Thursday, December 24, 2009

And we're just about ready!

All the gifts are achieved (whether made or bought) and wrapped. The cats are still allowing the tree to stand. The game room table has been cleared, in case people want to play games. Arrangements have been made.

I even have everything I need for a special dinner on Sunday which will put me firmly in the LA's good books (and I'm not going to spoil it!)

We celebrate Christmas as a cultural thing. It's good to have a party when the nights have drawn in (although the sun never gets as low here as it does in the UK; I'm still feeling as though it's roughly October, based on the hours of daylight) and it's nice to give gifts.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I am a chauffeur.

The LA prefers to sit in the front seat. She gets a better view, she avoids motion sickness, and in my car, that seat has a heating grid under the seat squab and in the lower backrest, which she makes use of. Unfortunately, the front passenger seat of my car is currently out of commission. The seatbelt latch has given up the ghost.

Yes, you read that correctly. A part related to safety has worn out, on a Volvo!

Some people have been urging me to replace it myself. I'm not wanting to do that because a) it's a safety part, and I don't have that much confidence in my wrench-turning skills, and b) replacing it would require removing the seat, which thanks to the aforementioned heating grids is a task and a half. For the moment, she's riding in the back if she rides at all, but as soon as the shop opens on Monday, I shall be calling for an estimate on bilateral replacement of front seatbelt latches. After all, the passenger belt has had less use than the driver's belt, and the wear shown is very similar.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


It's been a good year, and for Thanksgiving, the LA and I were invited to a friend's house. We decided to accept; the serving of goose was not a small factor in that decision. We spent the day playing games, and had a great deal of fun.

Then, on Friday (traditionally the day on which you Don't Go Shopping if you have any sense; America starts its January sales the day after Thanksgiving, for the British folks, and the Americans need no explanation of Black Friday), I spent the morning removing the centre console from my car, dismounting the switch for the driver's side seat heater, which was sticking because of a soda incident some years earlier, and cleaning it so as to make it switchable again. Astoundingly, I succeeded despite having to service a non-user-serviceable part.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sociability, and not drowning but waving

I haven't been saying much. It seems that how much I have to say here is inversely proportional to how much time I spend with people out in the real world - and that has significantly increased lately, as I've taken to attending the regular Tuesday night board games sessions at the local gaming store. It's generally an older-feeling crowd than Magic or D&D seem to attract (which does mean that I fit in quite well) and between the games and the company, it works out as a very good thing for my balance.

Also, I've just acquired Google Wave. This is new technology, stretches this computer to its limit, and is very very shiny.

Which makes it such a shame that the major use for it is likely to be shopping lists and suchlike.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What insurance really is.

It seems a lot of people have trouble understanding insurance. However, I'm pretty sure everyone understands the concept of a bet, and that's all insurance really is. You say to the insurance company, "I bet that I will need money to repair my car after an accident". The car insurance company looks at your driving record, and at the records of other drivers similar to you, and at their books, and says "I will take your bet. Your stake is [the amount of your premium], and we don't think you'll need a payout." Naturally, sometimes they're wrong. This is why they take thousands of such bets; on almost all of them, they're right. The income from the stakes they get to keep pays for the smaller number of times they're wrong, and if they guess right, they wind up with a profit overall.

That's an example using car insurance. There are specialised car insurers who work with classic cars, which don't fit into the normal car insurer's accounting procedures well; they can still make profits, because the owners of classic cars are careful with them. They don't make '64 Corvettes any more, so you're not going to treat your '64 Corvette with disdain. You'll garage it, you'll keep it clean, not drive it in the rain, and lavish care on it, because it's effectively irreplaceable. Meanwhile, your Corolla that you get the groceries in is a commodity; there's always another Japanese econobox.

Today, I saw somebody advocating, for health insurance reform, simply removing the ability of health insurers to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. While this would possibly improve matters for victims of rape and domestic violence, it's not a solution. Since insurance is a bet, taking on someone that you can know for a fact will need to make claims makes you a sucker. I've even seen suggestions that new insurance companies will arise to offer coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, like the car insurance companies which cater to classic cars.

I want to know what colour the sky is on his world.

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's the little things.

Small details that make the difference.

In general, food shopping here is very similar to in the UK. However, some things differ. For instance, vegetables. I cannot find runner beans here. It's as if they don't exist. On the other hand, celeriac is easy to find, if only I had a really good use for it.

Sausages; I can't find sausages such as I grew up with. Nor can I find back bacon.

Lamb is very rarely found, although I'm not concerned about that since I dislike lamb.

Cheese is much restricted in its selection.

And on another note entirely, we have a new contender in the "classiest clothing" award: an oversized sleeveless t-shirt advertising a bail bond service. Stay classy, sir!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Going native

It would seem that this has occurred. Today is not as hot as it has been of late (today's forecast high: 70°F/21°C) and so I'm moping around, complaining of it being cold, with long trousers, socks, and a tucked-in t-shirt. I'm even contemplating putting on a light sweater.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Interesting sports

One of the things Americans will often claim is that cricket is boring. This is almost always based on a lack of understanding. Yes, a cricket match can last for up to five full days, but that does not mean it's slow. It doesn't mean nothing's happening.

The other day, I was in a restaurant, and upon their multiple televisions there was a baseball match. Now that truly IS a boring sport; approximately every minute or more, one person would throw a ball at high speed, and then nothing would happen. Then they'd roll commercials, and when the game came back, nothing would happen. In the entire time we were there, there was maybe one burst of activity, which unseemly display was rapidly put down. I've never seen so many crowd shots.

In cricket, on the other hand, there is always something happening. One of the many reasons there was stiff resistance to the possibility of showing cricket on commercial channels rather than the BBC was concern that there was not going to be space to fit advert breaks. The same concern dogged Formula 1, but that's not considered at all important, and Bernie Ecclestone is addicted to money, and so that was swept under the rug, but cricket coverage was considered uncommercialisable for many years.

I beilieve that the major appeal of watching baseball is the opportunity it affords for drinking. You can "watch the game" with a constant dripfeed of beer, secure in the knowledge that should you slip into a coma, you won't miss anything, while your other half can't object because it's sports and you're supposed to be into sports. Baseball: not the national sport, the national coverup for getting drunk!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Getting something done...

So now, I've actually got something I can put on my resume. I'm volunteer tech crew with Actors' Ensemble of Berkeley, who are currently working on a production of As It Is in Heaven.

This'll mean a few more miles on the old brick, and some fun times. I'm very much looking forward to it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Advanced notice

My birthday falls on the 26th of next month. I wish to emphasise at this point that gift-giving is entirely voluntary; if you don't want to, or don't have the money to, that's entirely OK by me. I have everything I need at the moment, so gifts are just a bonus.

With that said, if you do want to give me gifts, I maintain an Amazon wishlist. Receiving things from that list, and probably suggestions that Amazon throws when looking at the pages of things on that list, would be pleasant, so if you're feeling generous, that's a good place to start.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A PSA to my Bay Area friends

Now would be a very good time to check and correct your tyre pressures. Rainy weather and bad inflation pressures are a nasty combo. If you're under, I have a nifty little electric pump that runs off the lighter socket, and anyone within a reasonable distance is welcome to borrow it!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Apparently I have green thumbs.

Last time I went to the Big Shop, I got some basil and chives to grow in the kitchen. The chives are as I expected, but the basil is... well. This is how things currently look:

Meestair Fawlty!

I'm wondering if I should repot it, remove the smaller seedlings, or what.It's not harvestable yet, but I'm very much looking forward to when it is...

Monday, August 31, 2009

The trouble with gamers

My local game store is a great place. The owner's cool, and the staff have been uniformly excellent. Despite that, he's struggling. Struggling to the point of putting coupons in Valpak, which is a blue envelope full of mostly useless coupons that drops into the mailbox about once a month.

I applaud his effort, but I think he's made a slight mistake: giving gamers access to money-off coupons. We may not all do it in play, but there isn't a gamer alive who doesn't know how to minmax.

In my case, well... after Sunday's auction, I have store credit I can use. The items I brought in sold, for a total of $34; I believe that, combined with the coupon and a loyalty card reward that I'm close to, I have a sticker budget for that $34 of $90...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's happened.

All the Twos
Yes, I did have my camera with me, and I'd pulled in to the side of the road for this, on a residential street. Nobody passed me while I was taking photos of my odometer.

Really, that reading is no more significant than any other, but on the other hand, it's aesthetically pleasing to see a row of twos.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Doing it the easy way

So, I have quite the collection of recorded music. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of my actual CDs are still at my parents' home, and so I only have intangible versions. All well and good until I want to listen to an album in the car, at which point (thanks to the demise of the remote control for my mp3 player) I'm rather less than well-off. However, this Windows box does have a CD burner, although the various programs I had installed either refused to actually burn, or refused to recognise my preferred compressed audio format (OGG Vorbis; analogous to mp3, but less painful for my ears), and so I was unable to recreate my collection.

Until, that is, I found InfraRecorder, which is free (in both senses, for those keeping score) and actually does both.

And now I have my music in car-compatible format. Well, that's if my stereo plays burned CDs. We shall find out tomorrow, when the LA and I head to Berkeley for a barbecue with a theatre company for whom I'm intending to volunteer as a backstage hand. I won't act, but any kind of crew that won't tweak my acrophobia is fine by me.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Back to the Big Shop

Yes, I've been back to Ikea. Now I have my own pans, a wok, and suchlike.

