13 July 2014 @ 04:52 pm
CRI and I went to Wales a few months ago. I managed to talk him into going via Dad's - train up to northwest England, and then rent car and drive across to remote bit of Wales where Sci-fi convention was being held. I also managed to talk him into letting me go on the car as another named driving so we could share the driving on the way back (good plan! He'd gone to the closing party and although hadn't drunk much there, was tired and grotty the next day, whereas I'd got an early night and was fresh as a daisy).

In any case, we got a lovely little Toyota Yaris, and I took the first 90 minutes' driving of a ~3 hour drive home.

It was*:

  • my first time driving since my motorway lesson the week after passing my test
  • my first time driving anything other than Ford Fiesta
  • my first time driving in Doc Martens since very early on in my lessons (I switched to ladylike boots after realising DMs have soles so thick I couldn't feel the pedals through them so had no idea if my feet were even on the pedals never mind pressing down or not!)
  • my first time driving outside my current town of residence
  • my first time driving a petrol car
  • my first time driving a car with CRI in it

*aside from being allowed to have a very brief try in my dad's vintage car about a 18 months ago, but that really didn't constitute "driving" it in any useful sense

tl;dr I quite enjoyed it, and have decided it might be nice to own a car.Collapse )

So I decided I wanted a car. After doing some research, I decided a 5-6 year old Toyota Aygo would be a good bet. Cheap to tax, cheap to insure, cheap to run. Bingo. Insurance quotes suggested they'd be half the price I'd braced myself for (perhaps cos I added CRI as an additional driver), and so my car-buying process began.

tl;dr buying a car is frustrating, car dealers are frequently deeply unhelpful and I am glad I have the time to not rush this!Collapse )

I think maybe I expect too much of the salesmen. In the end, I guess their margins are lower than you expect so it's not as if each customer on a small car like that is potentially worth thousands. But probably with the right sort of buttering up I could be talked into buying more quickly and less cautiously, and I expected them to try harder to win me over. Well, their loss. I am not in a hurry and if I still haven't bought a car in 3 months, it will save me 3 months of petrol and staff parking permit!

But sooner or later, I WILL get myself a wee car for shopping and commuting and going to the garden centre. It will also, hopefully, make me a better driver if I can get more practice!
01 June 2014 @ 06:10 am
International travel has become a fact of life for me these days. I don't mind as long as it's in moderation - I never like the leaving bit (as CRI will attest when I spend the night before, every time, whimpering about how I wish I didn't have to go), but once I'm en route and then there, it all tends to be fine and I'll just count the days till I can return to normality. And it certainly offers a break from routine.

This time, it was Jamaica. My second trip here.

I like Jamaica. It's both like and unlike Trinidad. Or rather, it's what Trinidad might be if Trinidad didn't have oil. It's a country with a big gap between rich and poor, some serious crime issues and yet an amazing vibrancy. The biodiversity blows your mind. The scenery is stunning (at least where the Chinese haven't dug up sections of it in the process of mining for molybdenum, vanadium or whatever can be retrieved from the hills). The people we've worked with have been efficient, accommodating, punctual, warm and generous to a fault.

I spent the week teaching a course on insects. I had a classful of really keen, friendly, fun students who worked really hard and learned really well. I had my favourite Trini colleague over as well to assist with the course (he relieved me for a couple of half-days so it was slightly less intense and taught them some other skills). And as we were both staying on campus, we got to hang out in the evenings and gossip (and get eaten alive by mosquitoes, but that's par for the course).

There was a field trip to a cocoa field where it turned out cocoa was perhaps not the primary crop and I was so absorbed in insects I didn't even notice. I tried all sorts of random foodstuffs. I found a large (dead) cockroach in my guest house room and brought it to class the next day to pin. I discovered the Black Witch Moth. I taught a whole week in a room with no aircon in the tropics...and it was fine.

