Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Well, I'm back

The move to the new apartment went extremely smoothly. Indeed, we picked up the hire van just after 8 in the morning, and had returned it by 3 in the afternoon, job done. There then followed several days of moving things around, getting and assembling furniture, and taking of things out of boxes.

The new apartment is a massive step up, and not merely because it is up two flights rather than just one (ho ho). In addition to being bigger and just plain nicer than the previous apartment, it is also actually possible to maintain a reasonable level of warmth, even without running the heating near-constantly.

(On the plus side regarding the previous apartment, I did get back my security deposit. This was a double surprise, both in that I got it back at all, which I didn't really expect, and that I got it back quite so quickly.)

Naturally, not everything went as smoothly. The Sky guy came, weighed up the situation, and decided he couldn't install the dish at the time. The rescheduled visit is not until Saturday. And, of course, my broadband connection hasn't been set up correctly. Both these problems seem depressingly familiar.

Still, I'm sure these will get sorted out in the near future. I'll blog some more soon, as time permits, including such delights as my adventure in Ikea, a musing on chapters, and not one but two Experimental Cookery Tuesdays.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Curtains for our hero...

Well, I have just picked up the keys to my new secret lair, and been over to visit it. It's quite nice.

As an added bonus, I found that the previous owner has left behind the various curtains in the apartment. This was unexpected, but represents a fairly large boon, as it obviously means I don't need to go and spend money on that. Score one for the good guys.

Although, it's going to be strange having curtains once again. I wonder if I'll remember how they work?

As another added bonus, the previous owner also left behind not one but two wardrobes in the two bedrooms that had been in use. What's more, these aren't big MANsize wardrobes, like any sane person would have, but rather gargantuan WOMANsize wardrobes, fit for the truly insane. I'm entirely convinced there may be fantasy worlds hiding in one of both of these, although I may have to invest in some fur coats in order to access these lands. (Fantasy worlds are hidden in wardrobes behind the fur coats, you see.)

So, score two for the good guys. Also, the Pink Room is now the Purple room, so I won't even have to repaint that! All in all, it's going quite well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Experimental Cookery Tuesday - not this week

I'm not doing an "Experimental Cookery Tuesday" this week. The next thing on the list requires a significant number of ingredients, many of which I don't have in stock. I'm also in the process of running down my food stocks in preparation for moving (which will require switching off the fridge/freezer for at least 24 hours). Therefore, I have decided not to invest in the necessary ingredients.

At the moment, my plan is to catch up next week, probably on both Monday and Tuesday.

Return of the Blue Screen of Death

Hooray for Microsoft! In the last week, they have issued a 'critical update' for Windows that has finally restored a long-forgotten feature of the system.

Yes, for the first time since moving to Windows XP, I have finally started seeing the Blue Screen of Death. No more will I have to worry that I might get through the day without losing vital work due to a system crash! No more will I be at risk of my system being boringly reliable!

Hurrah and huzzah!

Now, if only I can hit "Publish" before it happens again...

#8: "The Orc King" by R.A. Salvatore

Friday, February 13, 2009

Contacting me

As you know, I will be moving home in just over a week. This leads to the question: how will you contact me?

Well, here is the answer:

By phone:

It appears likely that my telephone number will actually remain unchanged. This is yet to be confirmed.

However, I'm also now leaning towards the notion of essentially getting rid of a home phone, and instead switching to my mobile by preference. So, if you want to call me, that's the better option. (If nothing else, I always have my mobile with me, but rarely take my home phone to work.)

By email:

My email address will be remaining unchanged for the time being. I am considering switching to an address that is not tied to a particular provider (GMail or Hotmail), with a view to then being much more mercenary in dealing with providers, but I have not done so yet.

If you are one of the handful of people who are used to contacting me by Hotmail, and are therefore confused by the last paragraph, I shall note that a long time ago, when first setting up my other blog, it was recommended that I should get a 'throwaway' account for trapping spam. Hence was born that Hotmail address. Over time, I have started to use it for more than that, although it still isn't my main address (it is named after a character in a Vampire: the Masquerade campaign I ran, which makes it fairly unique, but not really suitable for 'real-world' use where I sometimes have to email landlords, prospective employers, and so forth).

By post:

Don't use my current address for anything new that you send! If you want my new postal address, text me some time after next week. Alternately, anything that you send to my parents' home address will find its way to me eventually.


If you're reading this and saying, "but I don't know what your phone/email/address is!", then I have some bad news. You won't be able to contact me using these methods! If and when we meet, though, feel free to demand the answers from me. Of course, I might lie...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's Soooo Cold!