I also have... little better understanding of the roads surrounding it. They were the cause of a minor row between the LA and me last time, and this time, well, I got lost. Eventually I found myself on the right freeway, but heading the wrong way. Fortunately, I had a plan for that, and wound up taking the scenic route home. I do somewhat regret not taking the Cummings Skyway, though; it's a beautiful road.

And I'm almost at the point of having my odometer show all twos. When it does, count on pictures!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. The three allies of the entrenched, the vested interests, when they know that they are in the wrong, and on the losing side. It frankly sickens me to see the amount of FUD being spread in the health care reform debate.

The thing that's really gotten to me is the "death panels" rubbish. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the legislation contains no provision for anything even remotely resembling such a concept, and the fact that any politician sponsoring any legislation which DID contain such a concept would be exceedingly lucky to remain alive, never mind in office, this arrant nonsense ignores the fact that such panels already exist in the US healthcare "system", and nowhere else in the entire civilised world. They're there. They're the committees that deny you coverage because of pre-existing conditions. They're the committees that drop your coverage because you got sick and now it's too expensive to cover you. They're the committees that set your deductibles so high that you have to bankrupt yourself, leading them to be able to drop your coverage.

Every time your insurance company finds a way to deny coverage, that's the death panel at work. They're faceless bureaucrats, and we can't even vote out the people who appointed them to signify our displeasure.

President Obama's plans actually abolish these death panels.

Can you imagine the outcry if any other insurance type were allowed to refuse to pay out when needed? We buy insurance as a hedge against the bad times. We pay for car insurance because otherwise repairs would bankrupt us; what the health insurance industry does is analogous to a car insurance company saying "we'll cover you, as long as you don't actually get into any accidents or have anything happen that would force us to pay out".

So please, everybody, look at the facts of the matter. Look at the legislation which is being debated, look at what is happening right now, and ignore the pundits, commentators and talking heads. You have your own mind, and you deserve better than to have somebody on the radio make it up for you. You don't have to agree with me; you don't have to agree with anyone. Just please, do your own thinking. Don't fall prey to the FUD.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

In the dark

In the dark, you can't see. This is a problem when driving, which is why we have headlights, illuminated instrument panels, and illuminated shift gates.

Except that the shift gate light in my Volvo has burned itself out.

Now, I'm rather a fan of the Swedish Bricks mailing list's 700/900 maintenance FAQ, and it does cover this situation. The procedure listed is quite simple:

Shift Indicator Bulb Replacement. Shift Indicator Lamp. [Query:] How does one replace the bulb that illuminates the gear selector letters? [Response:] Here’s how it can be replaced:
1. remove ashtray
2. remove plastic cover under hand brake
3. remove two screws that 2. revealed
4. remove plastic cover that covers shift gate
5. Look under shift gate on left side for two wires connected to light
6. pull down gently on wires and the light appears
7. replace bulb and reinstall in reverse order

Now, after one trip to the parts store (and a certain amount of swearing) I have managed to ascertain that I can reach step 2 of this process. Now, step 1 is deceptive; it should read "remove ashtray assembly", as the ashtray itself is in a plastic box which covers the main fusebox. The fusebox needs to be exposed. Step 2 is a doozy; I have to disconnect the switches for the heated seats in the process of doing it, along with undoing a rather tricky spring clip. #3 looks OK (although I think they mean bolts), and the actual electricals should be OK.

Now I just have to hope that I really do need a 2721 bulb for this, not some obscure Swedish thing that Jan only blows once a year and only ships by trans-Polar reindeer, and that no more surprises spring up.

Friday, July 31, 2009

They're catching up, somewhat.

Now, some of you may remember that about all I watched by way of television before the Move was Top Gear. Since the Move, I've not seen a single episode, and I don't miss it. What I have been missing, though, is Time Team. Time Team has been around for a long time in the UK.

The British readers will undoubtedly be familiar with Time Team. For those readers who aren't, however, here's a summary: Tony Robinson (minor celebrity, best known as Baldrick in Blackadder) and a team of archaeologists (all rather distinctive) arrive at a place. They then have three days to find out as much as they can about it. This starts on day one with geophysics surveys, then there are usually one or two trenches by early afternoon, and the digging continues throughout. Meanwhile, some historical re-enactment ("experimental archaeology") goes on, Baldrick goes around asking silly questions, archivists are looking at historical records, one of the team is looking at the land surface and figuring out how it affected things, and the team's artist is drawing all sorts of things. Time Team often uses Victor Ambrus, whose style I rather like. At the end of day three, there's a wrap-up.

This summer, PBS finally caught up with Channel 4 and began producing an American version of Time Team. The differences are to a large extent cosmetic; their "Mick" lacks the stripey knitwear, but is otherwise articulate and interesting, their geophys team is headed by a woman, their "Mick the Dig" is a heavily tattooed woman, and their illustrator doubles up as Baldrick, but they haven't seemed to have a proper Phil until now, with the fourth episode. They now have one of those leathery types who could be a well-used 35 or could be a well-preserved 65, with a distinctly biker-ish moustache, and a willingness to do all the fun re-enactments. Now, things are looking good.

Apart, that is, from the first season only being five episodes. I do hope PBS can continue with this series, because it's informative and entertaining. My major niggle is that it uses a Coldplay song for the opening credits - I'd far prefer the excellent theme by Paul Greedus!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


So, my local gaming store has Gamescience dice in stock. Their pitch is precision.

Which is why, when you buy a set, you get free use of a marker to fill in the numbers, and free use of a file to remove the burr from the injection moulding.

Also, their d6s are interesting. Not only are they left-handed, they're spindown. The 3 and 4 are adjacent. This really upset Michael - he has a serious thing about a dn's opposing faces summing to n+1.

However, the d4s are numbered correctly (base numbering) and clipped to avoid horribly sharp corners, the d10s have had to be clipped so they can't be used as shuriken, and they are very nice looking dice.

But they're not precise.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I'm so going to wind up GMing an encounter with a gazebo.

The LA and I thought that the big slab of cement outside the back door needed to be shaded. So we got a cheap gazebo.

This turned out not to be all that good. We couldn't secure it, and so the wind moved it. This caused parts to break. Today, I finally took it down and packed it into its box.

This involved a LOT of swearing, and quite a few nipped fingers.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why we don't want a safety net.

Healthcare reform is all the rage here in the US. However, people keep talking about it in the wrong terms. There's talk of building a "safety net". We actually already have a safety net - they're called emergency rooms. However, a safety net is like the airbag in your car - it's there for when things go very wrong, and ideally, you want to never, ever use it. I will be extremely happy if I never find out what an airbag deployment feels like.

So no, we don't want a safety net. What we want is something like a balance pole or a set of anti-lock brakes. We want something that will keep us from having to use the "gone-to-hell" option. Here's my suggestion:

Part 1: all healthcare funding providers (insurance, public option, whatever) must offer a physical exam at no cost, a minimum of once a year. No cost means no cost; no deductible, no copay, no "after repayment"; NO cost. The moment this becomes a cost, people will decide not to do it. We're trying to get people to look after themselves better; the less it costs, the more likely they are to do it. So, zero-cost physicals every year. Please note that this is only a "must offer" - there should be no compulsion for anyone to go if they prefer not to.

Part 2: no healthcare provider may deny coverage of anything coming up in the free physical. Let's not provide a "free gift" and then use it to punish people. If something shows up in the annual exam, then it shows up early, while it's still cheap to manage, and it can be prevented from turning into a huge problem that lands the person in a hospital. Yes, this will result in more paying for medication to manage conditions - but that's still a better deal than paying a huge sum for hospital treatment of something that could have been managed if only it had been detected earlier.

Part 3: let's incentivise. Healthcare providers may reduce premiums (if any are payable) for anyone taking advantage of the regular checkups. Let's face it, by taking some responsibility for keeping themselves healthy, they're reducing costs overall. Let's reward them. We need to recognise that healthcare provision is about making sure people who need healthcare get healthcare - it's not supposed to be about maximising shareholder return. I wish the markets would recognise this and value good healthcare outcomes highly - if the best way to maximise shareholder return is to do the right thing for the guy who needs a doctor, then everyone's interests align. As things stand, that's not the case, and so greed pulls the providers in the direction of denying healthcare.

And for those concerned about "bureaucrats deciding what I can be treated for" - would you please explain how that isn't happening right now - except with the bureaucrats being given large bonuses for finding ways to deny you healthcare, with absolutely no accountability, and with no standards for minimal acceptable care? I can't guarantee that government bureaucrats will be any better, but I will state that there is no prospect for there not being a minimum standard if the government takes over. That in itself will be an improvement.

I don't have a perfect plan. Nobody does. However, we need to start fixing what we can, and doing it now. If NASA had waited until they had a perfect plan, we would never have gotten men to the Moon. Let's shoot for the Moon on healthcare.

Friday, July 10, 2009

People are STILL arguing about the plane and the treadmill?


Here is what happens, folks. Assumptions made in the following:
- The treadmill is automatically controlled to operate against the plane's speed, and is perfect in said control.
- Friction can be ignored.

Case #1: plane's speed defined by body and wings of plane with respect to undisturbed surrounding air.

