philmophlegm: (Ben Folds)
Since this doesn't happen very often, I thought I'd record it here. Now that I'm getting older (44), maybe I will get ill more often, but I think this is my first illness of 2016 which isn't bad.

Anyway, I've had some weird fluey thing. I gave it to bunn too, who had very similar (but not quite identical) symptoms. Today was my first day back doing proper work since last Wednesday, which was good because I had the last lecture of the term for my MBA students, a joint lecture with the head of the Business School. He'd had it too. As had two of the four students. As had the small daughter of one of the others. The remaining student spent the entire lecture breathing through her handkerchief.

The key symptom for me has been complete lack of energy, for days on end. That and weight loss. I've lost ten pounds in five days. That can't be healthy. And in fact it wasn't.

Feeling much better now. I had a productive day of work which means that I'm pretty much on top of my dmbsf bttpdjbuft work but way, way behind on where I want to be in terms of Shop on the Borderlands admin. And have barely started Christmas shopping. And we don't have any decorations up. Not to mention overdue housework etc.
philmophlegm: (Flag)
Let's be honest, cricket is not an exciting spectator sport most of the time. Apart from a tiny, tiny number of people, most people who say they "follow the cricket" mean that they vaguely keep an eye on the score and maybe have the Test Match on Sky Sports or Radio 4 on in the background while they do other things. Typical attendance at county first class matches is just a few thousand for one of the top counties on a good day.


On those rare occasions when cricket is exciting, it's all the more memorable simply because it's so rare.

Which brings me on to Great Sporting Moments Numbers 2 and 3. The 1981 Ashes Test at Headingley. (Note for readers from non-cricket countries: 'The Ashes' is the series of test (i.e. 5 day) matches played between England and Australia. It's probably the most important cricket for English and Australian fans.)

Ian Botham had started the six match series as England captain. He was England's biggest star at the time. At his best, both a big-hitting batsman and an effective fast-medium pace bowler. However, after two matches, Australia led 1-0 and Botham's personal form was poor. He had failed to win any of his twelve matches as captain and failed to score a run in the second test. He was removed as captain (but kept his place in the side) and replaced by former captain Mike Brearley - not regarded as a particularly talented player, but a clever captain and motivator.

The change didn't have an instant impact in the third test at Headingley in Leeds. Although Botham took six wickets in Australia's first innings, Australia declared on 401-9. England's batting response was poor - 174 all out (although Botham made 50). Because they trailed by more than 200 runs, Australia chose to force England to follow on (to bat again immediately). England were reduced to 105-5 when Botham came out to bat. England still needed 122 to avoid an embarrassing innings defeat. They avoided the innings defeat because Botham hit a brutal 149 not out, unquestionably one of the greatest test match innings ever.

At the end of England's second innings, they had a lead of 130 - a very gettable target for Australian batsmen high on confidence. Even more so when they got to 56 for 1. At that point, Brearley made a crucial tactical change. He switched his bowlers around, allowing fast bowler Bob Willis to bowl down the slope from the Kirkstall Lane end. Willis had bowled poorly in Australia's first innings, but followed Botham's lead and went for all out attack. There were bad balls, and no balls, but there was plenty of pace and bounce and hostility...and it worked. He took eight wickets for just 43 runs as Australian crumbled and England amazingly, miraculously won the match. It was only the second time in the history of test cricket that a team had won having followed on.

Australia weren't the same after that. England came back again to win the fourth test, and then Botham slaughtered the Australian bowlers with an innings of 118 that included six sixes to win the fifth test and clinch the series. England regained the Ashes.
philmophlegm: (Lego Rock Band)
Some songs claim to be cheesy, but they're no more cheesy than those weird orange rubber things that Americans put on cheeseburgers. Pretty much all of Journey's output is proper cheese. And this is a particularly mature unpasteurised cheddar with quite a bit of blueing. It's easily their most famous song, and to be honest it's their only really memorable one.

The sort of song that is best appreciated on a long solo car journey with a car stereo good enough that you can turn it up loud enough to conceal the fact that you can't hit the high notes like the actual singer can...
philmophlegm: (NFL draft)
There never was a TV series called 'Terrible Sporting Moments'. Shame really.

Anyway, there will be now. My list of terrible sporting moments includes incompetent performances, bad luck, bad refereeing decisions, poor administration and some horror shows. This first entry is in the latter category (hey, it's almost Halloween). If you're at all squeamish, don't play the video. Joe Theismann was the star quarterback for the Washington Redskins. At least he was until this happened.

(I'm really not kidding about the squeamish thing. You have been warned.)

If you've ever seen the film 'The Blind Side' (good film; Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for it), you may remember that this is how the film starts:
philmophlegm: (Cantona)
Once upon a time, there was a TV series called 'Great Sporting Moments'. Good idea I thought. We should have that on LiveJournal I thought...

The last thing Manchester United needed in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal was for the match to go to extra time and then a replay. That's exactly what happened. They were also still trying to win both the Premier League and the Champions League and really could have done without extra fixtures. The replay had to be played just three days later. Beckham put United ahead, Bergkamp equalised, Roy Keane got sent off and Arsenal got a penalty right at the end of 90 minutes. WHICH SCHMEICHEL SAVED! And the game went to extra time.

