Thursday, November 28, 2013


I advertised for a flatmate on TradeMe last night and have already had someone take a look. He's British and has only been in the country a couple of months. He knew exactly where St Ives was, because he graduated from Cambridge as recently as 2011. So he's a clever bugger. He now works as a geologist (interesting job) in town. He almost turned a blind eye to the whole earthquake-risk business (he missed the big quakes we had in August and September). It was funny showing him around. I feel a bit embarrassed by how big my place is considering I live here alone. I'm not sure about him: practically he'd be fine I think, but his youthful exuberance might get a bit much. A 32-year-old German woman, who works at the hospital, has expressed interest too.

I arrived in New Zealand ten years ago today. What an absolutely stunning day that was. Not a cloud in the sky; as we drove from Christchurch to Temuka the sun was mind-blowingly bright as it lit up the snow-capped Four Peaks. Perhaps being zonked from spending 24 hours on a plane actually enhanced that experience. Today has been quite the opposite (admittedly in a part of the country that experiences "the opposite" more often than Canterbury does). It started off grey and drizzly, just the sort of day you get when you land at Heathrow and go home via the M25. Then around lunchtime the drizzle turned into proper rain, and it's been properly raining ever since.

Ten years, or 3653 days, is a long time. I don't feel like I've achieved much in that time but maybe my own expectations are too high. In 2004 and '05 I gradually became more and more Kiwified, going on road trips and getting to know which rugby team plays where. But that Kiwification has since unravelled and I no longer feel especially attached to any country (I do however feel some affinity with Wellington now). I should mention Mum - she spent thirty years in the UK, got married and brought up two kids there, and when she came back to her old stomping ground of Geraldine to live, it was like she'd been away for thirty minutes.

Silvio Berlusconi has been kicked out of parliament after being convicted for tax fraud. My only response to that: Hooray! What a nasty piece of work.

Here a couple of recent Joe Bennett articles that I liked. There's this gem about people's smartphones being chucked in the Avon river, and this one about pronunciation of French words in English, a subject I touched on in this post last month.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A matter of life and death

Yesterday morning, my time, my actuary friend from Birmingham emailed me. His father had passed away. He had been ill for a very long time. When my friend was just three he suffered a heart attack; he had to "watch himself" ever since. In the last few years he got steadily worse. He survived longer than anyone expected, and it is of some consolation that he was around to see his daughter's wedding in April of this year. I didn't meet him very often - the last time was when I visited the UK in 2010 - but he struck me as a very kind, warm-hearted (if ailing) man. I wrote my friend an email this evening, or attempted to. What do you say? I said that his dad must have been very proud of his son, and he couldn't have had a better son to look after him. Which was true. It was only when I wrote back, from the quiet of my living room, that the passing of such a kind, gentle bloke really hit me.

In other (far better) news, my own father got his results back from his prostate biopsy and he's been given the all-clear. That's a huge weight off his mind. It's not just the cancer, it's all the treatment and horrible side-effects - incontinence, extreme fatigue, and whatever else. And the fact that so many false-positives from the biopsy render all that treatment unnecessary. All in all, it's a big sigh of relief.

I didn't mention the results of the blood test I had a couple of weeks ago. Which means they were good, or else I surely would have mentioned them by now. My thyroid is working perfectly normally and I'm not at risk of diabetes. Cholesterol is still a slight concern. My level of bad (LDL) cholesterol is down, but the good (HDL) stuff is down too, so my ratio, which is what they worry about these days, has hardly changed. My doctor said I should take all cholesterol readings with a bucket of salt (which, funnily enough, contains zero cholesterol).

Last night Tracy, Tom and I played a co-operative board game called Mice and Mystics. There are mice, who are the good guys, and a variety of bad guys such as rats, spiders, centipedes and cockroaches. And of course a cat, although we didn't come across him (or her) last night. The game is in fact a story comprising eleven chapters; you can play just one chapter (as we did last night) or a full "campaign" that follows the story from start to finish. We each took on the part of a different mouse, each with its own special powers. Tom's mouse, for instance, was fast and agile with a prehensile tail which could carry a weapon. My mouse, by contrast, was slow and plodding but it wielded a sodding great hammer that could knock out anything that came near it (if the right symbols came up on the four dice I rolled). The currency used in the game wasn't money or gold or silver, but cheese. I was impressed by how one bloke could think of such an intricate story, and then turn it into a playable board game. The game pieces were a work of art, literally as we found out - Tracy had painstakingly painted them with a fine brush, except the centipede and spider which she hadn't got around to yet. We ended up losing the game through a series of unlucky dice rolls; in fact we did well to last as long as we did. I got a bit confused with all the rules, but Tracy was always able to clarify matters. Mice and Mystics is a new game; the only similarity with the much older Risk is the amount of dice-rolling involved. Hopefully we'll try a few more games. In spite of its flaws Risk is probably still my favourite: it'll take something to beat the smell you get when you open the box.

