jamiesons

Just 997 to go!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Panic Attack At Sainsburys

I had a dream. I had gone to watch Eurovision at my local Sainsburys and had obviously taken my wooden chopping board with me. Unfortunately, I left it in a plastic bag propped up by the wall in the lobby and forgot to pick it up when I left. This quite upset me and I woke up really worried that I'd lost my chopping board. I was almost having a panic attack - I was really short of breath and had to have a glass of water.

But I think that last part was part of the dream too.

In case you're concerned for me, I checked in the kitchen when I got up and the chopping board is still there. So it's all good.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I can pinpoint the exact moment today at which I realised I wasn't wearing the tie I thought I was.

Ten to three pm

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Apprentice Haiku

So the Apprentice
Candidates this year appear
To be a bunch of

Darn ran out of syllables.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lights, Damned Lights but I've Fixed It

My kitchen is very annoying. It has too many lights. There are four spotlights in the ceiling, four spotlights of a different kind in the top of the cupboard housing and five strip lights under the cupboards (three small, one medium, one long). The actual kitchen itself is only about six foot by six foot. I'm sure a single bulb or fluorescent tube in the ceiling would have been enough light. Damn builders.

The main problem is that because there are so many of them it's really hard to get them all working at once. It's like juggling plates. Little glowing plates, stuck in the roof. Or something. It's not helped by some of them seeming to have loose connections so that I occasionally have to prod them a little to get them going again. It's lucky I'm of a height.

I think at the moment I have them all going (touch wood), as I had a session yesterday where I prodded all the dead ones to see which ones were actually dead and which ones were just pretending. A trip to York's premier hardware store at lunchtime today then enabled me to fill the gaps. So now they're all working and entering the kitchen is like entering the kingdom of Heaven. Except I expect the floor there is both cleaner and fluffier.

And don't get me started on the cost... I reckon it would cost about thirty quid to replace the whole set at once. Though I'd deserve a slap if I left it so long that none of them were working. Maybe I'd have to use a hat with a light in like a miner. Or maybe an apron with a light on. Now there's an idea.

I still can't work out how to get the glass cover off the light inside the oven though. It's been gone for a few years and it's starting to bug me...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Better Use Of Time Whilst Watching Others Play Guitar Hero

I've found a new way to play Guitar Hero. New to me anyway. It's particularly useful if you have a spare GH guitar but can't use it at that time (eg perhaps it's from a different console).

What you do is this:
1. Let someone else play the game in single player, as normal. It helps if they're reasonably competent and also helps if they're using the guitar that works.
2. As they are playing, you pick up the spare guitar.
3. Play along with the song and pretend it's you actually controlling it.

I tried this for the first time last night whilst my girlfriend was playing (she's somewhat better at it than I am).

I appreciate that it might sound a little dumb but it works much better than you'd expect. It feels like you're in control. You get the same tactile feel on the instrument, and the illusion that you're actually playing the game is strong. Obviously it doesn't pick up whether you've got the notes right but you can often feel that yourself anyway.

If nothing else it's a good way to practice some of the harder songs and it beats sitting around waiting for your go!

In other Guitar Hero news it looks like there's a DS version coming out. It has a fret board that clips to the side of the machine and also apparently a stylus shaped like a plectrum (I suspect an actual plectrum would work too!). Haven't seen a track listing before, but after playing Elite Beat Agents for slightly too long I'm confident that the DS will handle the music side of things. I'm just unsure whether the controls will work well.

I guess if they don't I could put it in demo mode and play along with the full size guitar :-)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Festive Easter

It was confusing to wake up this morning on Easter Day (though possibly not as confusing as it was for Jesus when he woke up on Easter day...) as outside it looked more like Christmas Day. Night time had brought a fair smattering of snow and one could almost hear sleigh-bells.

I probably shouldn't be surprised at the weather. I've lived in England for over thirty years and it's always crap. That's why it's also so great. Snow at Easter!

I'm hoping that this will mark the end of the cold for 2008. I really need some warmer times so I can properly kick-start my exercise regime and practice for the GNR. Or maybe I just need a treadmill.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Good Friday

It's a Good Friday!

We went to the Vudu Lounge for lunch - the normal downstairs bit was shut so we had to go upstairs. It's much nicer and I can't understand why I've never been up there before. They genuinely do do the best burger in York. Esp if you have the one with jalapenos on.