The plane is started up, and as it increases power, it moves forward as the treadmill rolls backward. The plane takes off when it reaches flying speed; as it takes off, the wheels are spinning at the equivalent of double takeoff speed.

Case #2: plane's speed defined by body and wings of plane with respect to ground.

The plane is started up, and as it increases power, it moves forward as the treadmill rolls backward. The plane takes off when it reaches flying speed; as it takes off, the wheels are spinning at the equivalent of double takeoff speed.

Case #3: plane's speed defined by rotational speed of wheels.

The plane is started up, and as it begins rolling, positive feedback causes the treadmill to immediately begin to approach infinite velocity. Meanwhile, the body and wings of the plane are moving through the air, and pretty soon, it's passing through the air fast enough to take off. The wheels are at this point spinning an infinite number of times per second, but the plane still takes off.

In the real world, if you can make a Case #3 treadmill, the plane may not take off, because you have a chance to burn out the wheel bearings before it reaches flying speed. However, while wheel rotation is a suitable measure of speed for a car, it makes no sense whatsoever for an aeroplane, because what matters for an aeroplane is not how fast the wheels turn (unless they're going fast enough to cook the bearings) but how fast it's travelling with respect to the air around it (for lift) and how fast it's travelling with respect to the ground (for navigation).

The bottom line: THE PLANE TAKES OFF.

Now can we PLEASE go back to finding a '67 Chevy that we can put huge amounts of rocket power in and hope it doesn't blow up this time?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Humanity and the environment

Everyone seems to be concerned about such things as drilling for oil, logging, air pollution, light pollution... the big, high-profile things. What I find more annoying are small effects on the environment.

For instance, take car alarms. Please, take them far away. They're annoying enough when they're themselves (loud, piercing, and less useful than the nipples on a man's chest, since everybody including the police has learned to ignore them), but now they've infected the natual world. A bird which hangs out near my house has developed a song consisting of its imitation of the latest car alarm: a cycle through several annoying noises.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Friendship and nationality

As those of you with a calendar will have noticed, this weekend was the 4th of July. Notable for any number of events, but of course the one which got all the attention was in 1776, when the United States of America declared their existence and their independence from the rule of the United Kingdom. This act rather upset the British, and there was a somewhat nasty war over it, but in the 200 and change years since, things have improved, and so my presence as a British subject at a friend's party was no impediment to conversation. Much fun was had by all as we spent an afternoon talking, knitting and generally enjoying ourselves, followed by trooping up the hill to watch several fireworks displays at once.

We also found out that I'm rather comfortable in a kilt (a long story is behind that, and I shan't tell it here), and so I've decided that the LA and I should take a trip into the City to visit the local stockist of Utilikilts, and also that I should start knitting myself some suitable socks. So, tomorrow, I shall visit the yarn store for some nice lightweight yarn, suitably sized needles, and then I shall embark on the fun of making my own socks.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I can't click on my own Google ads.

I can't promote them either. However, I CAN note URLs and use them, and I recently did for one that appeared in response to my posting about my Volvo's busted turn signal. Their local BBB gave them a good rating, and so I invested $30 in a new turn signal (as opposed to $75 plus shipping for a junkyard part) and was expecting it to receive it by about Thursday next week. It arrived in the mail today, and ten minutes later, I'd gone out, popped the hood, pulled the bulb, released the old housing, slid the new one in and replaced the bulb. Then dropped the hood again, disposed of the packaging, and cleaned the road crud off my hands. My old brick is very easy to work on, lighting-wise, and now I can take it through an automatic carwash, since it no longer has an indicator bulb hanging out in the breeze.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The fun of car repairs

Or, why you really should get a mechanic to check your vehicle over.

The LA and I have me driving a Volvo, which we've slowly given enough fettling to keep in running order for a good long time. However, compared to the $1000 purchase price, we've now put in roughly $700 for repairs, including new belts, a new battery, new tyres... but now, it's set for a good while. I've actually got lifetime balancing and rotation on the tyres, which is useful, and it's pretty much set. I'll be keeping an eye on fluid levels, and getting a plano box to keep spare bulbs in the trunk. Funny story there; I had it in the shop this morning, getting the belts and battery replaced, and it turns out that to replace the battery, the right-side headlamp needs to be disconnected. I tend to use the headlamps as DRLs (among other things, I feel slightly wrong in a Volvo without DRLs!), but had turned them off to save the mechanics the trouble... and so, when I turned them back on, BING! The idiot light to warn me that a bulb somewhere was out lit up. I wasn't braking at the time (the high stoplight had blown over the weekend, so I was intending to get the right bulb for that anyway), so this was clearly a Bad Thing. So, I got home, checked my lights, and found... yup. The right-side headlamp was out. (bonus points if you're better at seeing where this is going than I was at the time)

So, off I went to the parts store, to get two headlamp bulbs (much like tyres, they ought to be replaced in pairs), and a bulb for the blown stoplight. Grabbed those, resisted the glass cleaners (my windscreen is 15; that's why it's somewhat gritty, and no amount of cleaners will fix that. Not stuff you can buy at any Kragen (for the UK folk: think Halfords)) and headed home to install them. Popped open the bonnet, and... erm, that looks wrong. Shouldn't there be a cable going into the back of the headlight assembly? Let me have a look... hmm, here's this cable sat neatly out of the way... ah. So, it connects like so... let me go see if the light works now... feh. Yup.

So I have two spare headlamp bulbs, which should be put in a nice protective box before I put them in the back, and it turns out that the bulbs for that stoplight do most of the rear lights, as well as only coming in pairs. So, inevitably, I accumulate a bulb kit. It's good practise to have one anyway, and it's not as though bulbs are heavy. Also, every single bulb in this machine is a tool-less replacement.

I should really call junkyards. I ought to replace the bashed-in indicator, it would be nice to replace the worn-out sun visor on the driver's side, I wouldn't mind replacing the missing ohshit handle on that side either, and I suppose the grille could stand to be replaced.

Oh, and the shop offered me a credit on my next visit for the disconnected headlamp. I was happy with that, and I've replaced the old plate frame (for the previous owners' favoured shop) with one of theirs.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


The yards are now thoroughly dead, and I'm finding myself somewhat stymied, because I lack a hoe. To that end, I'm going to get one, and also a couple of toilet seats, since the kitties have decided they like sitting thereon. The cheap plastic ones aren't up to a cat, especially a cat descending three feet in one bound...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I aten't dead.

I may from time to time feel as though I am, though.

The LA and I have been busy making the house better organised, and also, this weekend, we went to the LA's ten-year college reunion. This allowed me to meet some of her friends from then (all of whom are interesting) and to see the rather nice campus. It also netted us a 20% discount in the campus bookstore (or, as the sign without would have it, the bookstope), which we used on accessories for her car, a coffee-table book on the college (which actually was not included, but came with a desk calendar and is very pretty anyway), and two books by their staff which appealed. Also on a copy of the Canterbury Tales in the original, since I dislike reading it in translation.

Unfortunately, I was suffering some nasty stomach upsets while there, and the weather caused my knees and ankles to point-blank refuse cooperation. We became regular clients of the students with golf carts ferrying the crocked oldies around.

To reassure those who may have been worried, I was not allowed to drive in LA traffic. Not least because we wanted to give Hertz their Corolla back in the same nice-ish shape we received it in. I did, however, drive us to and from Oakland airport, and found that my Volvo is set up responsively enough that it tries to follow largish cracks in the road. The solution would be to fix the road, of course, since largish cracks aren't a good thing at all, at all.

Other news since the last post includes a report that Ikea have (gasp!) changed the design of the Billy bookcase. Instead of the old system of a nut and bolt holding the fixed shelves, one now uses a long-headed screw and half-turn fastener to provide this security. The white ones now also come with a one-piece back, folded into three to fit the box. The silly finishing nails remain, though, so we used the staple gun instead.

And now, I'm going to go collapse into a familiar bed. Sometime tomorrow, I must call and schedule a massage; Southwest are great in many ways, but being wedged into an airline seat does my back no good at all, no matter what. This is even more true if the plane is full. I have never been more glad to be back in my driving seat; Volvo's mid-90s seats really were excellent.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Today we are being Swedish, ja?

The LA and I piled into my Swedish automobile today for a little jaunt. Along we went, reaching the lovely paradoxical stretch of freeway that is 80 East/580 West (and which actually goes roughly North) and swung off for Ikea. Yes, the land of furniture you make yourself, strange unpronounceable names (with the odd utterly perfect one, such as the Sitta seat cushion) and meatballs. Through long corridors we toiled, arriving eventually at the checkout with a stupendous expenditure, which effectively eats our returned damage deposit from the previous place. However, what we got is rather good at improving our prospects of liking this place.

Here's the list: Two chairs which go by the name of Ivar. Cushions for same, named Ritva. Four folding chairs named Terje. One kitchen cart by the name of Bekväm, which I carefully assembled wrongly (at a right angle to its intended construction, since that fits our space better). A Fixa toolset, to summon our screwdriver from wherever the heck it's gone. A roller blind for the kitchen window, named Isdans. And two bookcases named Billy, and one named Expedit, for storage.

