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December 2006

Another Restless Night

We had another disturbed night last night, with Jill getting practice contractions again. It seems to be at its worst every two days, so I'm not expecting a good night tonight. This, more than anything, is getting Jill fed up. We're definitely in that transitory state at the the moment. We were out for a few hours yesterday in town, and got a light lunch out. However, six o'clock came and the pain came again, so we had a very quiet evening. I guess we're also hoping that this timing doesn't mean that we're going to have a very nocturnal child!

The big question comes if the baby hasn't arrived on Monday; do I go back into work to maximise my paternity leave? I think I probably will, but we'll discuss it over the weekend.

Currently feeling: Frustrated
Currently listening to: 'Leisure Noise' by Gay Dad
Currently reading: ''The Stress of Her Regard" by Tim Powers

Thumbs Up and Down!

A few weeks ago, I emailed about my quest to find some proper Fudge dice to use with Spirit of the Century. I had made some home made ones, but wanted something better. Anyway, I ended up in a position where I had two sets coming to me, one from the USA and one from the UK.

The shop in the UK – The Gameskeeper in Oxford – was excellent. They didn't have any dice in stock, but managed to track some down in the USA and special ordered them. Their communication, service and speed was excellent and I recommend them wholeheartedly. The website mightn't be the most modern, but they more than make up for that with their approach! Kudos and a big thank you!

Also worthy of mention was Patriot Games in Sheffield, who tried to get some dice for me but had no luck with their contacts. Likewise Leisure Games.

And now to the villains of the piece! It gives me no great pleasure to 'name and shame', but I have to denounce RPGshop in the USA. Their shipping of the Fudge dice was prompt, well packaged and a pleasure except for one small fact. They lied about the costs. When you place the order, they take a $25 deposit and the agreement is that they will only charge cost plus $3 for shipping, refunding or charging extra as appropriate. The shipping cost $9.15 according to the stamp, plus $3 makes $12.15 in normal maths. No refund. No response to emails. So I give them a big thumbs down. I'll more than happily post an update if and when they refund the money they owe me. I object to paying more than a hundred percent premium on shipping!


Protected Books!

I have a really bad habit with roleplaying game books. Unfortunately, because I tend to use them as well as read them, they tend to get trashed. Now, if you asked my mother or father, you'd know how much that this goes against the grain for me. I hate damaging books, probably because of the mental scars I received from my father (only joking!) when I damaged some of his when I started to read SF.

I've tried to get around the damage done by either covering the books with sticky back plastic, or by buying hard covers. However, not all books are available as hard covers, and unless you are a black belt sticky back plastic expert, you can pretty much guarantee bubbles or creases somewhere on your favourite book.

Anyway, my mum works as librarian at my old school, and she made a fantastic suggestion which I'm kicking myself that I didn't think of earlier. She gave me the details for the company that sells the plastic slip case book protectors she uses for paperbacks. I've gone and bought some, and they fit well and are far better than sticky back plastic. The picture above shows my Burning Wheel books and copy of Cold City now that they are protected. I 'm really impressed, and my mum tells me that it a lot of cases the paperbacks in these protectors actually last better than hard covers. Well, I'm sure I'll do enough damage using the books to see if this is the case!

A Disturbed Night

I should have posted this last night, but the PowerBook battery was flat, and I didn't put it back on to charge in time. We thought that everything was starting during the evening, with Jill getting what she can only describe as contractions. These continued through the night, but stopped this morning, so I've left her dozing. Needless to say, it was a bad night's sleep for both of us.

This morning has dawned a mucky, wet, dismal day that even put the cat off going outside. I don't think that we will get up to a whole load of things, but what we'll do really depends upon developments. I do need to nip into town to drop off a DVD which we watched yesterday afternoon – Superman Returns – and also pop into the bookshop.

Jill's parents went home yesterday, her dad starting to suffer with a bad cold. I think this had prompted them to leave earlier than they'd planned. After they'd gone, we watched the film, had a big falling out with the cat after he decided to savage Jill, and then I had a play with iCalamus.

The House

I've a draft short article which I knocked together on how to use the Nemesis RPG's sanity system in the Call of Cthulhu RPG. It's only about two pages long, so I thought that it would make a good test bed for the DTP package. I went quite far with it last night, but in the end I called it a day, as the image I was using as a backdrop didn't come out the way I wanted. I need to take it back into Photoshop and tone it down so it is lighter, and also mirror it for the facing page. The original shot was one that Jill's dad took of an old house on the Wirral, which I doctored in a (free) package called Image Tricks. I wanted to go for a horror style theme to it and I think that it's worked.

Plus Two...