Afterwards we headed over to Pivo. Where I drank some cider. Or Cyder if you go by their labeling.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Major T(h)om(as)

I've been wondering whether Ashes to Ashes (the excellent BBC Life on Mars spin-off) should have been subtitled "The Chronicles of Alex Drake, Unbeliever". Because it seems to have more than a little in common with the Thomas Covenant books.

Not everything, mind, she's not a leper, she doesn't rape the first person she meets in 1981. But on the other side, she does face a near-death experience (and in fact is possibly dying) and then wakes up in a strange world which she refuses to believe is real.

I think it's similar.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Lame Excuse For Not Going To The Pub

Colleague: Do you want to come for a couple of pints after work?
Me: Sorry, I can't. I've got to go home and bake cakes.
Colleague: ...?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cake Verdict

The Delia Chocolate Cakes went down well at work today. Only complaints were

1) They smell funny but taste good (I think the smell was due to the Chinese Fivespice - am I right to use Fivespice that also contains pepper and garlic?)

2) They're a bit rich (ie too chocolatey! Can a chocolate cake be too chocolatey?). This came from someone who shortly afterwards had a second one so I don't think it could have been too much of a problem.

So it's all systems go for the next batch which I'll be making for our team meeting on Thursday. It's been decided that we'll all take it in turns to bake cakes for our monthly team meeting (which pretty much means once a year for each of us). Since 11/13 of us are boys I think this is quite funny. Especially when it gets around to being the turn of boys who've never cooked cakes before (I reckon there are at least six).

Nobody managed today to guess that the secret ingredient in the cakes was frozen mashed potato. I'm still finding the whole concept far too hilarious. I'd love to know how someone ever worked out that it not only could be put in cakes, but that it actually worked if you put it in cakes.

I might try making some chocolate cakes of my own recipe (I don't need Delia!) using other random things from my own freezer:

1. Frozen pizza
2. Frozen trout
3. Frozen southern fried chicken
4. Frozen birds eye potato waffles

The last might actually work as it's basically shaped mashed potato. Maybe I'll just try mixing all of them together and adding some flour, eggs and sugar and seeing what happens, George's Marvellous Medicine stylee. It could be good...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Last Night's Bidding

Some nights end strangely. Last night for example, we had tea (I technically didn't as I'd had a late lunch and wasn't hungry) and then watched Snakes on a Plane. It's pretty dumb but quite good fun.

But later still I find myself on eBay bidding for an Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson CD. That's just not right. I was willing to go up to seven pounds which put me in the overnight lead but it went for seven fifty when the bidding closed this morning. So I didn't get the CD.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Delia's Chocolate Cakes

I made the cakes out of the new Delia book today. The ones with the frozen mashed potato in. They came out really well and are very very tasty! I think my workmates will be pleasantly surprised when I take them in on Monday.

Chocolate Cakes

I might keep the mash quiet though.

Friday Darts

I've started playing darts a little on Friday nights and have discovered that I am an amazing player. Well, maybe not amazing but pretty good. Well, maybe not pretty good but occasionally fluky. For example, last night I beat my boss in a game of 301. He started much better but we eventually both got down to needing a double one to finish. And we stayed that way for about half an hour. Eventually I decided to use a Jedi Mind Trick to win and as I threw my dart I said out loud "this dart will win" and it went straight into the right little box. It was brilliant.

I then went on to win two (out of three) further games of doubles, each time with me getting the final winning dart. The opposition were quite astonished.

I'm almost tempted to make my way down to Argos and buy my own darts.

I did however manage to get a dart stuck in a strange place: Pointy end up with the fights jammed in behind a dado rail. Impressive!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A bad day to travel.

It's been a bit windy.

I was in Peterborough this morning. Seven o'clock train from York, hour down, bit of time for contingencies, start at nine, finish running my session by half eleven, back on the train at 12:21 and back in the office well before two. Or at least that's how it normally works.

Because of the winds, the trains had been put onto an "emergency timetable". For some reason, rather than this meaning that the same number of trains run, but just go a bit slower, instead what seems to happen is that half the trains are cancelled and the rest break down.

Going down was not too bad (half hour delay due to a broken down train in front at Grantham) but coming back was less of a happy journey. I got on the train at 12:30. Already nine minutes late but on time according to the emergency timetable. Then heading north the train seemed to go at normal speed but stop for half an hour before entering each station. I'd have coped with this. I'd still have been late back to York but not too badly.