I don't get how people can have such hatred for Ikea assembly instructions. They're about the clearest I've encountered, and make it very hard to fail. They certainly seem to be clearer than the instructions on urinal cake holders; I had to use the restroom at Ikea twice, and in both restrooms, the urinal cake holders were upside-down! That's only part of the reason I'm not a fan of Ikea restrooms, though; they also feature the dreaded blowers. These things make a lot of noise and leave you damp-handed. Sorry, paper towels for me!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

New lawn plans.

Or rather, non-lawn plans. I was glancing through a book last night, and it appears that what I should do is simply knock down the weeds (must talk to the neighbour who has a rotary mower), and then dose lightly (optional) and mulch. Leave for a year, and then seed. I have to say that bark chippings would probably look pretty reasonable, I can always claim it as a drought measure to save water, and it would beat allergy-causing weeds. Unfortunately, bark chippings are expensive, and they're the cheapest mulch I can find. We'd be looking at somewhere in the region of $300-600 for the front and back, if I went to Home Depot, and it would take a truck to deliver all of the stuff.

Sigh. This lawn care is hard work for the bank balance as well as the back, although thankfully we've finally gotten around to having our friend the massage therapist make appointments for us. I fully expect her to be horrified at the state of my back - I've never had a professional massage. Ever.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rejoice, for the attercop is slain!

Those of you who follow me by means other than this blog will know that yesterday, I suffered a serious chunk of phobic reaction to a spider. The thing was, this spider fit all the descriptions of a black widow, and it was hiding out in the central handle of the garage door. Right where one grabs to swing it up and over. I discovered its presence when I opened the door, after hitting the back yard with herbicide. This didn't exactly make me happy. I spent the afternoon freaking out more than slightly, although not quite to the point of suffering an actual panic attack, and after some useful advice from Ravelry (largely consisting of "DO NOT go get the usual chemical for dealing with spiders, it's nastily toxic to cats") I had calmed down enough to make an attempt on its life.

I prepared with long sleeves, bloused trousers, work gloves and a broom. I was NOT going to be at risk of a bite! I then beat at the door with the broom, finding smaller spiders and squashing them, and destroying egg sacs aplenty. Finally, she came out to play, and I knocked her down. By then, I'd mastered the optimal method of squishing spiders with Panama soled jungle boots, and so she was swiftly vanquished. All her venom availed not against vulcanised rubber with twelve stone of panicked geek bearing down on it.

Anyone wanting to find out if she really was a black widow, feel free to come look. She's the biggest smear of spider juice on the driveway.

Monday, June 1, 2009

And so it begins.

The front yard - yes, all of it, bar the rosebushes - has just been dosed with Roundup. In a couple weeks, I'll go out, rake off the crud, try to break up the soil (going to be tricky; it's uncertain whether the soil or the cement around it is harder) and start thinking of re-seeding. If I do re-seed the lawn, it'll be drought-tolerant; I'm intending, for this year at least, to do any irrigation I do do by means of carrying a watering can. I want to think about every drop.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pride and a sense of ownership.

That's how I'm beginning to feel about this house. The owner is... less than brilliant at getting things fixed. However, so far, pretty much all of it's been easy; the most complex was figuring out how to install the new latch into the front door, but in the end that was a simple drop-in replacement, and now one of our issues (that the front door wouldn't latch, meaning one needed two hands to hold the door and sniggle things such that one could close the deadbolt on exit. Now, though, there's a slip latch, so one can close the door and then lock it.) is off the List. We also got a big can of glyphosate for the Weedpocalypse; the... well, it looks like dwarf barley, so it's some kind of grass, the dandelions, the small thistles, and so on, basically all non-woody plants are going to be Dying Hard once I've read the destructions and worked out how to assemble the handy sprayer (and also gotten myself a pair of work boots so's I don't wind up getting nasty stuff all over my nice boots), and then I get to figure out how much area we have and reseed with the nice drought-tolerant grass seed they sell. First, though, it's the scorched earth solution, followed by the fun of cleaning up the results of that, and then once we have a lawn(!) I'll work from there. Repair isn't an option at this point, it's going to be simpler, easier and more effective to simply nuke and pave. Think of it as the lawn-care version of fdisk, format and reinstall.

Sometime soon, we're going to have the place nice enough for a housewarming.

Monday, May 25, 2009

*tap tap tap* Is this on?

It appears that internet is on. I've been rather busy; the LA and I were moving, we had issues with cable companies (we're now with the competition, rather than the almost-monopoly; it's cheaper and faster) and I also took off to go to Burlingame for KublaCon. I had a wonderful time there, learning to play a rather fun (and impressively nasty) board game called Zombiegeddon (if Gary or Joe happens to be reading this, I highly recommend it; great fun to Do Unto your opponents, and enjoyable even when you're being Done Unto, since unless you've an eidetic memory you'll lose track of the score before the changeover point), being introduced to the Hero system (impressively crunchy, and I only caught glimpses of it, but I can certainly see why Keith Curtis (check your sourcebooks; you may well see his name under cartography in the credits, and I know he's done at least two maps for different A Song of Ice and Fire games. He's also an extra in Army of Darkness, giving him a Bacon number of 3 - this is the sole area in which I am as awesome as he is) likes it so much) and getting very much sleep-deprived and hypercaffeinated. I also rather enjoyed the drive there and back, although 1) the signage around the interchange of 101 North and 80 East in the City could stand some improvement and 2) I want a retrofit autopilot so I can actually enjoy the views. Incidentally, when coming off the Bay Bridge on my side, for a short stretch one drives along a section of freeway which is simultaneously 80 East and 580 West. Work THAT one out! This was also my first time crossing a toll bridge (I'm certain the toll collector appreciated my pre-counting the $4; nice and cheap for a bridge as nice as the Bay Bridge) and the longest and most complex freeway trip I've made.

The con was remarkably cheap, thanks to early registration and not having to pay for a hotel room. I was staying with a fellow who I know from the forums attached to Fear the Boot, and we had a grand time. He managed to win a Kubla pin, too; more than I did, but I got a Vote Cthulhu pin from the Chaosium booth which is #485/500. Overall, I account this con a success, and have offered to go halves on a hotel room for next year's DunDraCon with him. That's it for my cons this year, though; we're all about saving, and I'm intending to save up enough of a discretionary budget to make it to Fear the Con 3. I shall definitely have to whomp up Savage Worlds, Burning Wheel and possibly Mouse Guard one-shots for that, and I'm looking forward to meeting more Booters!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Who are you to tell me what I can drive?"

The above is often heard from drivers of SUVs, as a response to people asking them if they really need their SUV. This, then, is an answer.

I am the driver who has to deal with the consequences of your decision. I am the driver who is now forced to hold up traffic, because I cannot see if it's safe to pull out past your oversized vehicle. I am the driver who is blinded at night because your vehicle's lights are at my eye level, so your dipped beams are worse for glare than my highbeams, and so cannot drive safely any more. I am the driver who will be crushed like a bug if your unstable vehicle should get into an incident with me. I am the driver who is cut off because your sense of invulnerability causes you to drive less safely. I am the driver who can no longer find a parking space because you are now taking up two. I am the person whose freedom you are disregarding in your exercise of your freedom. I've heard "If you don't like them, don't buy them!" so many times that I am sick of it, and sick of attempting to explain that even if I don't buy one, I am still forced to deal with the inevitable consequences of your decision to buy one.

"I'm not putting my wife and kids in an itty-bitty car!"
Well, sir, I ask you: what about MY wife? What about MY (putative) children? What, exactly, makes them worth so much less than your family? And allow me to remind you that the only reason cars are "less safe" than SUVs is because there are SUVs on the roads. In a car-versus-SUV situation, a car will be significantly less safe, yes - but car-versus-car is FAR safer for all concerned than SUV-versus-SUV. If safety matters so much to you, then drive a car and encourage others to drive cars. Everyone winds up safer, and less impoverished as they no longer need to pay for the ridiculous gas consumption of SUVs. Safety, as an argument, doesn't hold water.

"I want to, I can afford it, and you don't have the right to tell me I can't!"
I strongly suggest you find a therapist and work through your penis size issues.

This has been a rant by me. Now, if it were light outside, I'd go put a bumper sticker on my midsize sedan that in Europe would be one of the larger vehicles on the road, but over here feels like a beer can next to the SUVs that regularly cut me up. I'll do it tomorrow, I guess.

Friday, May 15, 2009


The move continues. The Volvo also continues to roll; today, I added oil (when I did my last fluid check, oil was low; now, it's good) and changed the air filter, resulting in a palpable improvement in driving fun.

Meanwhile, the birds' nest in the fake ivy is now a mass of droppings, and no longer contains the chicks it did. The little sparrows have all fledged, and all but one have flown. This is welcome, since we shan't have to rely on the new residents to not disturb them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Potentially more expense.

So, of course, having bought the flipping tape adaptor, my mp3 player has now decided to end its useful life as a provider of sound. It still works; however, the key component which makes it so good for in-car use has quit on me, leaving it useless for the car and highly inconvenient everywhere else. I might be able to get a replacement, if it's a problem with the plug-in component, but that's a $50 investment and the problem could well be elsewhere. I've not given up hope yet, but frankly it's probably done for as a music player. It'll make a reasonable portable drive, if I want to, but its musical days are likely over.