The first thing to say is that we don't really know any more than we did yesterday! The second thing is that the good night's sleep didn't happen either, as Jill had a moment when she thought things were going to start last night and a very restless night overall.

The trip to the midwife really only gave us three things; the knowledge that the baby is 'a nice size' (whatever that means), the fact that we go back next Tuesday for an initial internal , and finally a date for induction if nothing else happens before then. I guess it also confirmed that the midwife in Wetherby was wrong about how the baby was lying and it is the way that Jill thought. As this was the same midwife who missed the fact that one of her friend's baby was breach, it wasn't a surprise.

We also went ice-skating today. Or at least, we went to a local farm that sells Christmas Trees and such things, and has this year expanded its repertoire to include an ice rink. We didn't actually use the ice rink, as it wouldn't be a smart move in Jill's condition, and certainly not a smart move with my sense of balance. Rather, we had coffee and carrot cake and enjoyed watching the fun as some of the kids tried to do the Cha-Cha Slide on ice!

Currently feeling: Happy
Currently listening to: Torchwood (on in the background)
Currently reading: ''Cavalcade" by Alison Sinclair

A Day Later...

Jill and the Dyson!

Ahh, the perils of the handheld Dyson! It certainly looks like a more intimidating weapon than that used on Christmas Day's Doctor Who Special. This is the scary pose I mentioned Jill striking yesterday!

No real news on the baby front again, beyond more abdominal pains 'like pins and needles' this evening. We're in to the hospital tomorrow afternoon for the appointment that we were told to pre-book, so should know more if nothing has started before. We're very much into the waiting period now. I'm hoping we have a quiet night like we did last night - both of us slept the best we had for a while.

Spent part of the day finishing Terry Pratchett's "Going Postal", which was good fun. It seemed to have parallels with Enron and a number of other businesses when the bean counters take control and loose contact with the product or service they make or provide. Great fun, but no standout lines that are likely to jump into my email sig files, unlike 'The Truth'. I'm starting 'Cavalcade' by Alison Sinclair now to switch back to SF for the first time in a while. Sinclair wrote one of my favourite books of the last few years – 'Blueheart' – which I'm hoping sets a standard that this lives up to. If not, it can go on Bookcrossing. On checking, I've read 92 or so books this year, and I think that breaking 3 figures isn't looking that likely in 2006. But never say never...

We had a drive out today as well, with a walk by the River Wharfe, and then a trip to Harrogate. Jessops was open when we passed, so I got a UV filter to protect the lens on the FZ-50, and a decent case for it. I also shot a few pictures to try it out a bit more, but the light was pretty depressing. I concentrated on shape and form, and grabbed a few family shots, but nothing really leapt out at me. However, it was nice to be using a decent camera again. I forgot how different an SLR style camera is to a compact, and the lens on the Lumix is excellent, making me think far more about framing than I have done for a while. Interestingly, I keep on finding myself shooting around a lengthy of 135mm, which was my favourite fixed lengthy lens on my old Canon AE1-P.

Anyway, that's enough for now. Perhaps there will be some real news when I next write.

Currently feeling: Relaxed
Currently listening to: The Killers "Sam's Town"
Currently reading: ''Cavalcade" by Alison Sinclair

Countdown Suspended...

Well, we've reached the Due Date, and so far there is no real sign of the baby. Jill reminds me that only 5% (apparently) of babies are born on their due date, and that really we didn't want a Christmas Baby because of all the complications with birthdays. The only real signs are that the baby has dropped a little more, and the bump has gone harder. Also, Jill's back to being very restless at night due to cramps in her legs and arms, but fortunately for her it hasn't given her too many problems as she hasn't woken up too much. It's me that suffers – I guess that it's practice for when our baby arrives.

We've spent the day enjoying a traditional meal and presents with Jill's Mum and Dad. They're experiencing the day with us for the first time. It been a nice day, and the fact that I didn't get more than two and a half hours continuous sleep last night hasn't really hit yet. We enjoyed a bit more TV than usual – the BBC really floored ITV this year with Doctor Who and Vicar of Dibley specials, which combined with the rest of the schedule was pretty good. I've been enjoying my new digital camera – to photograph the baby, honest – and Jill has been striking poses from bad Sci-Fi films with her new Dyson Handheld. I think that the latter demonstrates that she is as bad with gadgets as me!

On a happy note, I've just discovered that Skype 2 is finally out for Mac OS X, which means that my Mum and Dad will be able to use their iSight cameras on their Macs to get a video feed from my sister and her children when they get to Germany at the end of January. I think that will mean a lot to grandchildren and grandparents alike. It certainly will mean a lot to me.

Currently feeling: Ready for bed!
Currently listening to: Top of the Pops 2
Currently reading: 'Going Postal' by Terry Pratchett, after finishing 'Perfect', a dark Victorian RPG.

