Friday, February 28, 2014

3 - 2 = 5??

How is it that you can start the year with three maintenance tasks to do around the place, spend some time working really hard to clear two of them, and end up with five? And how does that five manage to include all three of those original tasks?


In case you were wondering, here are the five...

  1. Bathroom ceiling. This has been an eyesore for a long time, so last weekend I spent some time stripping down the affected areas, re-plastered them, and painted them. It's now much better than it was. Unfortunately, though, when the paint dried it also contracted, and thus has cracked. Basically, it needs re-done. Which was pretty devastating after all the work I did last weekend.
  2. LC's car. This went in to get fixed, a process taking three days. But it was done, and finished. Until, that is, we received a courtesy call from the people who sold us the car trying to offer us an MOT and service, which are now due.
  3. The carpets need cleaned properly.
  4. My car has now developed a worrying rattle.
  5. And the latest annoyance in my life: something has gone wrong with our boiler. We still have heating, thank goodness, but no hot water.

It's all just annoying, and frankly this latest problem was the last thing I needed after a fairly rotten week.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pet Peeve: Selfies

Okay, leaving aside for the moment that 'seflie' is itself an abomination of a term, and yet another sign of the degeneracy of modern society, the thing that really annoys me even more about it is misuse of the term.

A 'selfie' is a photograph that you take of yourself - either directly, or in a mirror. Other people and other things can appear in a selfie, but those two rules apply - you must appear in the photo, and you must take the photo yourself. (I'm sure there's a clue there in the name, but I'm not entirely sure what it is...)

If someone else takes a photo of you, that is not a selfie - that is a photograph. I know it's a shocking concept, but there it is. Likewise, the only way to get a "food selfie" is if you're a cannibal and your food is really underdone. Otherwise, it's just you taking a photo of your food - which may or may not be an horrible and pretentious habit, but it's not a selfie.


#8: "The Dagger of Trust", by Chris Willrich

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dear Insurance Companies...

If you send me a renewal notice saying that you believe the most appropriate provider for me gives a quote of £X a year and I phone to cancel saying I've got a much better quote (as I had), please don't put me on hold while you rustle up a mysterious 'new' quote at £Y per year for the same service. I'm not, despite appearances, a complete idiot - so, by all means, consider that £X-Y an "apathy tax"... just don't be surprised if I elect not to pay it.

(It was especially insulting this time, as I happened to have not one but two much better quotes for the insurance, one of which was actually that same £Y quote from the same provider. It just happened that I'd been quoted as new business rather than as a renewal.)

Actually, this whole episode makes me feel really quite distressed, precisely because it's not, at all, a surprise. It's well known that companies delight in offering "introductory discounts" and other such things in order to get your business, and then ramp up the costs on renewal. In effect, you'll always be better off moving your gas/electricity/internet from your current supplier to someone else.

It's especially bad with insurance, which is supposed to be marketed based on actuarial assessment; that is, based on a calculation of the risk involved. But, as I've said before, if it were really done based on a purely actuarial basis, it should always be cheaper to renew with the same company than it is to move, because the new company has actual rather, than estimated, data which reduces the unknown factors, and hence the risk. And yet it is always cheaper to move elsewhere... or at least to say you're going to move elsewhere.

I do hate it when things just don't work the way they really should.

Update on Goals

We're now 50 days into the new year, and so it is time for an update on my progress at my goals. So:

  • Weight: This started pretty brightly, but has now hit a plateau, which is a pain. The big problem is the weekends, where something seems to have gotten in the way every time, be it a birthday, a restaurant visit, or just sheer laziness. Oh well.
  • Work: Likewise, this has started well.
  • Books: I've read seven books to date, which means I am once again slightly ahead of target for this year. Which is good.
  • Games: "Imperial Fist" is ongoing. We've lost one player and gained another, and also switched the dates to better balance my weeks. Unfortunately, it looks like the first of the three proposed one-shots will need to be cancelled, which will mean the goal will fall short. Oh well. By contrast, I have two of the three 'player' games scheduled, so that aspect is going well.
  • Maintenance: This is a bit behind schedule. One of the three parts is done, but the other two remain as they were with no great sign of motion. The fundamental problem is that I can't really be bothered.
  • Computer: Deferred.
  • Money: This is actually well in hand. The payback of the loan is automated, so will sort itself out. The rest of the clean-up is mostly done, with only two calls to make to finish that off. I would like to rebuild some savings, though.