This means I want a new one. Now, I do need to specify feature lists here; I'm going to do so RFC-style.
MUST support OGG Vorbis, FLAC, MPEG-1 layer 3 out of the box. (mp3 is standard, but OGG and FLAC are rare)
MUST be operable to a basic level (playing, pausing, skipping etc) without visual feedback. (I need to be able to control it without looking)
MUST support playlists. (needing to be connected to a computer to make playlists is fine, but it needs to be able to support them)
MUST have a storage capacity of 20 decimal gigabytes or greater. (that's marketing gigabytes)
MUST output through standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
MUST work with Mac OSX, Windows XP, and Linux. (this pretty much means it should appear to the computer as a USB hard drive)
SHOULD be operable from an inline remote control. (this is something the old one does/did, and I like it a lot, but I'm willing to compromise)
SHOULD be directly connectable to a computer and/or a charger without extra components (something that was a niggle with the old one; it needed a breakout box)
SHOULD have a battery life of 14 hours or greater.
MAY support video and photos. (I don't want such, but good luck finding anything that doesn't)
MAY use Flash or hard disk for storage.
MUST NOT break the bank balance.

I'm frankly open to suggestions. It's four years since I bought something like this, I don't know what's on the market now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A lucky escape

So the LA and I have been moving. Yesterday, we had the gas turned on (PG&E's online system is a little funky, and doesn't do so well with movers who are getting a gas place), and got the furnace, water heater, and range checked over.

However, it seems the range check wasn't thorough enough. When I arrived at the new place this morning, I opened the door, took one breath, and immediately de-assed the area. PG&E adds a lot of stinky to their gas supply.

Turns out, whoever installed the stove completely failed to use anything to seal the threads on the hookup. It was leaking at a rate similar to a slow simmer. We've aired out the house now, but when I entered this morning, it was basically a bomb ready to go off. Noises about this one are going all the way up the food chain, because not sealing the threads is not only incredibly dumb, it's severely against code.

So, a PSA: if you think you know enough to hook up your gas, YOU DO NOT. Unless you KNOW you know enough and you KNOW THE CODE, GET A PROFESSIONAL IN. And sue his trousers off if he mucks up.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Really, really official.

Yet another signing binge today, as the LA and I bought me a car. The paperwork is en route, and once it's all done, I will be the proud owner of a 1994 Volvo 940. Somewhat of a step up from the early 1980s 24xs my father used to drive, way back when, but still very familiar territory. It even smells like a Volvo.

It also has a boot (trunk for the Americans) which would fit two, maybe even three bodies, enough backseat space that I can sit behind a driver's seat set up for me (at 5" taller than the LA, this makes a difference), lots of cubbyholes, and a tape deck. I therefore took it to Fry's first thing to invest in a tape adaptor for my mp3 player.

Tomorrow, I'm coming as close as I get to detailing it. Going to pry the pencils out of the seat runners, bag up the personal items the previous owners left in it, and so on.

It even has a name: Grigori, after one Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. The levels of indestructibility are expected to be similar.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Well, now it's official.

The LA and I have just been on a signing binge; we're moving again. This time, to a house(!) with four(!) bedrooms, a large living area, a three-butt(!) kitchen with gas(!) stove, a two-car garage, and so on and so forth. Basically, it's about 1.5 times the space of here and better laid out to boot. We've been feeling rather grown-up; heck, we're going to have to buy a lawnmower, we've got a lemon tree to look after now... this is quite the step into adulthood.

Once we're settled, there will be a housewarming party. We will have many knitters descending upon the place.

Oh, and there's no HOA to give us grief. We're subject to local laws and so on, but we're not going to get snotty letters if I decide I want pansies in the front yard and there turns out to be some no-pansies clause in a phone-directory-sized book of Things You May Not And/Or Must Do. As long as it doesn't make the neighbours unhappy, we're cool. Recipe for being houseproud.

Friday, April 17, 2009

And I thought I was going to keep politics off here.

Seems not.

Disclaimer: I'm pretty left-wing by US standards, and I don't get to vote. That said...

There are a bunch of right-wingers who are apparently pretty annoyed that Obama hasn't magically fixed the pile of crap their President left him to deal with (word to the wise, guys: he's shovelling as hard as he can. It took eight years to get a heap of crap that big in the first place) and are making noises about a revolution. Ugh.

There's also apparently been talk of Texas seceding, on the same "grounds". I will admit that I haven't been following this one, but here's what I say to that: Go right ahead. We'll help you. We'll help relocate all the people who live in Texas and don't want to secede. We'll help relocate our discontented people who want to move to Texas when it secedes. We'll make sure you get a good constitution, and we'll make certain that you write into it that Texas can never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, receive any aid or benefit at all from the USA. After all, you're seceding over government overspending, right? Can't have you contributing to the problem, especially not from outside the USA. We'll also make sure we put up the border protection on our side, and we'll make sure the process for your citizens to apply for visas is in place. Yes, visas. You guys are going to need to apply six months in advance, at least, and have a damned good reason for wanting to visit the US. After all, you're a new country that recently seceded from your parent state while threatening armed revolution. Hardly the sort of people we want to let in willy-nilly, now, are you? Oh, and we'll be removing the SPR stocks currently held in Texas. Can't have that in a potentially hostile nation. We'll also be pulling out all military units, and levelling the bases. You want a military, build it yourself. We'll help - oh, no, we won't, that pesky "no aid of any kind from the US, ever" clause.

What we will do, if Texas secedes, is take the silly buggers back once they realise just how much of a cockup it was. We're dumb like that.

My main point here: if you're not happy, do something constructive about it, don't just bitch and threaten to throw your toys away. I have no respect for someone who thinks standing on a street corner waving a teabag is helpful in any way.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Something to be impressed by

The LA and I live on the upper storey of a two-storey structure. Our stairs are external, and the top end debouches onto a largish porch, partially covered by a canopy which is part of the roof. Now, when we arrived here, we had an articicial ivy plant which had been hanging from a hook in the previous place, and we had a hook in the canopy. The two seemed to be an obvious match, and so there it has hung ever since. In recent weeks, I have been confronted upon opening the door by a flurry of small brown wings as a bird departed from the basket of plastic ivy with some alacrity.

Last night, I stopped to look, and discovered a rather large quantity of dry plant matter, which had been woven into a small bowl shape. It currently contains four eggs; last night, when my photograph was taken, it contained three.

The eggs are a very pale green, with very sparse brown speckling. I'm leaving them alone, because I would love this family of birds to be successful. I would also like to be able to figure out what sort of birds they are, but that seems unlikely at this point.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jim Morrison's Dead.

So, yesterday, the LA and I went out for dinner because after a night of insomnia, I was far too zonked to cook. We wound up at a local family Chinese restaurant, and were the only two customers until an older woman and a young man came in. We decided it was almost certainly an Easter filial visit... and that it was pretty clearly something the young man dreaded, because the woman easily qualified for a spot at St. Jimbob's Home for the Bewildered. He had to explain twice that it was Van Morrison he was going to see perform, not Jim Morrison, because Jim Morrison is dead (and has been since before he was born). The lady also spent a long time talking about sandwiches and how she doesn't have a cellphone. The LA and I were somewhat reeling by the time we left.

And this morning, I received a somewhat panicky call from the LA - she'd forgotten her wallet, and so I had to take the bus to rescue her. I wound up at her office, we had lunch, and then I asked if there were any errands she needed me to run, since I was at a loose end and the car was right there. As it turned out, we were low on fuel and she needed soda for the office, so I headed over to get the car. This was yet another first - my first time driving around a multi-storey car park solo. Pretty easy, really. Filling the tank was nothing new, I've done it before (and really appreciate the locking triggers on American pumps; one's glass does get rather dirty, and being able to clean it while the tank fills using the free-to-use squeegees saves ever so much time), and supermarket parking is old hat, but the ramps and tight turns of the parking structure are new to me.

We also got to see the ugliest vehicle I have ever seen. It was a Hummer H2, truck version (the least useful pickup truck ever), lifted (just to make it even more pointless and dumb). The paint job was mostly gloss black, but the upper parts of the doors, the lowest side skirts and parts of the transmission were lime green. It had clearly never been further off road than the dealer's lot, and seemed to be a cry to the world of "Look at me, I have micropenis!" It was even blasting out the wonderful n-Chi music you hear from the car next to you at traffic lights.

And finally, a message from Sheba.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Finding myself in default

The LA has a rather sporty little car which, now I have a license, I'm allowed to drive on my own. This car, among its many shiny and youth-oriented features, has a stereo with extra inputs. It won't play cassettes, which is frankly unsurprising, but it will play burned CDs full of mp3s, and it will speak iPod. It also has a 3.5mm (US folks: 1/8", the size of the headphone socket on your iPod) input socket for raw audio from wherever. The LA generally uses her iPod to provide music, but has on occasion allowed me to use my not-an-iPod to play some of my music. However, this has always led to complaints of it being ridiculously bass-heavy, and justifiably so. I had always been under the impression that the bass boost misfeature of my equipment was as turned off as it had always been.

Well, today, for the first time since I got the thing, I actually inspected that portion of its settings menu.

Guess what had been active all along, ever since shipping?

I've only had the blasted thing four years.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


The LA and I go out and knit with a group of friends every Wednesday, and they really are friends. We all talk, knit, tease each other, drop one-liners, and generally terrorise the customers at the Borders where the meetings occur. This is all well and good, but there is a dark side.