It's been an adventure but it's now nearly over and I'm ready to resume normality. I'm heading home in less than 24 hours now. As usual at the end of these trips, I'm craving pasteurised milk, proper tea, quality chocolate and fresh broccoli. On this occasion I'm also looking forward to battered, thin old pillows, naturally cool bedrooms and hot showers. Much fun was had over the last week, and in terms of work it's been fantastic (multiple project objectives achieved), but being back home with CRI and the little things that make life comforting and familiar will be the best thing now.
01 January 2014 @ 11:25 pm
I have discovered a new Thing. This Thing is bringing me enormous happiness. This Thing is Shadow Unit.

It combines three of my favourite other things into an overdose of awesome, namely:
1. Criminal Minds
2. Elizabeth Bear
3. Sarah Monette

It started off when some published authors started encouraging each other to write Criminal Minds fanfic to reinvigorate themselves and remind themselves of writing purely for fun.

And then they sat down together and said, "Wouldn't it be awesome if we could be screenwriters on Criminal Minds?"

And then they more or less figured, "Well, why don't we be?" Except they threw in a bit of a supernatural element, so instead of setting stories in the regular BAU, they created the Shadow Unit, a mirror unit who specialise in "anomalous" crimes with a supernatural element, but otherwise work the same way. Some of the characters are sort of alternate-versions of Criminal Minds characters, though not the same, and others are totally original, and all are brilliant. The plots are of the same genre but with the literary talents of the brilliant writing team involved and without the restrictions of 15-rated television constraining what can be done. Basically, they've produced a book version of a hypothetical spin-off TV series.

The books (mostly eBooks) are pretty cheap and are like the discs you get in a box set, with about 4 "episodes" per book, with "deleted scenes". The stories seem to be taking me just over an hour each to real, so better value for money than your typical 37-42 minute long Criminal Minds episode!

It seems they've got really into this and there are now 3 "seasons" of the "show". Awesome! It has its own fan wiki, the characters have livejournals (not all of them updated frequently, but still), Twitter feeds, and because it's a fun project for the writers, they contribute regularly to the fan forums.

Altogether, I think it's a really exciting project, a fantastic concept from the start and a really cool way for writers to keep themselves enthusiastic. I am on to book two less than a week after starting this (having, in the meantime, demolished one and a half paper books as well - hooray being on holiday), and thoroughly hooked.
Current Mood: ecstaticecstatic
16 December 2013 @ 11:14 pm
Could someone please explain to me what Thranduil thinks he's doing with his stick thing in this shot? Playing snooker on a vertical table? Twirling a majorette's baton? Hitting a softball with a really skinny bat?

Actually, let's just make it a caption competition. Suggestions?

Disclaimer: I haven't actually seen the new Hobbit movie yet so although I don't care about spoilers, people who don't want to be spoiled may want to avoid the comments.
Current Mood: confusedconfused
09 December 2013 @ 07:15 pm
It occurs to me that as of this month, I'll have had an LJ for a decade.

Which also means I'll have been an on-off fanfic writer for considerably longer1.

It's kind of scary to think about how naive and bless-my-little-cotton-socks2 I was when I started this LJ...and no doubt how 10 years from now I'll think exactly the same about 2013-me (and will no doubt be quite right).

Perhaps I should set some resolutions for 2023-me to try and have achieved by then? Read some stuff, learn some stuff, take responsibility for some stuff. Nothing too ambitious, just stuff to make me a more interesting human being. I'll think on it.

In any case, it's quite interesting reflecting on a 10 year period and all that's happened in the meantime (2 degrees, 2 changes of city, a couple of romantic escapades, an embarrassing incident involving trying to poach an egg in the microwave, several publications and 5 hamsters). Thankfully, my body clock has at least recalibrated itself to permit moderate function in the real world so a 7am alarm doesn't cause me physical pain (though I doubt I'll ever start enjoying getting up in the dark).

So yeah...10 years. Still here. So are a good few of you. I'll raise a cup of tea to that.

