A Year in Beer

Untappd is yet another social application, this one aimed at beer drinkers. It allows you to check in what you are drinking and where and note what you thought of it. The social features always feel a bit basic, or maybe it’s just me, but I do find it a useful way of keeping track of beers that I have tried — especially the ones that I drink infrequently and which I can never remember what I thought of.

The app also comes up with an annual year in beer which summarises what I’ve been up to over the year. I could get more data by getting a paid account, but the simple stats are enough for someone as cheap as me.

These tell me that I checked in 153 times in 2020, getting through 31 unique beers. As for preferred beers Brugse Zot Dubbel and Chimay Red top the list for me, with 21 check ins each. Unsurprisingly, the style of beer I drank most is Belgian Dubbel.

It’s when we get to venues that 2020 really shows it’s hand. My most frequented venue this year is “at home”, with a total of 112 check ins and most of the beers I drank came from the local drink shop.

None of this really tells me I didn’t already know. Most of my drinking in the summer was in the garden, either after weeding or during a barbecue, or both; and most of my drinking more recently has been at home with pizza, or a film, or both. I have probably gone through a much more limited selection of styles because I haven’t spent much time in restaurants, and none in bars this year.

It will be interesting to see what my year looks like when Covid is behind us.

Brexit Hell

What was Brexit like? America’s declaration of independence? A man leaving a golf club but demanding to still be allowed into the bar? Over the years, I went through a few analogies, but the one that persisted was of a married man who has for years enjoyed casually flirting with a work colleague. One evening he makes his traditional half-hearted pass, and instead of rolling her eyes, she replies: “Go on, then”. A month later, he’s living out of his car and negotiating through lawyers to see his children one weekend a month, and he can’t really tell you how it happened.

Robert Hutton looks back at the unrelenting mess of Brexit and notes just how stupid the whole thing has been.

And so it remains, with the UK government managing to come up with a toxic combination of compounded stupidity, wilful ignorance and stubborn refusal to face reality. After the (stupid) referendum, the Tories rushed into Brexit without having the faintest idea of what they wanted to achieve or how to achieve it. Or anything.

So here we are, approaching the finally final (we mean it this time) deadline for a trade agreement there is still very little likelihood of anything being agreed, and probably less that any agreement being ratified.

Britain has gone from being part of the largest free trade zone in the world to having a free trade zone smaller than the UK. And for what? To be as independent as North Korea?

Was it really worth it?

The Dead Pigeon Mystery

Yesterday evening, Eve informed me that there was a dead pigeon in the chicken run. I had no intention of trying to deal with a bird corpse while it was both dark and raining, but I did promise to get rid of it this morning.

This morning came and went and, shortly after lunch, I went out to deal with the dead pigeon.

It had gone.

So now the question arises as to who might have been sneaking into our garden on Saturday morning to help themselves to a Columbidae corpse.

I have my suspicions.

Bang!

This is a game that was given to us almost a year ago. When we opened it, however, we realised that what we had was the French version, which was a tad problematic — for me, at least. So the game ended up being put to the side and largely forgotten. A few weeks ago, however, Alex picked it up and suggested we give it a go and a quick search for a translation of the rules ensued.

Luckily, the publisher has downloadable rules in a multitude of languages. They also provide a handy description of the game:

When a man with a pistol meets a man with a Winchester, you might say that the one with the pistol is a dead man… unless his pistol is a Volcanic!

In the wild west, the Outlaws hunt the Sheriff, the Sheriff hunts the Outlaws, and the Renegade plots in secret, ready to join one side or the other.

Before long, bullets start to fly!Which gunmen are Deputies, ready to sacrifice themselves for the Sheriff? And which are the merciless Outlaws, looking to gun him down?

The world’s best-selling wild west card game is back in a new, richer format. Easier to learn and play than ever before!

I’m not sure about that last line. There can’t be that many wild west card games in existence and being the leader in a field of one isn’t as impressive an achievement as it sounds.

As for the game itself, I shall start by noting that I may be being a little unfair to the game here. A lot of the information necessary to play is printed on the cards which should make for a reasonably fast flowing game. However, with all the cards are printed in French, I have to keep referring back to the rules in order to understand both the character abilities and what the cards can do.

It’s not a bad little game, but nor is it great.

Bang! is a card game and it’s about players shooting each other. It’s not open warfare, though, as each player has a role. In the four player game, there is a sheriff, who has to eliminate everyone else from the game; two outlaws who have to eliminate the sheriff and a renegade who needs to be the last man standing.

Each turn, the player draws two cards, plays as many cards as they can and then discards excess cards until they no longer exceed their hand limit (which varies from player to player and over the course of the game). And I think it’s the need to discard cards that is my main issue with the game because this makes everything heavily dependent on luck. If you have a card that can be played, you really need to either play it or lose it and this makes it near impossible to hang onto a card in order to spring a nasty surprise later in the game.

The game is also a lot easier for the outlaws to win, and very difficult for the renegade, which can make for some very frustrating gameplay.

Linked to this is the fact that the large number of defensive and recovery cards can cause the game to drag somewhat. This is especially notable as players are eliminated and those remaining become increasingly difficult to knock out. This is not helped by the fact that only one Bang! card (the main method for shooting opponents) can be played per turn.