Tom emailed me tonight. Now he wants to move into my flat. Oh shit. I didn't even read his whole email. I saw he wrote "no pressure" but I know I'll feel a shit-ton of pressure if he moves in. He can't move in. I can play board games with him, exchange emails and ideas with him, and chat with him in person. But not live with him. I wouldn't be able to relax. How on earth I tell him it's a no-go I don't know.

Some people in my team at work have joined a football team. They asked me if I was interested. "I'm really just a watcher." This Friday they've got a get-pissed-and-do-karaoke night. Either I go, and feel horribly out of place, or stay at home (which would be the far easier, and cheaper, option). I drift further apart from them whatever I do. Then in a couple of weeks they've got the Christmas party. This isn't my favourite time of year.

I'm obviously not a proper Kiwi (more about that in my next post) because I think it's a shame Ireland didn't hang on to beat, or at least draw with, the All Blacks. Not that I watched the game or anything.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Yesterday morning, out of the blue, I got a call from Julie. "I've finally found the strength to call you after you sent that awful letter." She called me selfish and cowardly, then said she never expected me to be so defensive when I tried to, um, defend myself against those accusations. There was nothing cowardly about the letter I sent - it was simply the only way I could get my message across without running into a wall of words. We weren't getting anywhere (it's hard to get anywhere with someone who's always right no matter what) and she hung up on me. I'll send her a Christmas card but that'll be about it. My lack of contact with Julie since I sent her that awful letter in early August hasn't done me any harm, and I doubt it's done her any harm either.

On Wednesday Martin texted me - it was "highly likely" he'd move into my flat. But when he came over yesterday he was less sure. C'mon man, make up your mind! I put up an ad at Pak 'n' Save last night and will put another on TradeMe. Yesterday we got chatting about board games. He wanted to play Scrabble which he'd (somehow) never played before. He tried to play a word diagonally, then backwards, then forwards but also making AV. You can't AV that! He settled on TEA. I put a T on the end of TEA, forming another word in the process, then he accused me of making TEAT up. Unlike the people I played at the library, who weren't that good at the game but still knew plenty of words, Martin didn't look like he'd read a lot of books in his time. I'm not making that judgement based on the words he put down (which were mostly short, but heck, he could have had really crappy letters for all I knew) but rather the fairly common words I put down that he doubted were real. Next time we might play chess, a game he's far more experienced in than me, and I expect I'll be the one making illegal diagonal moves.

I didn't go to the football (damn good game that it was) on Wednesday; instead I babysat for my cousin's two youngest boys. I felt bad when the football-goers got back at half-nine and I'd let the boys stay up and watch Back to the Future on DVD and play some computer game (Minecraft?). "You're still up?! Off to bed!" For some reason, sending them to bed never occurred to me. I also went over to my cousin's place last night. My aunt and uncle were there. It's always interesting talking to my uncle. He loves talking about money, to a level I find bordering on offensive. He's very proud of his kids (four daughters and one son) who have all done well for themselves, and why shouldn't he be? But all the specific figures, that he invited me to add and multiply, were a bit unnecessary. His son, who has a senior position in a successful business in Perth, got most of the attention last night. I got the latest update on the price of the shares he'd purchased at half a cent (they've now reached five cents) and was informed of all the money he'd made by part-owning and betting on horses. Nice if you can do it I guess.