1Yes, I know it's been about 3 years since the last bit of Elf-related fiction appeared here, but I have been writing again. I just happened to switch fandoms and ended up writing something that is sheer self-indulgent probably-tripe, but I feel utterly unrepentant about that. I'm old and crochety enough now that I really don't give a hoot whether anyone else likes my fic or not, I write it because the process of writing makes me feel happy, in much the same way that eating chocolate cake, drinking good red wine or having a hot bath makes me feel happy. So I've been writing...in bed, on the bus, in hotel rooms. It's been nice.

Also, Felix Harrowgate needs a steady boyfriend and that's final.

2Incidentally, I still probably own some of those selfsame cotton socks, though perhaps not many. I certainly own - and wear - several of the same T-shirts and jumpers, although I may have managed to cycle out of most of the trousers by now.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
20 October 2013 @ 08:11 pm
Yesterday I went to a conference about wildlife and biodiversity monitoring in my region.

One of the talks made me a bit angry and depressed - not because of the speaker, who was very good, coherent and interesting, but because of the findings.

In which people (in genera) like the idea of biodiversity but don't really appreciate it when it's thereCollapse )

How did we get so detached from nature? How did it reach the point where so many people are so far removed from their surroundings they don't even realise what's there? No wonder it's so hard to protect our biodiversity when people only have an abstract concept of what it is and why we might care. I need to do something about this.
Current Mood: depresseddepressed
03 July 2013 @ 06:57 pm
So I called up Be to ask for my MAC key.

As expected, they wanted to keep me and offered to keep me on Be until probably the end of the year (apparently as a Static IP customer, I will be among the last to migrate), but on a reduced price of £9 a month.

I figured 6 more months of Be, who I like, rather than Sky, who I don't, is probably worth staying with for now so agreed. I've assured them I will leave as soon as I'm migrated to Sky.

I'm basically happy with this arrangement for the moment so I guess that's a win. We'll see how it goes; they can consider themselves on probation!

In other news, currently doing some contracted consultancy type work for a company, and it means I have to do some recording of insect mortality 12 hours after the start of the experiment. One way or another, this has only been one day a week so far, but 8:30am till 8:30pm isn't my favourite kind of work day. Has also required recording the mortality daily for 7 days, so a fair bit of coming in on weekends for 45 minutes to sort the insects then go home again. Given that the journey itself takes 45 minutes each way, it's not my favourite...but the client wants so the client gets, I guess!
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
Seriously, Sky? Pull the other one!

They called me up today. As everyone is probably now aware, Be/o2 broadband have been sold to Sky. The letters I'd received basically implied that it'd all happen magically and that essentially the only difference would be that letters from Be would now be headed "Sky" instead. Not so, it seems.

Background info: my broadband with Be is approx. £18.50 per month. It's more expensive than average but I regard it like a Tesco Finest pie: I pay more because then I get a better product. (In the case of Be, better customer service, and the courtesy to not cut me off right away if my bank buggers up the direct debit and forgets to pay them at some point, etc.) My phoneline is with the Post Office and costs about £13 per month with a negligible number of calls. The Post Office are cool for phones as they reactivate dead phonelines for free but unlike BT, they don't tie you into a 12 month contract with them for the privilege. I originally planned to jump ship but was happy enough that I chose to stay instead.

So, back to Sky...How not to win a customer, I guess...Collapse )
I agreed I'd do that. "Thank you for your time, but I don't think I want to be your customer."
"OK." She puts down the phone.

So once the Be cancellation phoneline opens tomorrow, I guess I'll be getting my MAC key and ordering new internet from Zen or Plusnet.
Current Mood: discontentdiscontent
24 March 2013 @ 04:30 pm
Yesterday, CRI got a very early train to Oxford, with the intention of attending the British Entomology and Natural History Society AGM, which has cool talks and workshops.

Unfortunately, on arrival we discovered it had been called off! Some of the speakers were stuck in Yorkshire thanks to snow, others in Cornwall thanks to flooding, and even some semi-local people would have struggled to make it! Unfortunately, neither of us had checked the website the day before.