T Minus 2

We think we're nearly there, and not just with respect to the house. The Nursery is complete, with the crib and cot both ready and assembled thanks to my Mum & Dad visiting. The Study is complete and looking great, and the house is starting to return to some semblance of sanity. Perhaps it's the quiet before the storm.

The cat is still oblivious to the changes that are going on, and had fun on Thursday tormenting my parent's Golden Retriever, Ben, by sitting near him and just staring at him, then following him around when he moved away.

Jill's had some practice contractions when we were shopping in town yesterday, and ended up staying in the car while I was sent around Morrisons with a list. I met some of the neighbours there, and had a good chat. They made some very kind offers of help should we need it.

We're having a lazy Saturday – I'm typing this in bed! – as we just realised that it could be our last one for quite a few years. Jill is planning to follow the cat's example with sleep today if she can!

Currently feeling: Relaxed
Currently listening to: 'Any Questions' - BBC Radio 4, but mostly Faithless otherwise.
Currently reading: 'Single & Single' by John Le Carre

T Minus 9: A Rollercoaster of a Week...

Well, the last four days have been pretty crazy. The carpet arrived as planned, but in the afternoon rather than the morning. As it was getting laid, the fitter suddenly asked "Where do you want the join?". Now, the thing is that the nursery is small enough that there should be no need for a join. It appears that the shop miscalculated the size, and missed out one of the geometrical irregularities on the map. Anyway, the fitter managed to put a pretty much invisible joint under where the cot will be, and it looks very nice.

Then Thursday brought the cupboards for the new study and more complications. There are two cupboards - one is the full height and width of the room but only a foot deep, and the other is a normal wall unit that sits over the computer disk. The first problem cam with the latter. Two workmen had arrived to fit it, and it really needed three to fit it. Fortunately, they found some props and things in the garage which meant they could lift it and lock it in place safely. They didn't put the doors on though, as insufficient fixings had been delivered by the manufacturer of the units.

The next complication was that the full height unit would not fit into the room - it was too big. And there was no obvious way to resolve this by splitting it. We were promised that it would be taken away on Friday, and returned Monday. However, whoever came to take it away managed to split the units, and they are now in the room awaiting fixing. They'll look pretty good when everything is completed.

The next disaster came on Thursday night, when the iron fell on the less-than-a-year-old carpet in the front room, and melted it to the weave below. Jill was pretty upset with this, but it looks like it will be covered by the accidental damage clause of the insurance policy. In the mean time, we've made it look a little better with a cut out from an off-cut of the new carpet.

Jill is getting pretty tired now, and also kicked a lot. I think that it's getting frustrating for her, and she is finding it awkward. She struggles to use the bath as it isn't comfortable with the size she is, and I think she wishes we'd reached the end.

Tonight, we have the company Christmas do, which should be fun. Somehow I think we'll be going soon after the meal, as the dance-floor looks right out! I hope we get through without an early arrival...

Currently feeling: Frustrated that I can't make Jill feelbetter.
Currently listening to: 'Excess Baggage' - BBC Radio 4
Currently reading: 'Travels with my Aunt' by Graham Greene

The Year of Our War & Pushing Ice

Link to The Year of Our War on Amazon
I recent read a refreshingly different fantasy novel. It was 'The Year of Our War' by Steph Swainston. This could – very easily – have been traditional fantasy fodder. A multi-racial empire with an eternal emperor supported by 50 immortals of 'the circle', who are the best of the best, is threatened by the Insects. These are large, ant-like hive creatures that have appeared in the north and are trying to turn the world into a large paper hive. There is no communication, and no hope of a peace.

The story is written from the perspective of 'Comet, the Messenger', one of the Immortals who is also hooked on drugs. Something changes, that shifts the balance between the Insects and the Empire, and all hell breaks loose, compounded by politicking between the Immortals. There is also a hint of Lovecraft's 'Dreamlands'. Very different, very nice and I'l be looking for some more books by Swainston in the future.

This is definitely one of the best fantasy novels I've read in a while.

Link to Pushing Ice on Amazon
"Pushing Ice" is excellent - it was harder to put down than Alastair Reynold's previous book, "Century Rain", as the plot kept on jumping forward in time. It's a good read – I'm not sure if it is as good as "Chasm City" or "Revelation Space" but very enjoyable. It's also the third different world that he's set novels in.

The basic premise is that a corporate ice-comet mining ship (in 2057) is directed to enter a first contact situation when one of Saturn's moons (Janus) suddenly starts accelerating out, revealing that it is really an artifact. The ship (Rockhopper) pursues to try and find out more, co-opted as an agent of the equivalent to the UN. Trouble ensues!