Today I organised a squash meet-up at my apartment block. This was stressful for me - I have a hard time organising anything. The two women, who came together, got lost and were 45 minutes late. They're both really nice people, easy to get on with. As for the two blokes, I'd never met either of them before. One of them lived nearby and seemed nice enough, but I thought the other guy was really obnoxious - I felt very uncomfortable just being around him. So there were five of us, and the plan I had was that we all warm up briefly and then play each other in a series of short games, ending in a final between the two best players. Pretty simple I thought. But I quickly abandoned that idea as people didn't want the hassle of scoring points, then they got tired and bored and hot (it was pretty stuffy in there). All understandable, but I couldn't help thinking that if someone else was organising it, they would have gone along with the plan. I think I would have made the final under my planned system, only to get tonked 15-1 or something by that horrible bloke, who was rather good at squash. He had bulging muscles and played explosively, and could anticipate anything I threw at him in our mini-session. Being an arsehole and being good at sport so often go hand-in-hand. Even in those tennis tournaments I played when I was eleven, the nice kids were the ones I could beat.

On Friday a woman who works part-time in my team was told she wouldn't be required after Christmas. She went straight home in tears. Then our boss and a word with me and two others in my team, to say that we wouldn't be next.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

All walks of life

On Saturday I went on a walk to the lighthouse at Pencarrow with the tramping club. Ten of us did the walk. Danielle was there - she seemed to thrive on the mainly flat terrain; I struggled to keep up with her. There was Barbara, an American who has been on several of my walks including that (in)famous bush-bash we did in April 2012. We had a tattooed surfer dude by the name of Brad - I wondered why so many surfers are called Brad or Brett or Shane, and comparatively few are called, say, Nigel. Brad wanted to join the army and was doing the walk (with weights in his pack) mainly as preparation for his physical assessment. He had an inquiring mind and I felt he would do well for himself. There was a Japanese woman who, until she came to NZ, hated the very idea of walking or any form of physical exercise. And besides, she said, she was too busy. Leading the trip was a woman of about my age who was brought up in Elsworth, just a few miles from where I lived. She was with her boyfriend. We also had a woman about to begin a career as one of New Zealand's 1.7 million real estate agents. I asked her why agents get so much commission. "It's just the market." That's the 21st-century explanation for practically anything.

It was a decent trek and was more demanding on the way back as we faced the northerly wind. We climbed up to the lighthouse, New Zealand's first (it went live, so to speak, in 1859) - unsurprisingly it was pretty windy up there, but we had a great view and could see a snow-capped South Island mountain. Then we walked along by the lake before following the coastline back (into the wind, this seemed never-ending). I caught the sun a bit - I was exposed to it for five or six hours, and for some reason I didn't think to put on sunscreen. All in all it was a good day's walk. It was noted that I'd done plenty of day walks with the club but no overnight trips. Conversations about tramping gear ensued, but they completely missed the reason why I haven't been keen to move to the next level.

I might still be going to see the All Whites tomorrow with my cousin and her family. Or else I might be babysitting for her youngest. I don't know yet. I see NZ are paying $40 at the TAB to qualify for the World Cup. Those are extremely stingy odds - adding an extra nought would be a more accurate reflection of their chances. If the All Whites were to make it, it would be a candidate for the biggest story in the history of NZ sport.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Armies and mobs

My boss had family stuff to deal with this week so she was away for most of it. That made work a bit easier to cope with, but I still don't think I've got a long future there. I'd say it's 50-50 I'll be there in six months.

On Monday we finally played our second instalment of Risk. I didn't enjoy it as much as the first time. As we traded in sets of cards, new contingents of 40 or 50 armies came into play, and we all agreed that things were getting a bit ridiculous. One minute I had control of three continents, the next minute (well, next half-hour) Tracy's rampaging red army left me, um, incontinent. After two hours (that's five hours of total playing time), Tracy knocked Tom out, taking all his cards and gaining several dozen more bits of plastic. I'd forgotten about that rule, which makes eliminating someone quite a big deal. At that point we called it a day. I wouldn't have fancied my chances against Tracy's sheer numbers and, let's face it, her superior gaming skills. We commented on how everything was designed to drag things out, even the way the cylindrical playing pieces rolled off the board. It would be easy to tweak the rules to cap the number of armies at say 15 or 20, instead of incrementing by five every time someone makes a set of cards, and I think that would make for a better game.

Here you can see Tracy's stupidly large red army (her reward for wiping out Tom's green) about to take over the world. Some of the pieces represent ten armies, so it was even scarier than it looked. This is where we packed the game in.