Still, one of the curators of the insects collections gave us a first class tour of the collections, his work, the mystical art of insect taxonomy, and how one deals with 30,000 drawers of pinned insects, some of which are over 200 years old and some of which aren't properly labelled or catalogued. It seems that as well as the entomology skills, one has to be a graphologist (to compare handwriting between letters, diary entries, labels on the specimens, and labels on other specimens of unknown provinence). One has to be a literary historian, digging through old papers, old notebooks, old diaries and old letters ("Dear Hope, I enclose 42 beetles, of the following species..."). You even have to be an expert in metal pins - the construction of a pin can tell you who collected an insect, and what period it dates from, enabling you sometimes to match up totally unlabelled specimens with their collection information. Especially interesting, it seems, is tracking down lost "type" specimens. (When a new species is described, you have to designate a "type" specimen as the example. All future insects that might be this species would then be compared to the "type". It also means that if future work decides to split a species into two, you have an example to decide which set of features is the "type" and which is the new offshoot species.)

We got to see some of Darwin's own insect collections, and Wallace's giant bee (it was big!), and various other insects collected by historical greats. We saw a whole room stacked up to the ceiling with trays of insect specimens collected by other people and willed/donated/gifted to the University Museum in the past. Some will be mostly common things, some will have rare exotic things, new species, and new records - but of course, taxonomy is not the most fashionable science (despite underpinning most other biology), and so there's never enough money to employ the people needed to sort these drawers, not to mention reorganising some of the drawers already stored in the collections that need attention and preserving existing insects so they don't degrade. It's a busy job!

We stopped for lunch, then spent the afternoon at the Ashmolean museum looking at mummies, Islamic art (currently reading My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk so wanted to see what miniatures were really like), Chinese paintings, etc. It's a very good museum and has some really nice things!

And then we got some cake omnomnom and got the train home. Altogether, given that the day didn't go anything like how we'd planned, it was rather good fun!

Today was our last whitefly transect. It wasn't raining so we figured we'd go for it and get the thing over and done with. It was BLOODY cold, with snow on the ground even in the woodlands (though not thickly) and rather a lot of mud. The whitefly numbers seemed low to me - maybe they've retreated into more sheltered places in the face of adverse weather. I've had enough of winter now. It's nearly April. It's not meant to be freezing and snowy! But that's complete now, so yay.
Current Mood: cheerfulcheerful
08 March 2013 @ 09:57 pm
I understand that Be broadband has been sold to Sky (first I heard about this was when they wrote to me and told me though, so good on them for keeping their customers in the loop). Apparently Be is being subsumed and will exist no longer, and Be customers will be moved to Sky.

I went with Be precisely because I didn't want to buy my internet from a big faceless company with dubious ethics, indifferent customer service and a bad reputation. I don't particularly want to be a minion of the Sky empire. I'm therefore planning to jump ship the moment I become a Sky customer, if not before.

Where should I go next? I am pretty certain I am not going near TalkTalk, BT, Virgin Media or Sky. I understand o2 broadband, being owned by the same people as Be largely, is going the same way: into Sky. At the moment, Plusnet sounds like it could be the best option. But I'd like personal recommendations.

I don't particularly care how much it costs if it's good (well, as long as it's less than around £20 per month). I want a decent speed (10Mbps or better), unlimited downloads, GOOD customer service (don't care whether the call centres are UK or international, as long as the staff are competent and knowledgeable and I can follow them on the phone without needing all my spoons).

Our phone is currently with Post Office (basically a BT line, but without having to deal with 12 month contract boringness) - no problems with them so far. Anyone tried their broadband?

tl;dr: So, folks...who is the best broadband provider? Reliability and top-notch customer service are my main criteria.

ETA: Oooh, John Lewis does broadband! What's the buzz on them? Any good?
Current Mood: frustratedfrustrated