And then this happened.

Best FA Cup goal ever, I reckon.

And they won the Premier League. The Champions League? That'll have to wait for another of philmophlegm's Great Sporting Moments.
philmophlegm: (How did it come to this?)
I got into Blind Guardian because I spotted on Amazon once that there was this heavy metal concept album ('Nightfall in Middle-Earth') based on Tolkien's 'The Silmarillion', and seriously, who wouldn't want a German heavy metal Silmarillion concept album in their life? This is one of the songs from that album. It's Turgon thinking to himself following his conversation with Ulmo (the one where Ulmo shows him Gondolin and persuades him to move his people there in secret). Ulmo has told Turgon that there is hope for the Noldor, but that it "lies beyond the coast" and that one day "the winds will change" - Ulmo tells Turgon to leave a suit of armour behind in Nevrast, which will be found by Tuor, who will come to Gondolin and ultimately father Earendil who will sail west to the Undying Lands and gain the help of the Valar against Morgoth.

Great song though.

philmophlegm: (Traveller: The New Era)
OK, before I get to the review, I need to get a disclaimer out of the way. This is a novel based on the Traveller RPG, written by the game's creator, Marc Miller. It was funded by a Kickstarter, which I backed. And Mr Miller is an online friend of mine. In fact, for a time, The Shop on the Borderlands was the only place outside of the US where you could buy a paperback or hardback copy.

So I would have bought this book whatever. I like Travelleresque science fiction (I may have mentioned that once or twice in the past), and obviously this is Travelleresque. However, the first thing that surprised me is that Miller didn't just write a novel about a free trader crew odd-jobbing around the Spinward Marches (in other words, the classic Traveller campaign format) or a mercenary company fighting bush wars on frontier planets against Zhodani-backed separatists (the other classic Traveller campaign format). Instead, this is something rather more ambitious. Here's the blurb:

"Jonathan Bland is a Decider, empowered by the Emperor himself to deal with the inevitable crises of empire. In the service of the Empire, he has killed more people than anyone in the history of Humanity, to save a hundred times as many. He died centuries ago, but they re-activate his recorded personality whenever a new threat appears. When the crisis is over, they expect he will meekly return to oblivion.

He has other ideas.

The chronicle of Bland reveals secrets of the history of the star-spanning Third Imperium and spans 400 years from early Imperium (about year 300) through the mid-post Civil War period (about year 700) touching known and unknown events you may have encountered in your own reading of the Imperium: everyday events, political intrigue, deadly dangers, Arbellatra, Capital, Encyclopediopolis, the Karand's Palace, and a Tigress-class Dreadnought.

If you know the Traveller science-fiction role-playing game, then some of this is already familiar; if not, no matter; this story introduces the vast human-dominated interstellar empire of the far future in ways only the designer and chronicler of this particular universe can."

With its episodic nature, the work it most reminded me of was Asimov's Foundation series, or at least the first two or three books. Neither author dwells too much on characterisation, preferring to get on with setting, plot and action. Each of Bland's activations is pretty much a self-contained short story, at least at first. As you get further into the book, longer term plot arcs make themselves felt in quite a subtle way. It's really a cleverly structured work of science fiction.

And that brings me to the second thing that surprised me about this book - it's a very accomplished piece of writing for a debut novelist. Really good in fact. Not coming from a major publisher probably counted against it in terms of awards, but it was shortlsted for the Dragon and got some Hugo buzz (although ultimately didn't make the shortlist). I read it not long after reading the much-hyped and much-awarded Ancillary Justice which I thought was pretty mediocre to be honest. This is in the same space opera sub-genre and was far, far better. In fact, it's the best novel I've read so far this year. Highly recommended. Consider it essential if you play or have played Traveller, and highly recommended if you don't or haven't but you like ambitious, high concept space opera.

And now a plug: you can still buy it from The Shop on the Borderlands! (and not from many other bookshops, at least outside of eBook formats)
philmophlegm: (Bush Tucker Man)
A slight change of pace from Song 45. I was a late convert to AC/DC. This is one of their better songs. I wonder how many heavy metal fans have been (consciously or subconsciously) more attracted to fat girls than they otherwise would have been because of this song. AC/DC - clearly a feminist band.

Actually, if you prefer your AC/DC with a more Australian singer and a younger, more mental Angus on lead, then check out this much earlier rendition from 1977:
philmophlegm: (Dawn over the Tamar)
The random number generator known as Bunn has selected this song from my longish shortlist. It's a song she refers to as 'The Combine Harvester Song' for reasons which will become obvious when you listen to it. It's nothing like the Wurzels' combine harvester song though. Who would have guessed that there could be two wholly different songs concerning combine harvesters? You might remember Henley's song 'The Boys of Summer', which was a big hit (number 1 in the US and won a Grammy). Well, this was the B-side.