The three of us had a good chat after the game, which I found more engaging than the game itself. We talked about crowd mentality. Someone is teetering on the ledge of a tall building, possibly about to end it all. A crowd gathers, and when it reaches a certain number (Tracy said 350 I think), people start chanting "Jump!" It doesn't matter who or where, when it reaches this critical size, this same terrible thing always happens. Supposedly it's because you stop being individuals at that point, and become a mob instead. The same thing happens when riots break out at football matches - people's ability to think as individuals goes out the window. In the past, people have said that football fans are often poorly educated and come from working-class backgrounds, and that explains their behaviour. But ticket prices have gone through the roof, pricing most working-class people out of the market, and guess what, hardly anything changes. You also see this phenomenon online - people showing extreme anger and hatred over just about any subject, taking sides, and losing all sense of self. I find it all quite scary.

Tracy, who is normally ready for bed shortly after nine, was instead (as she admitted) as high as a kite. I could do with some of whatever she was taking.

They showed the second half of New Zealand's World Cup qualifier with Mexico on TV at work yesterday. Wow, what a gulf in class there was. Without a decent keeper it could easily have been 9-1, never mind 5-1 (no exaggeration). It was nice to see that one trickle in for NZ at the end, even if it'll almost certainly make no difference to them. People have been quick to turn on the All Whites coach and team. There are two points I'd like to make. One, but for a couple of minutes of madness, Mexico would have been out of the running and NZ would have been playing Panama (surely a much easier proposition) instead. Two, the All Whites would be better served by joining the Asian confederation, as Australia did. They would then play more often, against better teams, and surely improve.

I've seen the dreadful pictures coming out of the Philippines following the typhoon. I've only donated $6 - I can't afford much these days. Although the impact on many people has been devastating (and will continue to be), I'd imagine the impact on their mental health has been far smaller. If success is having food, water, shelter and (maybe) medicine, all that other unnecessary stuff no longer matters.

I've been reading Shorty, a book of Barry Crump's short stories about a diminutive novice golfer that I picked up in a second-hand shop. I must give it to Mum when I next see her. It's a good laugh. Golf lends itself very well to story-telling. I found this bit, about a party Shorty was invited to, very funny:
It was a talking party, where you help yourself to drinks from a big table at one end and then go for a walk, talking to one person for a while and then changing partners. The tricky part is that you have to think of something to say to each new partner. Some of them play it in pairs or groups. I gathered from some of the things that were being talked to me, that the ones who were best at this game were considered the most socially desirable. I wasn't going to do very well at this game.
That pretty much describes my limited experience of parties, except mine is real.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's not working

I spoke to Dad yesterday. He's been really unwell since he had his prostate biopsy on Tuesday. The timing of the procedure wasn't good - he hadn't fully recovered from his ordeal on the plane. He reacted badly to an antibiotic he was given - when he called the hospital he was told to stop taking it immediately. Dad gave me all the gory details of the colour of his pee, a subject which came up on this blog recently (although he certainly wasn't talking about just a tinge of red). He was thankful of Mum's golf trip to Alexandra, which she'd been looking forward to for months. She's been swanning around Central Otago in blissful ignorance of Dad's pain. Had she been home, the atmosphere would have made things even more painful, not that there was much she could have done anyway. I spoke to him again earlier today and he's sounding much brighter - that's just as well because Mum gets back this evening.

As I said last time, I am feeling better now, but there's an elephant in the room in the shape of work, or more precisely my boss, and it's sapping me of mental energy. I don't dislike my boss, but I really don't like her being my boss. I think it's pretty obvious that she doesn't care about me nor my colleague doing the same role (my previous boss did care, or at least did a good job of pretending to). I find it almost impossible to concentrate except on the rare occasions that she's away. Some of it is me - I'm really bad at constantly switching between tasks and I don't work well in a team that's so big you can practically see it from space, especially when they're all so outgoing. We've just had our self-appraisals; on Friday I filled in mine and basically hijacked it by giving a critique of the new set-up. I was restrained to begin with, but when I filled in the last box I pulled no punches. Maybe that wasn't my brightest idea, but I saw no other way of communicating my frustration, and on Friday I was well past caring about the consequences. As Christmas approaches, things won't get easier for me in a hurry. The Christmas function, appropriately enough, is on Friday 13th December.

At 5:02 on Friday morning our boss sent us an email. She likes to talk about how busy she is. She pretends to be annoyed by this, but really she's proud of it. I see this from a lot of people. In the 21st century, lack of time has become a status symbol.