The dark side is where the LA and I get dinner on those nights. We go to the Jack in the Box which is on the way to Borders. The staff there were coming to know us and expect us, but now they've had a new thing installed: a touch-screen, automated order-taking kiosk. For the British folks, think of the ticket machines at a railway station. For the US, think of a touchscreen voting machine, except this one actually has been secured and leaves an auditable paper trail. Funny how one's burger is so much more important than one's leader.

Anyway, this machine is a good thing (it gives you a running total, it has the entire menu in it, and it allows you to special-order without the difficulty of getting the right information over to the employee or looking up the product build online ahead of time), but I can't help missing somewhat the interaction with the staff. Sure, it's more efficient, but now their involvement is limited to handing us the cups and, later on, the food. Another little chance to connect is gone.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Legacy is an interesting word. In most walks of life, a legacy is a good thing, but in computers, legacy is a bad word; it means that something is old (not necessarily bad), does not integrate well with current systems (bad) and usually that it's a pain to deal with.

This is leading up to a bit of a rant about my wireless connection. The computer that's on this connection regularly falls off the network, and when it does, the installation of Firefox it runs generally goes into "Offline Mode". Offline mode is a legacy (see, there's that word again!) of the days when most people were on dial-up, and it was important to keep your browser from dialling a connection (thus costing you money and/or time in cancelling the dialup process) whenever it wanted. What it does is prevent the browser from making requests over a network connection. Now, it was a good idea to have offline mode kick in on a lost connection back in the bad old days, but I for one cannot remember the last time I had to dial a connection. I know that that old machine doesn't even have the means to dial a connection set up. Is it so much to ask that Firefox ask what the primary network connection is on install, and if it's not a modem, disable offline mode? Or indeed provide some means of disabling offline mode? In the days of a flaky but theoretically always-on connection, offline mode is nothing but a sulk, and I don't like my programs to sulk.

It's a privilege I reserve to myself, the LA, and the cats.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Everything old is new again

For many years, almost the past two decades in fact, pain has been a constant part of who I am, and I do mean constant. I would go to sleep in pain, wake up in pain, and with me all my waking hours, there was pain. Even when this started, I strongly desired not to go through life on constant medication, so I just sucked it up and dealt with it. My shoulders hurt? Very well then, my shoulders hurt. It's what shoulders do.

As a result of this, I suspect my pain threshold to be rather higher than most people's; I've become so used to working through pain that I no longer really notice it.

This morning, when I woke up, nothing hurt.

Think about that. For the first time in almost twenty years, nothing hurt.

Of course, once I got up and started moving, all the little aches returned, but for a while, I got to experience life without pain.

I still don't think it's worth medication, but that's just my opinion.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Salty water?

I've been wearing glasses for twenty-mumble years. In that time, I've gone from being a small child to a fully grown adult, with attendant increases in the size of my skull. Since I was wearing glasses full-time (roughly 2/3 of the time, since for most of my life I've only removed my glasses for sleep), and my prescription has always been a high one (high enough that nobody is now willing to allow me to have lenses which are not high-index), and I have long preferred metal frames (to the point that I now can't even stand the metal frames with a single bridge pad; I must have the pad either side of the nose), there was, while my skull was growing, significant pressure on my nose. As a result, it has wound up with rather narrow nasal passages; I'm prone to sinus congestion (and, until I switched to high-index roughly five years ago, had in fact lost the ability to breathe through my nose due to permanent sinus issues) and I get depressingly frequent sinus headaches. Fortunately, pseudoephedrine clears them up (at half the stated dose; a full dose gives me shaking hands and palpitations, which I Do Not Like), but I'd rather minimise that.

I'd been recommended a neti pot some years ago, but couldn't get hold of one, and began formulating objections. Today, though, after a little discussion with Ray in the past few days, I realised that all my objections boiled down to "I don't wanna". So I gave it a try.

I really must do that more often.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Philosophy of Underwear

The LA and I saw a product of Fashion this evening: a young person wearing jeans which a) had a beltline below the buttocks and b) were so tight they must have required talcum powder to don. Apparently, these days, boxer shorts (of the old-fashioned, woven-fabric-and-elastic-waistband type) are no longer considered "underwear". I disagree with this, but that's mainly because my preferred underwear is that type.

However, I had a think about it, and functionally, it's not underwear for me either. I may not have it on display, but my boxers exist more to provide a consistent, non-chafing lining for the upper part of my trousers. For some years, I have been of the opinion that the best approach to underwear is to get as close to commando as possible. At Faire last Spring, I discovered that boxers are functionally equivalent to commando, a practice which is definitely less than pleasurable, since one is effectively dressed as an item of furniture in a hot environment. When one is sweating profusely, some figure-hugging is preferable to prevent chafing, if one must confine oneself in clothes.

However, in general, I prefer to minimise the irritance of my clothes, and so I wear boxers as the best option. Denim chafes.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why not D&D?

I am a gamer. I enjoy tabletop role-playing games, but I don't play or run the most popular of them all, Dungeons and Dragons. Why is that?

First, the initial expense is high. D&D's approach of making multiple core rulebooks, sold separately, at a relatively high price point, is excellent for their business, but I'm afraid I start to think at $30. I also dislike the implication that "the players don't need to know the rules" given by the existence of a separate book for those running the game. Players should know the rules, in my opinion; what they shouldn't know is the GM's intent.

Second, in D&D 4e especially, there's an ongoing expense. To get full benefit from your books, you'll want to get a D&D Insider subscription. Now, while this is an insignificant expense at $5 per month (assuming you get the most cost-efficient option, which is to pay for a year at a time; buy it month-by-month, and it's $8 a month), it's still a recurring expense, and while it's tiny (forgo tea at the knitting group meetings a couple of times a month), my mental block against such things starts at $0. This is why I don't play MMORPGs, among other issues (such as my addictive personality); I have difficulty dealing with recurring expenses for what I see as non-essential. Water, trash, phone, internet; I can justify these to myself. Even Netflix. But for D&D? Thanks, but no thanks.

Third, it's the 900lb gorilla of RPGs. While it's obviously done SOMEthing to merit its leading position, I resent its near-complete dominance of the market, and my previously mentioned dislike of the popular kicks in as well. I realise my contrariness is silly, but it's part of me.

Fourth, I just don't like it. This is actually the most important part; I've looked at the rules, and I don't like them, nor would I be able to easily house-rule out the parts I dislike. I'd rather start from a system that doesn't have the bits I dislike.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Yes, for the first time since buying my first high-index pair, I'm getting new glasses. Since I'm now at -8 in both eyes, high-index is a must; I'm buying lenses at a 1.67 index, which is the same as I have now. I'm also buying four lenses; a second pair was a very reasonable price, so for the first time ever, I shall have a choice of glasses.

Now I just have to wait for a week or so.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I believe that's called "two birds with one stone"

The LA and I have been lacking an effective vacuum cleaner for some time. Since moving from Los Angeles, in fact. As an aside, do not expect a stick vacuum to be effective.

Recently, we borrowed my mother-in-law's vacuum, which while less than brand new is still an effective piece of equipment, as long as its bags are regularly emptied. It's recently lost suction, which I realised was due to a full bag. I suggested to the LA that we look into replacement bags, and we wound up choosing a new vacuum. It being available from Best Buy, I was able to check stock online, although only in a "some/none" sense, and so I was all set to go pick one up tonight. Unfortunately, the LA had changed into her pyjamas, and wasn't willing to change back.

So once we'd finished dinner and I'd finished putting away folded clean clothes, I bid the LA goodbye and went out under a darkening sky for my first solo drive. Soon afterwards, I was on my way home, with a brand new vacuum cleaner in the back of the car. I had been cut up by one idiot in a small Chevy (whatever they're calling their equivalent to the Focus these days; it came up behind me, swung out to the left, passed me, pulled in in front and braked to turn right; charming behaviour, considering I was doing the speed limit in the right lane) and, on the way back, I found myself making a bad lane choice at one notoriously bad intersection; Buskirk and Monument, if you wish to look it up, but aside from that and the probable drunk who pulled out of Safeway in front of me (doing 25 in a 35 zone, which would cost one a driving test; weaving across the lane) I had no great problems.

I'm rather liking the ease of driving over here, particularly the ability to turn right at red lights. I'm also rather keen on my usual steed; the sports-tuned 2.4l engine and rather responsive auto box in the Scion tC make it a real pleasure to drive, compared to the definitely economy-tuned Focus I learned in. It also astounded me just how much better the visibility is with no passenger; I shall have to drive like that more often...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

To the taxi driver on Mt Diablo this morning

Mount Diablo is, as you're aware, a one-way street, and in the block between Salvio and Willow Pass, is lined on both sides with angled parking spaces. It's also a 25mph limit. While I have no doubt that you are a very experienced driver, I find it astounding that you consider it safe to blast along that street at around 50mph, because the parking spots (on the left, anyway) are sloped away from the centre of the street, leading to a need for anyone backing out of them to feed the car with fuel, since very few cars have sufficient torque to reverse creep uphill at idle. This means the foot is less than available for the brakes. Add in the rather restricted visibility (since most cars are designed with little thought to backing up, and SUVs are a popular class of vehicle around here) and you will rapidly see why the folks backing out of the parking spaces have right of way; they are FAR less able to see or to respond to hazards than someone driving along the road. Moreover, a small sports car like the Scion tC I drive will be well-hidden by other cars (a fact I can actually verify through using Google's street view, since one of the vehicles parked along there when the street view car went past was a Scion tC) and thus would appear unexpectedly when backing up.