Unfortunately, upon hitting Doncaster we had to vacate our National Express train and head over to another platform to join a Virgin. This might have been ok if a) the NX train had been not too full; b) the Virgin was bigger than the NX and c) the Virgin wasn't full either. But neither of those things was true and so it was all a bit busy.

And to make it worse, the reason for changing in the first place was that power lines were down north of Doncaster so we had to go back to York via Leeds. Which isn't particularly direct.

So overall my one hour journey took three and a quarter, and I made it to my desk to start the day's work at 4pm. Grrrr.

But hey, at least I've still got four nights or so before cider prices go up.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Unrealistic Police TV

I've started watching The Shield on DVD. I'm nearly at the end of series 1 (yeah, I know that puts me about twenty seasons behind America) and I'm lovin' it so far.

But I had an issue with episode 3.

It features a (possible) rapist who is a bit mental and keeps jars of his own man-juice in his padlocked fridge. He thinks he is a great guy and needs to preserve his seed to be able to impregnate women in the future after he becomes infertile due to some disease he's got. He ends up being caught after slashing a night-lady a little bit in her neck.

So the cops take him in and in their questioning/research it turns out he's an ex-actuary. The actuaryness doesn't impact the plot of the episode at all. The guy doesn't reference mortality tables at any point. He fails to build any financial models. He's an actuary purely to flesh out his character a little bit.

Now I think this is portrayed really unrealistically. Not because they make out that actuaries are the kind of people who store jars of love-honey in their kitchens. We all do that.

No, it's unrealistic because not one of the police, NOT ONE, asks the obvious question: "Um, what's an actuary?". No way that some lumphead LA policemen would know what an actuary was. It's ridiculous. Lazy scriptwriting.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

101 Uses For Frozen Potatoes

I was in WH Smiths on Friday lunchtime and saw that they had Delia Smith's new book, How to Cheat at Cooking reduced from twenty squid to twelve. That in itself would not have been enough to tempt me but I also had in my wallet a voucher for five pounds off any book over ten pounds. That took it down to seven and that was enough - I bought meself a new cookbook.

It's an odd book - it seems to mostly involve recipes that use Aunt Bessie's frozen potatoes. It even has a recipe for cupcakes which includes Aunt Bessie's frozen mashed potato as an ingredient (I'm going to have to try that one). Very odd.

So when I was in Sainsburys today I picked up a few bags of the aforementioned potatoes.

Yes, I am a sucker.

Friday, March 07, 2008

A reason to get out of bed

I didn't get a place in the Great North Run ballot and the lazy part of me had seriously started considering not doing it this year. That would be nice - I wouldn't have to do all that hard time-consuming training. But this afternoon I was having a storming time, clearing up all the jobs I've been putting off and I was doing so well that I phoned up Cancer Research and got one of their places. Darnit.

It should make it easier for me to force myself out of the house now though. The winter has been absolutely foul but now it's getting lighter in the evenings and I can envisage early evening runs not being too tormentous. And I might even do some more of the early morning ones. And I have a goal now.

So that's six months and twenty eight days (ish) and counting...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Sweet Machine!

I found the best machine in a pub ever. Better even than the one in Cambridge years ago that did the rat-shaped condoms that we played Fingerbobs with. It serves little Pringle-like tubs of sweets/nuts for a pound a go. They're great! We had loads:

And once you've bought and eaten you can play fun games like the old three cup swizzler game or any other magic involving cups that you can think of. I discovered an innate talent for making things disappear. As long as they were sweets.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Farewell to the Galaxy

Finally... I've got all 120 stars and then all 120 again... and then the last one! 121! It's over!

Seriously, I can't think of many games where I've been happy to play through the whole bloody thing straight after finishing it the first time.

If you need more detail, after getting all 120 stars, you have to play through the whole thing again but as Luigi. Even the hard annoying levels. And all you really get at the end is... **Spoiler Deleted** and the letter above. But I feel it was worthwhile and that I'm a better person for it.

And I'm looking forward to moving onto something else. I'll miss it though.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Da Da Da Da Da Da Da etc

Apparently there was some earthquake here in England last week. I failed to notice it - not because it was late at night and I was asleep, but because it was late at night and I was asleep in France. I don't know if they have earthquakes in mountains or not. My plate tectology makes me thing that you maybe don't as they're not bits where things slide under other things, but I'm not sure of this and I'm almost more sure that there will be some mountainous regions with quakes somewhere.