Sorry about the poor video and sound quality. Like I said, this is an obscure B-side - it wasn't even on the original LP, only on the cassette and CD versions. Really good album though, 'Building the Perfect Beast', with half of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers as his backing band plus guests like Lindsey Buckingham and Belinda Carlisle.
philmophlegm: (D&D Basic)
I Am A: True Neutral Human Ranger/Wizard (3rd/2nd Level)

Ability Scores:







True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Primary Class:
Rangers are skilled stalkers and hunters who make their home in the woods. Their martial skill is nearly the equal of the fighter, but they lack the latter's dedication to the craft of fighting. Instead, the ranger focuses his skills and training on a specific enemy a type of creature he bears a vengeful grudge against and hunts above all others. Rangers often accept the role of protector, aiding those who live in or travel through the woods. His skills allow him to move quietly and stick to the shadows, especially in natural settings, and he also has special knowledge of certain types of creatures. Finally, an experienced ranger has such a tie to nature that he can actually draw on natural power to cast divine spells, much as a druid does, and like a druid he is often accompanied by animal companions. A ranger's Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Secondary Class:
Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

philmophlegm: (Cantona)
Not that long ago, Manchester United had a wonderful South Korean midfielder called either Park Ji-Sung or Ji-Sung Park. (There seemed to be some confusion over which way round his name was.) He wasn't a superstar (although he's probably Asia's most successful footballer), but Sir Alex Ferguson would often play him in big games to do specific tactical duties. Ferguson said that leaving Park out of the squad for the 2008 Champions League Final was one of the hardest managerial decisions he ever had to make.

Park was the subject of perhaps my favourite football song, sung to the tune of the hymn "Lord of the Dance":

Park, Park, wherever he may be
He eats dogs in his home country
It could be worse
He could be scouse
Eating rats in a council house.

Anyway, I was amused to read this week that Park is now studying for a Masters Degree at De Montfort University. That's not the amusing thing. The amusing thing is that when not studying, he plays for the university's football team. It must be something of a shock for opponents who suddenly realise who the foreign mature student playing for the other team is.
philmophlegm: (Concentrated power)

"We can all put aside our partisan differences for a moment and agree that this Trump-Clinton “Dirty Dancing” duet is the best thing to come out of the debate."

Don't trust "factcheckers". Maybe it’s just my innate cynicism and a background as a professional sceptic that always makes me doubt someone who claims to be “unbiased” when giving you “the facts”.

Why Truman fired MacArthur. Fascinating account.

Weaker Sterling is (on balance) somewhere between good and very good for the UK economy.

...and another article making a similar argument.

Tolkien might not have been too impressed by the current trend to concentrate on the ethnicity of science fiction and fantasy authors rather than the quality of their work.

There is no such thing as trickle-down economics.

This is the best explanation of why so many people will vote for Donald Trump that I've seen.

Ched Evans is Not Guilty. Here's ten myths about the case that need to be busted.

Who is winning in Labour and the Liberal Democrats' race to be the most anti-semitic party?

Dennis Byrd didn't deserve to die in a car crash.

Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' slowed down is amazingly good. (Thanks beckyc)

18 Game of Thrones moments improved by quotes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Given the dearth of available options, who should American conservatives vote for in the presidential election?

Are we seeing the beginning of a political realignment in the UK? Interesting lecture.

Here's a particularly unsubtle example of simple corruption from the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.

Political map of Europe, year-by-year from 3650BC to 2016AD.

70-year-olds play D&D for the first time.

The third most likely person to become the next President of the United States, and how he would do it. OK, it’s beyond unlikely, but not impossible…

philmophlegm: (Reginald Iolanthe Perrin)
This article struck something of a chord. Actually that's an understatement.

If the article is TL:DR, here's the executive summary: Organisations recruit clever people, but then discourage them from using their intelligence. It could easily have been written about my former employer (one of the Big 4 global professional services firms). And it's one of the things that consistently bugged me the most.
philmophlegm: (Lego Rock Band)

You don't need this laptop.

Trying to understand the EU's actions against Apple and the Republic of Ireland.

It's not shocking that professional employers judge applicants for client-facing roles partly on their appearance and their dress. What is shocking is that not only do state schools not teach this stuff, they sometimes don’t like it when employers try to do it instead.

Useful smartphone test. When I last bought a smartphone, I read lots of reviews, but one question that was never asked was “How good is it at making and receiving calls?”, that is “How good is it at actually being a phone”"?”

According to the latest Rowntree Foundation definition, someone in the top 0.32% of global incomes is now "in poverty". Muppets.

British WW2 propaganda posters.

Think you're good at Lego building? This guy is better.

If you were an American games company raising funds on Kickstarter for a new family card game "that combines speed, hilarious gestures, and your silly side for 2-6 players, ages 6+", and you weren't that familiar with politically incorrect British playground slang, what's the worst name you could come up with...?

"Nobody ever got sacked for buying IBM" …but maybe in this case, someone should have been.

When I was an auditor, this sort of clever statistical analysis was called a logic check. This is a good logic check on why American police might treat certain groups differently. (Hat tip to ford_prefect42.)

Archaeological evidence of a major bronze age battle in northern Germany c.1250 BC.


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