I received my gas bill yesterday, thankfully the last at my current apartment. And, once again, it was absurdly high. And yet, the meter readings they had estimated were not outlandishly wrong - the heating of the apartment had simply consumed a lot of gas.

Except, when I say 'heating' I probably exaggerate the situation somewhat. Quite a lot actually. Because even with my having reprogrammed the boiler so that they heating is actually switched on when I need it, and even with the heating turned up almost to full, and with running electric space heaters as well at key times (on a timer circuit that for some reason insists on making an infernal high-speed ticking sound all through the night) the apartment is still freezing.

On the plus side, the estimate I have had for providing gas and electric for my new apartment is consequently several hundred pounds a year cheaper, desite the new apartment being significantly bigger. In fact, I believe the estimated cost for both utilities in the new apartment is actually considerably lower than gas alone has been costing in the current place.

I think it's fair to say that there is something wrong with the heating in my current apartment. And it's certainly yet another really good reason to look forward to the move. (Although, I didn't really think 'being warm' should have been one of the selling points!)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #19: My Sweet & Sour Pork

I'm not a big fan of pork. It's not one of my food nemeses, but it's also something I don't seek out, as a rule. I generally find it quite a fatty and unpleasant meat to eat. Therefore, I had some doubts about this meal. And, indeed, I noted in my previous post in this series that my even attempting this dish was contingent on me finding some really good quality meat to use.

Well, this dish was a revelation. It was very different from any sweet & sour dishes I've had before, firstly for not being a nuclear orange colour, and secondly for actually having some heat to it. Quite a bit of heat, really.

But it was good. Very, very good. I will definately have this again.

So, this would be 2-0 for Mr Oliver in the "Tasty Stir Fries" chapter of his book. He needs only one more to put this round beyond doubt. And the next one might just do it: "Hardly-any-Prep Prawn Stir-Fry". (Or it might not; it is fish, after all.)

Also, a big downside of all this fancy cooking nonsense: the washing up is a pain.

Monday, February 09, 2009

No Snow Day for Steph/ven

It started snowing just after 3 yesterday afternoon, and got progressively heavier as the night went on. After "Lost", I looked out the window and saw it was still snowing, which led me to think that maybe, just maybe, I might be snowed in.

Snow Day!

Except that I looked out the window again at 11:30, just before heading to bed, and the snow had stopped. And, when I woke up this morning it appeared that it had not snowed further, and so the roads were passable with care. (In fact, only my own street even particularly required the "with care" part. The rest were all clear.

No Snow Day! Boo!

Which is a shame, really, since I had it all planned out. See, the thing about Snow Days is that you can't schedule them, which means you have to arrange you time as though they aren't coming. So, if you do get one, it's bonus time.

Naturally, therefore, Snow Days must always only be used in the most frivolous of pursuits. To spend the day doing laundry, or marking textbooks, or preparing for a test would be to make a mockery of this most precious gift.

And so, the plan was to spend the morning catching up on the latest TV, followed by a couple of hours of light reading. Lunch would have been toasted cheese, for no other reason than I could. Then, in the afternoon, I would have sought out a snowball fight somewhere in the region. And, as the opportunity allowed, I would have built a snow fort, complete with ramparts and crenelations. Afterwards, I would have retired to my apartment for a dinner consisting of pizza and Irn Bru, followed by an evening of "Stargate: Atlantis", assuming band was cancelled.

Instead, here I am at work. Which is fun too.

#7: "Diamonds Are Forever" by Ian Fleming

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

100 things

It has been rather a slow day. Therefore, I have taken a list of 100 things to do from Kezzie's blog. I'm sure you'll agree that it's truly thrilling...

1. Started your own blog (Obviously)
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity (I did once give £1,000 to charity, but that wasn't more than I could afford.)
7. Been to Disneyland (Paris)
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo (see 41)

11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child (Not sure having this here isn't offensive - adopting a child isn't really something one should do just to tick a box in a "things to do before you die" list.)
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France (why have this and #12?)
20. Slept on an overnight train

21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping.
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors (England was such a trek...)
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David

41. Sung karaoke (... really badly)
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person (why have this and #81?)
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (why have this and #12?)

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie (something I made was in a movie once - does that count?)
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class.
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen

61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies (not really likely to, to be honest)
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy (but I did buy a new Optimus Prime toy when it was rereleased a few years ago)
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial

71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job (laid off, but never fired)
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone.
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book

81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car (Why would anyone do this? Drive it off the forecourt... drop a third of the value.)
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible (yes, even Numbers)
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life.
90. Sat on a jury

91. Met someone famous (The Queen!)
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby (not really likely to, either)
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a mobile phone
99. Been stung by a bee (Wasps many times, but a bee? Don't think so)
100. Read an entire book in one day

It's a bit of an American list, though, isn't it? I mean, I'm not aware of too many drive-ins in Europe, and both the Girl Scout cookies and the Quilting seem to be peculiarly American things. And then there are all the places to visit: 4, 17, 33, 35, 42, 70, 73, 74, 79, 86, 95 and 96 are all in the US or Canada. That's more than all the trips to the rest of the world put together!