But the key thing for me is that there was no earthquake in South France last week.

Which is good as that would have put me right off my sleeping and made me miserable for skiing and probably then fall over, which I must repeat, I did not do.

Apparently the English earthquake was scary. Apparently it was shaky. Apparently it caused all sorts of minor damage and traumas.

But I missed all the fun. Gutted. Best I can do is to lie on the sofa and get someone to shake it a bit. And that's not quite the same because I worry it will break the sofa.

I have been woken by something new this week though: birdsong. At four this morning a load of the little f**kers started tweeting outside my window. I can't remember even seeing a bird round here before, apart from the ducks that used to live in my car-park (I wonder where they went?). They were as loud as. I was most annoyed and awake.

If it happens again tonight I'm tempted to go out there with my stout stick and beat their little birdy heads until the tweeting stops.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

An Egg-cellent Apology

The chalet we stayed in Courchevel was called Sabot de Venus and was located down a very steep hill. The hill was the kind of hill that could be deadly in slippy conditions - unfortunate given that we were halfway up a snowy mountain... Luckily there wasn't really any issue given that it was so warm.

Apart from that, I liked the chalet. We had two chalet girls and one chalet boy. The latter was quite excited to find out I'd taken my DS and Pokemon with me. We swapped a few of the little critters and I filled up some of the (many) holes in my Pokedex. He also cooked us lots of nice dinners which were just about sufficient to soak up some of the free chalet wine.

They've developed a very sophisticated mechanism to stop guests fetching their own wine from the kitchen (it's supposed to be only used by staff for H&S reasons). What they do is put the winebox on top of the fridge. This stops short guests getting to it. They then put an open box of eggs on top of the wine box. This means that when a taller person such as myself attempts to access the wine, if the box is tipped a little then all the eggs slide off and onto the floor (or the wine-seeker).

And this is clearly not a good thing to happen.

Needless to say, on the third night or so, the hosts had gone to bed (or possibly to the pub) and we wanted some more wine. They had actually said we could help ourselves to more wine if we needed, they just neglected to mention the egg-trap.

End result was I felt very, very stupid and wrote a note of apology. Unbeknownst to me, my girlfriend had also gone off to write a note in the other room (I think she thought I was too drunk to manage it!). So we left both notes.

Egg Apology

Funny thing was that the previous night we'd been woken by another group of guests coming in late from being out drinking. We then heard from the hosts that a lot of eggs had been broken, but they hadn't said why or how. Now I think I know...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Skiing in Courchevel

I'm safely back home from my fantastic skiing holiday in Courchevel 1650. I'm tired but unbruised as I went through the whole holiday without falling over once! A few wobbles, but all were recovered from before I could hit the ground.

I had lessons booked from Monday to Friday, but since we got in on Saturday, the Sunday was available to do some initial practicing. I was a little rusty as I've only skied once before and that was two years ago. But I soon remembered the basics and was able to ski down Mickey, the short (but steep at the top) beginners' slope without too much trouble.

Unfortunately on the Monday, the lift operators all went on strike for the day and so there were no ski-lifts working anywhere in the Courchevel valley. This makes skiing quite hard. It also meant that my lesson had to be cancelled and so I was left to fend for myself.

In the end, I really was very limited. Best I could manage was to walk to the top of Mickey and ski down. This was very tiring. And since the weather was very hot, I couldn't keep my jacket on for too long - at one point I was skiing in just my t-shirt.

Skiing down Mickey

The weather the whole week was very hot (for a ski-resort, anyway!) and I never needed to wear more than a thin shirt and my jacket. Didn't even need a hat. This was especially nice given how bloody cold England had been for weeks previously. It was like going on a summer holiday.

When the strike was resolved the next day, lessons were able to go ahead as planned. I felt that I made some really good progress in the week, though I still have trouble getting out of a snowplough when going round turns. But I can feel it coming. By the end of the week I was going fairly confidently down not only the green runs, but also quite a few of the blue ones too. The two hours of the final lesson were mostly on blues and I wouldn't say that I enjoyed it, but at least I wasn't scared to death like I had been several times on my last holiday!

The instructor was excellent (I'd heartily recommend New Generation) and unusually was English. He'd been skiing for 22 years, since he was four years old - I can't imagine what that must be like. You see the lines of munchkins coming down the slopes but never really imagine that they grow up into ski-instructors.

But they do, and good ones too.