All of which is to say: you were driving FAR too fast, particularly given the fact that it had just started raining, and we are BOTH lucky that I slammed my brakes on as soon as I saw something unexpected. Me because had I not done that, you WOULD have hit me and almost certainly totalled my vehicle (for the UK readers: write-off). You because you would have been found 100% at fault for the collision. I doubt that your aging Crown Victoria has a black box, but my little Scion does, and the data from it would certainly have shown, by a simple calculation, just how fast you were going, and you would have lost your license.

the new driver you didn't manage to scare into never driving again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Now I get the moans about the DMV.

My first brush with the DMV, much like my first experience with the air-puff glaucoma test, was so positive that I was wondering what all the fuss was about (the glaucoma test, by the way, was yesterday, while having an eye check; I need new glasses, is the verdict). I went in back in November to get a permit (UK equivalent: provisional license) and found it so streamlined that I was prepared to defend the DMV.

Today, though, was less wonderful. First of all, I'd made an appointment... four weeks ago. Yes, there was a month's waiting time on the appointments. Sigh. So, I turned up, reported as ordered, and just before going round to the start point, used the nastiest toilet facility I have ever been in (portaloos at festivals INCLUDED) to offload the calming cup of tea I'd had for lunch, and then joined the line. At this point, the "hurry up and wait" began. We were in said line for, I kid you not, an hour, in full sun. When we eventually reached the front of the line, off I went to take the test. Shortly thereafter, I returned, and was informed of what I needed to get better at (turns, mostly; I'd been a little overcautious on turns, but that was pretty much it for the 7 penalty points I incurred) and was then congratulated.

I am legally allowed to drive in North America. Heck, I'm OK temporarily in Europe as well, as long as it's not a manual gearbox.

Although in the UK, I would be going to put it in gear and opening the door instead. Sorry, family, but I'm a LHD man!

Friday, March 6, 2009

I don't know what I was procrastinating on...

but it must have been something impressive.

Solid start

I started with these...

Fabric start

And this.

About half done

Not long afterwards, this was the state of play.

With some scale

Underside, mostly done

This is how I got there.

The tabletop!

And this was the final result.

This thing is BIG!

That game board is a shade under three feet long, and not much less than two feet wide.

Much bigger than the host table

And the old table was too small to play the game sensibly. The new tabletop will allow us to use the big-box expansions.

Go me.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The long weekend.

The LA and I had a very long weekend. In fact, the recovery is still going on. On Thursday, we headed down to San Jose and toured the Winchester Mystery House, an historic architectural curiosity which was under continuous construction for several decades. On Friday, having spent the night in a Santa Clara hotel, we spent most of the day not buying yarn at Stitches, and then on Saturday we spent the day buying yarn. The LA got a lot of alpaca and some nice wool, I got some wool and a nice amount of variegated red cotton which I shall be using to make myself a sweater-vest, or a sweater if there's sufficient. On Sunday, we hit Stitches again, but my knees had given out and we finished up heading home early.

Today, we've been recuperating.

And over the weekend, I had a thought: why are books only numbered in ascending order? Many thick books would prove far less intimidating if one could see at a glance just how many pages were remaining.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Descent of Wood

So, it seems that last night, Something Happened. We've been getting a lot of rain lately, which has inevitably softened the ground, and it seems that one of the trees around here was actually pretty badly rooted, because it fell over. The LA saw it when she went out to go to work, and grabbed me and my camera to document it in case anyone needs it.

What had happened was a simple lack of hold by the roots. They were extraordinarily shallow, and simply had no hold, so the tree fell. Luckily, it fell pretty much southwestwards. Had it fallen more easterly, it would have severely damaged the other end of the building I live in. More westerly, it would have done similar to another building. Had it fallen on a reciprocal heading, it would probably have done minor damage to the building across the pond. As it is, it severely dented the roof of one car, also caving in several windows (this car has already been towed) and caved in a window on the car next to it.

For most of the day, I've been treated to a soundtrack of chainsaws and log-chippers as the trunk was cut up and removed. Now, having gone out for an inspection afterwards, I can state that aside from one caved window, the second car is remarkably unscathed. The tree itself was a good three feet in diameter at the base, and so it's no surprise that the first car was sufficiently crunched as to need a tow.

And finally, when I took the recycling down earlier and stayed to rubberneck, I met a new neighbour. He's the replacement for a chap we knew only as "Scooby", and is a very pleasant fellow. I shall have to invite him over for a game of darts sometime.

I'm unsure whether I should post photos of the event.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Say hello to the con-goer.

Last weekend was DunDraCon. The anniversary weekend is Stitches. And now, Memorial Day weekend (May 22-25, to be exact) is KublaCon. I've arranged crash space with a friend in Burlingame (thanks, Arthur!) and registered my geeky behind.

There's a good chance of more B-17 being played. This time, I'm intending to stay till the bitter end...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Burning Wheel: first impressions

Thanks to a raucous, fun session of play on Friday, and the LA's decision that I obviously had enjoyed that enough to make the purchase worthwhile, I picked up a copy of Burning Wheel on Saturday. When I actually got to read the rulebooks, it was initially daunting, but I rapidly picked up the jargon, and I'm now confident I can follow a conversation about it. The system is, at its heart, very simple: roll dice, and count how many are good. Compare that to a target number, and see if you did what you wanted or not.

Other points are: it's a game that rewards characters for attempting, not just succeeding. Didn't make the test? You still learned something. Do that often enough, and you'll get better. This makes a lot more sense than the yar-boo-sucks approach often taken in RPGs, where failing a check is treated as utter, abject failure and you don't even get to learn from your mistakes.

The abstractions are well-chosen - no more micromanagement of finances, you can simply roll using a stat to figure out if you can afford what you want.

Social mechanics. Oh, sweet social mechanics. Normally, this defaults to "loudest and/or most stubborn player wins". Not in Burning Wheel. Thanks to the Duel of Wits, even the quiet guy who only ever speaks when spoken to (that would be me; hi, me!) can win a shouting match in character.

Balance. It's told to go hang. Elves are über, and that's it; Dwarves are über also; humans are not über in anything except possibilities. There's no actual class (you want a mage in armour with a big axe? Sure, if you can persuade the GM to let you take enough lifepaths) but there's a lot of flavour. Character creation is interestingly handled; you choose lifepaths. What this means is that you hve to pick where you were born, how you grew up, and what this left you with. Each lifepath advances your age, gives you skill points and trait points, provides you with a useful skill and usually gives you a trait as well. It also allows you to take other skills and traits at reduced cost. The process of character creation is slow initially (my first character took me about four solid hours to burn) but winds up with a very flavourful person, instead of the usual result of a point-buy system, Fy-Tor Mk. IV (who is identical to Fy-Tors Mk. I-III).

Overall, if you're into roleplaying at all and don't own Burning Wheel, I strongly recommend you go out and buy it. Even if you don't use it, it will make you think about RPGs.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

I'm actually kind of glad I didn't get into the game I'd registered for today. I'm tired out.

Friday: a Good Omens GM running The Gift, which is an excellent intro to Burning Wheel. This game made it imperative that I buy the system.
Saturday: an SCA combat demo, and then in the evening, a game of B-17: Queen of the Skies, which started as an Avalon Hill game. By this time, it's evolved, and is... well, it's pretty darned brutal. In my squadron of six, one plane blew up in midair on the way to the target, one plane lost most of its defensive armament, along with his radio (which meant no participation in the conference regarding the aiming point) and I lost my radio and my entire oxygen system. This was pretty typical. I shall definitely be looking out for it, because while it's a long game (I had to drop out just as we left the target zone, which was four hours after the start time) it's extremely fun, and the guy who runs it is a good man.

Today, well... we showed up, but I overloaded pretty fast, so we headed home.

Over the weekend, I also aquired a d4 that actually rolls (it's a I, II, III, IV thrice d12) and a d10 that's a Platonic solid (0-9 twice on an icosahedron). Along with a t-shirt proclaiming "All I see around me is Chaos, Panic and Disorder. At last, my work here is done."

Friday, February 13, 2009

On a break

I'm at DunDraCon this weekend. Come find me, if you're there; I'll have a big, blue knitted d12 with me...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

On the Superbowl

Yes, I was around for last year's, but I wasn't paying attention. This year, though, the LA and I sat and watched a large number of overly muscled young men attempting to maim each other in a fight over a ball which isn't even round.

I've finally figured out American Football. It's been much compared to "their version of Rugby", but it's not right to my Union-trained mind. However, once I realised it was the US's version of Rugby League, but with forward passing not only allowed but encouraged, things became perfectly clear. The game was rather interesting; I can't pretend to understand all the tactics involved, but the actual gameplay was familiar enough to tell that it was a close match.

It was also familiar enough for me to see that the overall slightly better team was being hobbled by an overactive referee, and I'm still not convinced by the call on the final touchdown which gave the Steelers the game.