And #23 is a very different proposition in the US (very few vacation days plus a fixed number of 'sick days') than it is in the UK (adequate vacation days and an unbounded number of 'sick days').

Anyway, having gone through the list, I'm not planning on going out of my way to fill any more of it in. Some of them I don't find at all appealing, some would require some considerable expense, and some require opportunity, and therefore can't actually be sought out.


The cold I caught on the 2nd of January, and therefore threw off by the 23rd (three weeks later) unfortunately came roaring back. I don't know why this is - it has broken both the "two colds a year" and "three weeks only" rules. My best guess is that it's a second strain, which took advantage of the relative weakness caused by the first cold to slip in. If this is right, I should be back to full fitness by the 13th of this month.

Unfortunately, progress with the diet seems to have slowed to a crawl, possibly as a consequence of the cold, or perhaps simply because it becomes increasingly difficult to progress as one nears the goal. As of this morning, there are eighteen pounds to go. This takes me past my mini-goal at fourteen and a half stone, and puts me within striking distance of my mini-goal at 200 pounds. Perhaps more important: I weighed fourteen and a half stone when I left university ten years ago and, barring one brief spell in 2005, I haven't been under that threshold since. If the current rate continues (doubtful), I should hit my target weight some time in May.

A week ago on Friday, I decided to try to stop biting my nails, this being the last of my bad habits. Unfortunately, this has proven to be a very difficult one to break, not least since most of the time I'm not even aware that I'm doing it. Apparently, it takes six weeks to break a habit. I managed eight days.

The goal of reading 52 books in the year remains on target. At the moment, I'm just over a third of the way through "Diamonds are Forever".

The band continues to progress. We're now at a point where we're consistently playing our competition tunes better than we did at any point last year. There's still of lot of work required, but at this stage I think the biggest problem the band is going to face is one of confidence when we get onto the competition field. This is probably the point where something goes horribly wrong...

My Star Wars campaign got off to a great start at the weekend. More on this later.

Saw "Yes Man" in the cinema yesterday. Annoyingly, we arrived ten minutes late, and they started the film a mere eight minutes late. Seriously, if they're not going to be consistent in their lateness, how are we to plan our days? Anyway, it is a good film, although not Jim Carrey's best ("Dumb & Dumber" holds that position, and most likely always will. I'm also partial to "Liar Liar", "Bruce Almighty" and, of course, "The Mask"). There may be more on this later, also.

I have been watching "Stargate: Atlantis" a great deal recently, having borrowed the DVDs from a friend. It is a good show, although I can't help but worry that they're exhausted every possible storyline in the Stargate universe.

The last few episodes of "Battlestar Galactica" have been fantastic, and I'm definately enjoying "24" this year (although I don't like the president they've got this year). "Lost" is back, but is a horribly muddled mess - but with 30 episodes to go, I've reached a point where I'm going to see it through to the end.

And I think that's just about everything.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #18: Chicken Chow Mein

As I said last week, this is a classic dish. And it was a good one, too.

I was a little concerned about this one, for two reasons. The first was that finding the ingredients proved to be something of an ordeal, with them being hidden in Tesco. In the end, I had to make a couple of creative substitutions that might have impacted on the meal. (That said, I don't think the ingredients here are really fixed - stir fries seem to work reasonably well with substitutions.) The second was that Graeme was popping round for a visit, and would partake of Experimental Cookery Tuesday - what if this was the week of the dread food poisoning?

Well, no need to worry on that account. It all went swimmingly, the meal was fantastic, and everyone survived. Indeed, this chow mein was actually better than the one I get from the Cantonese takeaway I sometimes visit.

Anyway, that's 1-0 to Jamie in the "Tasty Stir Fries" chapter. Next up is "My Sweet and Sour Pork", assuming I can get some pork of appropriate quality at Tesco next week. (I've found that pork dishes really vary a lot depending on the quality of the meat, so will have to make sure I get the good stuff.)

Today's Lesson...

Extremely intelligent people are not immune from making mistakes. Indeed, although they might arguably make fewer mistakes than others, the mistakes that they do make are often subtler, with more wide-ranging consequences, and generally more awful than the mistakes other people might make.

In other news, 2009 has not been a good year so far.