It's good, hard SF space opera.

C-Day (or 13 days to go...)

We had a bit of a scare last night, as Jill thought she was having contractions, but everything looks normal now except that the baby has dropped even further! Today ("C-Day") sees the carpet arrive for the nursery, probably early afternoon, which will put things on a far more even keel. At least then some degree of sanity can be achieved with some of the rooms getting free-space. I know, I know, friends have told me to get used to the idea of clutter with children on the way, but one can hope!

I've added some new photos to the Photo album, partly by way of an experiment. because of issues with my web-host (space, access issues) I've started a Flickr account, and this is my first attempt to see how it works. Let me know what you think.

Currently feeling: Content.
Currently listening to: 'Darwin's Beagle Diairies' - BBC Radio 4
Currently reading: 'Travels with my Aunt' by Graham Greene

Goodbye Calamus, Hello iCalamus

My first real introduction to modern computing was with an Atari ST, which I was given by my parents as a birthday present when I was 18. The first ST I had was a 1Mb STFM hooked to a 12" portable TV, which I eventually replaced with a 4Mb STE with twin floppy drives and a 'high res' (600x400) mono monitor. This served me all the way through University, but fell by the wayside after Atari went under and I changed to Apple to get a similar look and feel.

Anyway, I used to do some DTP for a number of newsletters and such using a powerful little package called 'Calamus'. Even in its initial iteration (v1.09n) it was a match for the likes of Pagemaker (which was admittedly in the process of being trounced by Quark at that time). It was one of the packages I was sad to loose, and I've never really been able to justify purchasing a copy of InDesign or Pagemaker to replace it.

This position stands even more at the moment because neither Adobe's Creative Suite or Microsoft's Office Suite are Universal Binaries. I'm not going to buy any software that will need to run under Rosetta emulation on a future Mac because the code hasn't been prepared for the Intel Processors. Why buy obsolescence deliberately?

Anyway, in MacWorld's last issue, there was a reference to iCalamus on the cover disk. I followed this up, and found a website with a new iteration of Calamus, built in Cocoa (one of the programming frameworks that Apple provides). I downloaded the demo, and instantly fell in love with it, as it was a new shiny version of what I loved on the Atari. Needless to say, I've licensed it and now have a tool that means perhaps I can do some of the layout stuff that I've been meaning to for a long time. Child permitting, of course....

Finding the Critical Path...

We've found the critical path on the preparations, and it's the carpet for the nursery! Everything hinges on this...

How does this work? The carpet goes into the nursery which means that the chest of drawers and other items of furniture for the nursery can move from the spare room into the nursery. This frees up access to the loft, which means the Christmas decorations can come downstairs. Then, the shelves and the cupboard in the study can come out and go into the spare room. Then the fitted cupboards can come up from the garage and into the study, being replaced in the garage with the shelves etc from the spare room. Finally, we can assemble the cot bed!


The Meaning of Advent

It was only this morning that it struck me how little time is left before the baby arrives and our lives change forever. Jill always gets an advent calendar, and she turned around to me when we were opening the door and said "I guess we could use this as a countdown".

She's completely right; if the baby arrives on its due date, it'll be here on 25 December, Christmas Day itself. Beyond the fact that Advent Calendar's don't count down, they have the same reason - counting the days to a baby's birth!

Today, we finished the Nursery as far as we can until the carpet arrives (next week, unfortunately), which made me feel a lot happier about our preparation. We've also started to move on with Christmas preparations, ordering a fair bit via the internet. What did we do before the mid 90s? I'll post a picture when i get a moment; I'd taken one, but the flash has washed out the colour. It's been a good weekend - I probably should have got more done, but feel a lot better for it.

Currently feeling: Relieved and optimistic.
Currently listening to: 'To All New Arrivals' - Faithless
Currently reading: 'The Riddle of the Sands' by Erskine Childers.

Nursery Update...

The gloss is completed and today should see the border and fittings going back up, along with the new curtains (covered in butterflies). The carpet fitting is booked (sadly, the 12th December so a bit far ahead), so we're nearly completely there!

We had the last ante-natal class this week, which was an interesting experience. One of the couples from the previous course came back with their 7 week old, and then one of the people from our course appeared. His wife had given birth to twins the night before, and he was shattered and elated. There was a scary discussion on the efficacy of epidurals; in the case of the twins it'd worked well (the lady fell asleep during her labour), but in the case of the other couple, the epidural hadn't worked well.

On a positive note, my cold has pretty much broken, and only a tickly cough remains!

Currently feeling: Tired but a lot better in myself. Nervous and excited.
Currently listening to: The Archers Omnibus!
Currently reading: 'The Riddle of the Sands' by Erskine Childers.