Instead of buying a property, and all the angst that has gone with that, I wish I'd bought shares in Xero. If I'd put my entire deposit into Xero shares in December 2011, I'd be a millionaire now. I'll often have lunch near the stock ticker (which is located right beside Xero's head office) and see a half-day increase which would be reasonable in half a year. (I get out of the office every lunchtime whatever the weather, for my own sanity.)

The drink-drive limit is coming down. I don't think it will make much difference (in fact I remember an experiment in the UK which showed an improvement in driving ability under the influence of a glass or two of wine) but the government bowed to public pressure. It's people way over the limit who are the problem, and they're not going to care whatever the limit is. I'm not sure I get the zero limit for drivers under 20 either. It's dangerous to drive with any alcohol up to your 20th birthday, but after that you can have two or three pints and you're fine? This makes no sense to me.

Last night they had the big fireworks display on the harbour. I watched it from the big balcony a few floors up - a good vantage point, even if there was a crane in the way which you can make out from this photo:

Tracy pulled out of our scheduled Risk resumption this weekend - she had better things to do. I was looking forward to it (if nothing else it would have taken my mind off the "elephant"). Hopefully we can still play tomorrow night. I emailed a friend in the UK, a fairly regular board gamer, to ask what he thinks of Risk. "They've since come out with Express Risk - it's a much better game that uses cards instead of a board, and it's done and dusted within half an hour." What? How can that be "much better"? You can't take over the world in half an hour! And if there's no physical board (i.e. map), you might as well play on a computer.

Here's an interesting YouTube video (well I think so anyway) where someone generates random numbers using a radioactive substance. Humans are really bad at understanding probability and randomness. Imagine a NZ Lotto draw, where they draw out seven balls numbered from 1 to 40. Say the first number drawn is 6. That means that 5 and 7 shouldn't come out, and probably not 4 or 8 either. Because 6 is a low number, the other numbers are more likely to be high. Because 6 came out this week, we shouldn't expect to see it next week; in fact the next few weeks should be entirely sixless, until it's 6's "turn" again. And so on. Of course none of that is true (except that if the first number is low, the probability that the next number is high does go up a little, simply because there's now one fewer low number to choose from) but the human mind can't get away from thinking that future outcomes are dependent on the past. I agree with the guy in the video who said it would be fun, for a change, to pick Lotto numbers using radioactive material.

There was more cricket at the Basin yesterday. I noticed three of Wellington's batsmen made joint top scores of 62. Something dodgy is clearly going on - there's no way that can be random. Update: I saw the end of the match today. The green team (Central Districts?) declared, to try and force a result, but Wellington chased down 310 with three overs and four wickets to spare.

Before work tomorrow I'll get my thyroid and cholesterol tested.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

No weigh!

I stepped on the scales this morning and, wow, I lost six pounds on this life-changing diet. I'd clearly lost some weight - I've got less of a pot, just one chin, and less hamstery cheeks than I had a month ago - but I wouldn't have guessed I'd now be just eleven stone four. (I'm pretty au fait with kay-gees these days, but I prefer to weigh myself in imperial, if I do so at all.)

I've started using my iPod at work. The whole environment is far too distracting for me, except when my boss is away, then I can just about concentrate. My boss is very outgoing, and recently she's brought in some new people who (naturally) have a similar personality type, and from my point of view that hasn't helped. There are only two of us doing my role now, when once there were five, and while the overall workload has reduced, it's by nowhere near 60%. My colleague was off sick for three days last week, and guess what, we're now snowed under. My boss ensured me that we'd get some help from somewhere at some point but I don't believe her. (Probably the best thing about my job is that I do get on really well with my only "proper" team-mate.)

Every third month the contact centre people get a cash incentive if they take no sick leave in that calendar month. It's all or nothing - one sick hour and you don't get it. They brought it in a couple of years ago, when people were off sick a lot. If you ask me, incentivising on an all-or-nothing basis is a bad idea full stop, but this sick-leave incentive is seriously crazy. Whoever thought it up (who might that have been?) didn't think through the consequences at all. Last Friday was the first of the month, a sick-incentive month. Some of the contact centre people went over to their boss (who is also my boss) and made their opinions on the sick incentive known, but she was having none of it. She refused to even acknowledge that they had a point.

At this time of year, as the Christmas function looms darkly, I always think, surely I won't still be working here in another year?