In other news, I've now put in a pre-registration form for the games I'd like to play in at DunDraCon this year. I'm hopeful I'll get into the session P Burning Wheel game, so that I can actually make an informed decision. As things stand, I've heard people I trust praising Burning Wheel, but others saying it's quite rules-heavy, which doesn't suit my style - although one of the praisers is also a very rules-light GM. I'm confused, so I want to run a character for a while. It could turn out that my homebrew setting is better suited to Burning Wheel in tone than Savage Worlds, but we shall see.

Friday, January 30, 2009

On scenery

I'm still learning to drive, although it would perhaps be more accurate to say I'm still not fully licensed to drive, and so I'm still taking lessons. Today's lesson took me out into an area I've not been before, and I'm rather pleased that I was calm and comfortable enough to not only drive easily and safely, but also enjoy the rather starkly beautiful scenery. As previously, we needed to refuel the little Focus, and then we headed off toward Martinez. However, just before crossing route 4, we swung off and out into the rural area.After a bit of driving, we found ourselves out on a small, winding country road that led, eventually, down to Port Costa, a community I'd never heard of. We then swung further West, and after easing down to Eckley Pier, and back up (getting me plenty of chances to figure out speed control on hills), we wound up heading into Crockett. There's a section of that town which gives a feel of what it's like to drive "in the city" (which in this area always means San Francisco) without the necessity of crossing the bay, and so I had to drive up the hill (which felt near-vertical), then make a right turn and continue up... and then come back down. Thankfully, there is a "low" stop on the Focus's gear selector, and so I could get some engine braking. At a guess, I'd say the actual incline was around 30°, but from the driver's seat, it felt far steeper. At one point, I needed to turn on the way down, which is normally (for most student drivers) a chance to ground the nose (which fortunately is plastic, and so doesn't get rusty from the scrapes it acquires), but I kept the nose off the road and managed to keep it together all the way back to the stoplight, and then out of town. We then headed back towards "civilisation", via a road with a 55 limit; I was perfectly happy cruising at that speed.

Most of this route was on roads which wound through the hills, which are largely bare and grassy. There were some wooded valleys, though, and there are places along there which I would love to visit with a camera.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

On completion

I have now completed a cat plaything.

From Ravelry photos
Sheba has yet to actually play with it, but she does accept it. It doesn't roll very well, but it does roll.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

On irony

This is, in fact, truly ironic.

You may recall that I have begun working out. I have, today, had to notch my belt in an inch compared to yesterday (same belt, same trousers); this is shocking, but gratifying, since shifting the belly was an objective of the workouts. I simply didn't expect results this soon.

You may also recall that one of my objectives was to allow me to get into certain trousers which I brought with me and had expanded out of. This, it turns out, will not be possible. Because the gym I have available to me has very little by way of machines which work out the upper body (there are weights, but I've tried them and decided they're not for me), the vast majority of the workouts are going to my thigh muscles. While I have no real objections to this, it will inevitably result in muscle development on my thighs. The trousers into which I wished to fit were not as baggy as other trousers I own in the thigh, and so any significant muscle addition to my thighs will preclude wearing them as surely as the waist expansion has done...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On the Inauguration

The LA and I are watching on PBS. We've snarked a bit...

[Jim Lehrer explains that Obama will take the oath moments before noon, to avoid a moment when There Is No President]
[I turn to the LA] "And you claim the US doesn't have a monarchy?"
"Well, what we don't have is power passed by the bloodline"
"Well, it's been tried now. Didn't work so well, did it?"
"It worked OK when it was the Adams family..."
"... Morticia would make a kickass First Lady!"

Noting the heralding horns, the LA complains that having valves is "cheating". My response: "It's the US Marines. Of course they cheat."

Shortly thereafter: "Today is not a day I'd want to play brass, outside, in DC."

Edits will be made below this line as more snarks are made.

Someone making a big deal about Obama's race provoked: "What does it matter what colour he is outside? We're all purple inside!"
Shortly thereafter: "We're running behind! Cut him off!"
The LA and I are not fans of shoving prayer into people's faces, ESPECIALLY in *government* where it *should not be*.

[Kitty demands entry to the bathroom]"We're not going in there! We're watching Obama!" "Actually, we're watching some fat git pray at us."

"That [Aretha Franklin's headwear] is a hat and a half!"

Monday, January 19, 2009

On a self-generated high

As promised, here's a post regarding working out. I started this morning off with 12 minutes on the treadmill, followed by a similar amount of time on the weight machines to work the upper body (I'd have preferred a rower, but we don't have one; boo, management, very boo), then a stretch on the stationary bike (why, when I have a mobile one? Because I can't listen to Finntroll while dodging SUVs, that's why, and besides, the real one is upright. The stationary job is recumbent) and topped off with another 20 minutes on the treadmill. This left me sweaty, having elevated my heartrate nicely, but not tired out. It also left me (on the treadmill's "forest walk" programme, peaking at 4mph and 2 degrees of incline; next week I'll bump the incline a bit, then when that gets easy, the speed) with a lovely floaty endorphin high that has finally gotten through to me what's so appealing about a 17th century punishment device.

And the good part is, the fitness centre is open from 6am. When I get a job, I can still go work out before work.

Sticking with weekly workouts for the moment. In time, I'll move to twice a week, then three times, but for now, weekly is good.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On progress

I've just had another driving lesson. I had some fun, this time. Heck, I'm getting to quite like driving, although this time I didn't get anything so esoteric as an unprotected left turn. Still, I'm starting to remember my left from my right again, which is good (stress seems to drive the most immediately relevant instincts out of my head; I was having to check rings and remember that silver is left, copper is right at some points) and I'm getting better at judging how hard to brake.

The other thing that really helped is soft-soled shoes. Note to self: if driving, don't wear hard soles...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On self-examination

I've realised that I've become rather too passive of late. I'm working on improving that, which should even out my mood at a nice happy level, and also make it easier for me to get things done.

Among my fun troubles are the fact that I've allowed myself to get out of shape. I've become injury-prone, my endurance is pathetic, and I'm starting to bulge at the waist. Heck, some of the trousers I arrived with are now too small. To fix this, I intend, starting on Monday the 19th, to begin an exercise regime. If you don't see a post on that date stating that I've exercised, you should bug me. Seriously. I need to get my endurance back, I need to cut down this flab, and I need to get honestly tired. As my fitness improves, I'll be increasing my workouts, but they start Monday.

I have also allowed myself to stop being musical. That also needs fixing; the LA owns a bass guitar, so I'm intending to teach myself to play it. That will let me feel creative and happy about myself, which will shine through in my jobseeking.

And I'm continuing with the driving lessons. Next one is this Friday, and I shall be continuing with one or two per week until I'm ready to take the test. As my confidence and skills improve, I will also be driving the LA around, assuming she gets the insurance for such sorted out.

Friday, January 9, 2009

On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again...

So, I now have had an actual driving lesson. After getting rather nervous beforehand, the instructor was very helpful in getting me started with the basics. Two hours of driving followed. I topped out at about 45mph(!), didn't hit anything, and even managed to do half-decently at the unprotected left turn.

I need to work on my multitasking, on braking finesse, and on not being quite so nervous about speed. I also need to improve my lane changes. Overall, though, I've made a good start, and will not need too much instruction before being ready to take my test.

Immediately after the test was when I got my first craving for a cigarette in some time. I guess addiction never really leaves one, but I simply dismissed it and headed in to reassure the kitties that Daddy was home.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

On courtesy

This morning, when I wandered into what the LA and I generally refer to as the back bedroom (while it could contain a bed, it's rather less than ideal for the purpose and instead contains our puzzles, stashed yarn, musical instruments, board games, and a table), I saw rather a lot of truck through the window. Said truck was sitting and being loaded with soil by a backhoe (JCB, for the British readers, although it's actually made by John Deere rather than JCB). They were digging up the road.

Interestingly, there had been no indication whatsoever that this was to occur. The far less inconvenient gutter cleaning I hear going on this very moment, we had been warned about a good week in advance, but the road work was a total surprise, and not just to us; there was a chap across the way who had to ask the workers to knock off and move their JCB so that he could extract his car from his garage.

I don't even know if it's safe to shower.

My local water board take many, many demerits for this.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

On inertia

Fun with Yarn! from Silas Humphreys on Vimeo.

This is what happens when you get the ball winder going really fast and the swift is spinning freely.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On cooking

I've just made a very pleasant beef dish, having worked out the recipe from first principles. My mother would know it as Swedish Sailor's.

The recipe is very simple: a suitable amount of joined-up beef (skirt is ideal), a suitable amount of onion (somewhat more than you expect to want), and some potatoes, sliced into roughly centimetre-thick discs. Some swede is good but optional. Roughly chop and soften the onions, then add the cubed beef, with salt, lots of pepper, and appropriate herbs and spices (I use garlic, paprika and a little mustard). Brown the beef, then transfer it into a suitably sized ovenproof dish, and add the cubed swede if you want it. Lay the potatoes out in a layer on top, and deglaze the pan in which you browned the beef. Pour the resulting delicious stock over the potatoes, and cover the dish with foil. Bake in the middle of a 450°F oven for about 40 minutes, then remove the foil, move to the top shelf, and bake for another half hour or so, until the potatoes are browned and crispy. This goes very well with brassicas of any kind, and is also exceedingly good with a British-style beer.