That said, at it’s core the game is a good one and we have played it several times, so much so that the game is flowing a lot more easily. With a bit of tuning, it could be a great game.

We may play around with the rules a bit at some point in the future, just to see what happens if we ignore the hand limit as well as the rule about only playing one Bang card per turn. Because, for me, a Spaghetti Western should end in a massive shootout, and not a long slow grinding of each other down.

Time Warp

Tenacious D‘s cover of Richard O’Brien’s timless classic was released in October and appears to have been released in order to encourage people to vote in the US election. I didn’t see it then, which is why I’m posting it now.

While not the greatest version of Time Warp ever recorded, the video is worth watching for the stream of celebrity cameos that keep popping up. Some of them I even recognised.

Scratch

A few weeks ago, William told me he wanted to make his own computer game. So I installed Scratch on his laptop and told him to see what he could do. It turns out he can do quite a lot.

Scratch is a visual programming language. While it has all the features you would expect, the programming itself is done by dragging and dropping blocks rather than typing text. This makes for a very intuitive interface which allows you to get up to speed very quickly. Well, William did.

After a couple of pointers from me about loops and variables, he was off and now has a working game in which teleporting monkey has to collect various objects.

He then discovered that there is an online editor and a collection of tutorials and, after two weeks, he’s probably a better Scratch programmer than I will ever be. If he carries on like this, it’s not going to be long before he has a better handle on event-driven programming than I do.

As someone who makes a living as a developer, I’m not sure whether I should be proud or embarrassed.

Either way, Scratch itself is proving a very effective way of enabling kids to not only build their own applications, but also understand the underlying principles. The visual interface allows them to focus on developing applications, rather than having to worry about syntax, and the development environment provides instant feedback which encourages them to try things out and see what happens.

I am very impressed.

Dungeon Mayhem

Dungeon Mayhem is another D&D inspired game, this time a card game in which four players battle to the death.

Each player picks one of the four characters and takes the appropriate character deck. They then shuffle the deck and draw three cards and the game is ready to start.

Each turn, a player draws one more card and then plays a card. The cards can be used to attack, defend, recover health, get more cards or uses a special power (each character has their own special powers). Defensive cards stay in play until they’re destroyed, all other played cards are discarded and it’s the next players turn.

Normally you only play one card per turn, but some cards let you play additional cards, which can be useful. And if you run out of cards, you draw two more and keep going.

The last player standing wins the game.

Dungeon Mayhem is a really simple game. It’s quick to set up, it’s easy to understand and each game is over very quickly. And, because the games tend to be over quickly, being knocked out isn’t much of an issue because the next game will start very shortly. What we tend to find, in fact, is that everyone bar the winner will be knocked out in the last couple of turns.

The game can be played by two to four players and we have found that the four-player version works really well, providing scope to watch which players are looking strongest and react accordingly. Playing with two players is less challenging — both players tend to simply blast each other and whoever went first invariably wins.

This is a fun and fast game and a very portable one. The only problem for us — as a family of five — is that only four people can play at a time. Maybe I should look into the expansion.

Inheritor

Inheritor is the third novel in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series and follows on directly from Invader, the second book. The series is broken up into trilogies, so Inheritor also represents the end of the first trilogy, and what an ending it is.

Six months have passed since the reappearance of the starship Phoenix — the same ship which brought a colony of humans to the hostile environment of alien atevi nearly two hundred years ago. During these six months, the atevi have reconfigured their fledgling space program in a bid to take their place in the heavens alongside humans. But the return of the Phoenix has added a frighteningly powerful third party to an already volatile situation, polarizing both human and atevi political factions, and making the possibility of all-out planetary war an even more likely threat.

As with the previous novels, everything centres on Bren Cameron, the human representative to the atevi who now finds himself having to face three ways between the atevi, the planet-bound human population and the crew of the returned starship which has sent down two representatives to the planet — one to the atevi and one to the human population.

Cameron then finds himself trying to deal with both atevi politics, an overwhelmedh spacefarer who has never stepped foot on a planet and a human government whose conservative and populist elements are deliberately seeking to undermine him. And if he gets it wrong, war is looking like a very real possibility.

What makes this novel, as well as the previous novels in the series really stand out for me is the sheer alienness of the atevi. Their politics, culture and society are all non-human in ways that are often opaque and which consistently defy human expectations. This is emphasised by C.J. Cherryh’s consistent refusal to provide any point of view other than that of the main character. What Bren Cameron knows, the reader knows and — importantly — what he doesn’t know, neither do we.

This allows for a novel packed with plot threads and conspiracies working within conspiracies, all hinted at but never clarified. And it all comes together spectacularly in the final few chapters.

The more I read of the Foreigner series, the more I want to read.

Guns of Navarone

The song, Guns of Navarone was originally an instrumental single recorded by The Skatalites back in 1961 for the film of the same name.

Being the age I am, however, it is probably unsurprising that I first encountered this song when The Specials covered it back in the 1980s. I loved the song then, and it still makes me bounce today.

I recently discovered that Jazz Jamaica also have a cover of Guns of Navarone, proving beyond all doubt that great songs never die.