About ten days ago there was a post in the Guardian about the growing inequality between London and the South East, and the rest of the UK. Someone made this comment:
Great Britain is a land of opportunity.
Inequality might be higher than ever before...but so is the reward.
Play smart, take a risk, and above all, work hard...and anyone can be successful.

I've seen this argument before: greater inequality is a good thing because it means wealth is distributed more fairly!

My dad was in a pretty bad way during and after his flight, but is a lot better now.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tapering off and feeling better

I'm still feeling better. I've now reduced my Efexor to 37.5 mg a day - ten per cent of what I was on early last year - and hopefully when I come off it completely on 1st January I'll stop feeling (un)comfortably numb. (I heard that song on the radio this morning.)

So life has become more palatable all of a sudden. Work is an example of this - so much of what goes on there is (for me) excretory, but last week it didn't get me down too much. Yes, it's all shitty but it's got little to do with me. As an aside, it's interesting that I cope with work by minimising its importance, while some people - especially managers - vastly overestimate the importance of their roles, and perhaps that's a coping mechanism too. Another sign of my improvement was when I went to the gym today - I had no problems doing 500 pulls on that machine; in my depressed state I'd be flagging after 150 or so.

It's day 29 of my 30-day almost-no-carb diet experiment. Since I started I haven't eaten a single potato, nor a grain of rice, nor a strand of pasta, and I've hardly touched dairy. I've had maybe three or four bowls of cereal. A colleague felt sorry for me (even though I never mentioned my diet) and bought me a Boston bun and a sausage roll. I was cursing under my breath but I enjoyed them. A lot. I've drunk alcohol on two occasions, both times with my cousin. On the flip side I've eaten heaps of meat (mostly beef), a fair amount of fish, precisely 58 eggs, several bowls of fruit and bucketloads of vegetables. It's really interesting to see what happens to your pee when you eat a lot of asparagus. Or beetroot. Or both. (There's a technical term for beetroot-tainted pee - it's called beeturia, which is surely a made-up word.)

I'm still unconvinced about this diet, but it's got me thinking about food a lot more, and operating on autopilot a lot less. On Tuesday, when my experiment is over (I'll weigh myself then just for curiosity's sake), I won't revert to my previous diet entirely. I'll certainly try not to eat so many carbs. On the subject of food, here's an article about the shocking amount of food that is wasted in the UK. I doubt things are much better in NZ.

This article in the Herald made me want to go back to Birmingham. The university (the one I went to) is mentioned as one of the city's highlights. Birmingham has come on a long way for sure, even since I got to know the place in 1998.

Programming an Android app. Oh god. I tried to follow the tutorial provided by Android themselves. This will be self-explanatory right? They want people to make as many lots of apps so they can make lots of money, so it's bound to be simple. Um, no (except the bit about an "activity" - I understood that at least). I downloaded a free e-book that I thought might be useful. The introductory chapter told me in no uncertain terms not to think of programming an app (or reading the rest of the book!) until I know about Java. Apart from landing in Jakarta a few times I know nothing about Java, so that might be a good starting point. I'll take a book or two out of the library tomorrow. This will be a long hard slog.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a good read, but I don't think I'll try the other two books in the series. The Swedish language would be interesting to learn, not for any real practical purpose, but just because it looks like a cool language. It's rich in "strong" consonants like B, hard G, K, M and V, giving rise to such words as bekväm.

I spent some time (not too long) working out the probabilities for dice rolls in Risk. I know you can find the figures all over the internet, but to really understand what's going on you need to derive them. The 3v2 case (attacker rolls three, defender rolls two) is the most interesting. It seems obvious now, but when we played on Monday I didn't appreciate that, when you roll three dice, 6-5-5 and 6-5-1 are essentially the same thing (6-5-5 looks more impressive). They're both 6-5, which is actually the most likely of the 21 distinct outcomes (you'll roll that combination one time in eight). Once you've worked out the odds for a single attack you can then extend that to predict the likely outcome of an entire battle. There are some other things that seem obvious now but didn't at the time - if you own a continent, you don't necessarily have to fortify the inside borders of the continent; the territories just outside are just as good (or perhaps better, since you prevent your opponent from gaining control of the bordering continent).

I emailed Martin on Friday to say that if he wants to move in, drums are a definite no. I felt a bit bad - I wanted to encourage him to get back to his music, and I think that playing the drums well takes a great deal of skill. He hasn't got back to me yet.