And that's where we are 50 days into 2014. By the time of the next update, I would like to have broken through the weight plateau, read 16 books, and completed the "maintenance" goal. I suspect two out of those three is a more likely outcome.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Clown Before the Dandy

February is the month of the Second Doctor. As I said last month, I have no great experience with the Second Doctor - I've seen both "The Five Doctors" and "The Two Doctors", but neither of these was really a story about that that Doctor. (The "The Two Doctors", in particular, was rather poor, in part because Patrick Troughton wasn't really up to the demands of the role at the time.)

So, it was with some trepidation that I approached this month's story, "The Nameless City", and novel, "Dreams of Empire".

But I needn't have worried. Where the First Doctor is a significant shift away from what I was used to, it seems the Second was much more familiar - he fits pretty much perfectly alongside the Third and Fourth that I barely remember, and alongside the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh that I watched far more regularly. So, it really did read like a new incarnation of the well-known character.

That said, the short story was, it must be said, a little odd - the combination of the fundamentally optimistic Doctor Who and the fundamentally nihilistic Cthulhu mythos doesn't really work, for obvious reasons.

But the novel is far more satisfying, to the extent that I actually read it across three days instead of the planned week. This one was a sort-of-Julius Caesar story set in space with lots of chess metaphors. And I must admit, it managed to surprise me: I had figured out all but one of the plot twists some way in advance, but I missed a big one. Which was good, really.

So, that's that. March is the month of the Third Doctor, although I've already read the novel, "Last of the Gaderene", so there won't be too much to do. Fortunately, I'm much more familiar with the Dandy, so that should be a good one...

Experimental Cookery 2014: Thai Red Beef Curry with Jasmine Rice

This one came from Lorraine's "Fast, Fresh, and Easy Food". It was certainly fast!

This was a very nice curry, but blimey it was a hot one! So hot, in fact, that Lady Chocolat was forced to concede defeat. I made it through to the end, but am not entirely sure that was the best choice. But, apart from the extreme heat, it was pretty excellent.

#6: "The Yellow Admiral", by Patrick O'Brian
#7: "Dreams of Empire", by Justin Richards

Thursday, February 06, 2014


I have a new nemesis, which is probably a good thing since the others were becoming worn-out through overuse - a bit like the Borg, really.

Anyway, there are certain foodstuffs that I have to avoid, or tread carefully around. Dominos pizza, for example, or at least the stuffed-crust variety, always causes me problems, as does deep-fried chicken. (Conversely, Shredded Wheat, although deeply unpleasant to eat, does me considerable good.) But, in both cases, it's really obvious that I shouldn't be eating those things anyway - they're hugely and obviously bad for you. Frankly, complaining about that would be like complaining that a diet entirely from McDonalds or composed of deep-fried Mars bars wasn't the best.

But brocolli is supposed to be healthy. I mean, it's even green, and as we know no foodstuff that is green could possibly be bad for you - clearly, the horrendous taste of such things is inversely proportionate to its life-giving qualities. (Plus, it has the electrolytes that plants crave!)

Not so much, it turns out. It seems brocolli is a traitor veg, lying in wait to pounce on the unwary eater and leave them feeling rotten for days afterwards.

And so now I find myself paranoid, at any time expecting an attack by my foul new nemesis. Which probably explains the strange looks I was receiving in Tesco last night. But, frankly, it's justified: vegetables are masters of stealth - have you ever seen one attacking?

No, I thought not.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Experimental Cookery 2014: Spicy Sausage and Bean Casserole

Huzzah! This one was a rousing success.

This particular meal was taken from the "Great British Bake Off Winter Kitchen", by Lizzie Kamenetzky, one of the two new books I got for Christmas. That book has proven to be one that is better in the dreaming than the practice, I've found - I really like the idea of a lot of the things, but doubt I'll ever make too many of them.

Still, this one was good. It was simple, too - mix up a sauce, bake to thicken, fry the sausages, combine the lot, bake again, and serve. I paired it with some lovely mash, and my best bread to date - another seeded loaf, this one made with one-third white and two-thirds stoneground flour. So it was a big meal, but a hugely satisfying one. And we've got four more portions, and half a loaf, left for later use, too.

As I said, a rousing success!

#4: "David Copperfield", by Charles Dickens (a book from The List)
#5: "Herald of the Ivory Labyrinth", by Wolfgang Baur