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Off in the distance
my journal
May 2016

The Bellinghman
Date: 2016-05-18 10:24
Subject: Automated scrapers getting it amusingly wrong
Security: Public
I've got a subscription to Bandsintown, which attempts to notify its users when artists on their play lists are giving concerts within their area.

(For area which could do with better tuning options, to be honest. Something in Portsmouth is unlikely to be worth our going. Marina excepted. And OK, we did go to Pompey to see Megson. But anyway ...)

But I will admit to being intrigued when the latest email arrived, with this announcement:


Partnership House - London, United Kingdom
Mon, Jun 13, 2016

OK, so Dido is one of those unfashionable performers, but I've got an album or two of hers, and I do like to listen to them sometimes. What was more interesting was the venue.

Partnership House, London

Really? The only Partnership House that I know of in London is the John Lewis Partnership HQ on Victoria Street, in which I've spent way too many hours. Surely not?

But JLP do like Paloma Faith, so the female singer/songwriter isn't entirely unreasonable ... but no.

I had to go find the details.

MON JUNE 13, 2016 - 6:00 PM
Partnership House
London, United Kingdom
John Lewis Partnership Music Society presents its first opera for 19 years.

Henry Purcell

Dido & Aeneas

Dido with Aeneas? Oh how amusing, it's the Opera Dido and Aeneas, by the JLP Am Music society.

There's going to be a number of disappointed Dido fans. And possibly Aeneas fans, if there is such a band.

(Meanwhile I'm wondering where in those offices one could stage an opera. The canteen may be the best bet.)

ETA: Apparently in the Car Park. It was my impression that that was an underground car park.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2016-05-16 22:42
Subject: More photographic problems
Security: Public
Tags:18-200, faulty zoom, photography
In my last post, I noted that I managed to recover from a jammed mirror on the DSLR.

What I'd not done was to properly try out the lens after the drop. It appeared fine when I was giving it an initial check, so I assumed all was OK. But on Sunday we had family down from York, and it being a nice day we took them out on the Heath.

That is where I discovered that the 18-200 VR lens was refusing to focus properly at infinity when zoomed all the way open. It was fine at shorter ranges, and fine focusing to infinity when at the 18mm end of the range. But attempting to use the zoom to focus on something a good distance away?

Nope. Just a blur, with auto or manual.


This is the most expensive bit of photographic kit I've ever bought, and not being able to use it for longer ranges rather defeats the purpose.

Getting one of these repaired looks like a three figure sum — not as much as it cost, not as much as it would cost to replace, but still a fair sum. But then I discovered something on the 'net. This symptom can be caused by a loose front element. There's a ring that holds the front-most bit of glass in, and if that's loose and the glass has ridden forwards, it can't focus. But if you tighten the ring back in, it may work.

And yes, the front element ring was loose, and yes, I could turn it with my fingernails, and it took about a complete turn.

So I now have a properly-working-at-full-zoom-and-infinity lens again. For what it's worth, I don't think this was actually caused by the drop, as I think it was a bit blurry at full zoom before that, but the extra shake won't have helped.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2016-05-05 11:11
Subject: Percussive maintenance, or "If in doubt, give it a clout"
Security: Public
Tags:d5100, jammed shutter, photography
Actually, I didn't, but I did consider the option.

On Tuesday, we were on the way to the Distraction Club monthly show in the Phoenix on Cavendish Square. We had arrived at Oxford Circus tube, and were walking along the corridor toward the escalators when I suddenly felt the weight on my shoulder go, and heard a thunk on the ground behind me. I looked round to see my Nikon D5100 DSLR had slipped out of its case and fallen to the tiled floor.

Hoping it was all okay, I picked it up, put it back in the case and zipped the flap properly shut before we proceeded to the pub.

Once at the destination, I could check it over. And that's when I discovered that though all the electronics appeared to work and nothing appeared chipped or cracked, the shutter wouldn't work. And so, swearing silently, the only pictures I took were with my phone.

(The Nexus 6P does remarkably good work in a dimly-lit basement with moving targets, but it doesn't exactly have the same quality of picture)

Taking the lens off (a piece of equipment that had actually cost me more that the camera body when I originally bought it back in Kyoto in 2007), I looked inside the resulting aperture. The mirror wasn't moving properly when I pressed the shutter button. It quivered in place, but that was it.

Hello Google.

Well, it turns out that there are various possibilities, but one seemed to match what I could see. There's a plastic post that's supposed to stop the moving mirror from going too far when it springs forward and then back again, but the mirror had ridden up past it and was jammed on it. I stuck a jeweller's screwdriver in, wiggled a bit, and the mirror came loose. I pressed the shutter button, and everything was back to normal. Hooray and phew!
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2015-09-28 10:46
Subject: On BristolCON
Security: Public
Well, that was another BristolCON.

It's not a big convention, but it fits the venue nicely: the rooms are big enough for the panels we were going to. The convention has the advantage of being in the same place it's been since we started going (and we only missed the first), and being run by much the same team since the first. That gives a consistency which somehow helps. This was probably the largest yet - looking at the stats, there were 287 badges pre-printed, and a few dozen walkins, so a bit over 300 people there I guess.

That venue is a central Bristol hotel. It used to be the Ramada, but it was taken over a few years ago and is now a Hilton Doubletree. The building itself is a fairly ugly block, though with an astonishing structure at the back which is a former glass kiln, a semi-conical brick construction which is used as the restaurant. But the advantage of being inside the hotel is you don't see it from outside, and it's a comfortable place to stay. The staff are friendly and the general atmosphere is relaxed.

We travelled down on Friday and back on Sunday, meaning that we stayed two nights in a hotel for a one-day event. (This makes it oddly expensive on a pounds-per-day basis - we could if we really wanted drive down and back the same day which would make it much cheaper, but it would wipe us out and, while we're not rich, we can afford a couple of nights these days.) We went by train, because buying the tickets in advance got us there and back for about £75. That was the idea anyway - in practice we spend another £20+ on taxis on the way back. But that was because we stupidly forgot not to buy any art from Jim Burns, and we ended up hauling three framed pictures by him. No way were we going to haul those around on the Tube from Paddington to KX, or from Royston station home.

The panels we went to worked well, and between them we caught up with friends, including Graham and James Higgins who we'd not seen in way too long. (We're pretty sure James hasn't actually doubled in age since we last saw him, but we can't work out where in the last dozen years we may have seen him.) jemck was a comically miffed, on the totally spurious grounds that her badge misspelt her name. We blamed our cats, who we said distracted us. That's obviously because their mother didn't bring them up correctly, so the blame properly belongs to major_clangerand Sian (whose LJ handle I've mislaid since I last posted ETA: attimes_bracing), as they now have that mother.

And of course we saw lots of other friends. Oops, back to work
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2015-05-16 10:40
Subject: (no subject)
Security: Public
Oh dear. Oh dearie me. Someone's online payment system is incompetent.

An error occurred while trying to report this transaction to the merchant. An e-mail has been sent to the merchant informing them of the error. The following is the result of the attempt to charge your credit card.

This transaction has been approved.

It is advisable for you to contact the merchant to verify that you will receive the product or service.

I suppose it's a bit closer. Shame the 'merchant' doesn't have a suitable contact email.

(Register for the convention? Not that
Volunteer as convention staff (pre-con or at-con). Nope, that's not relevant.
To sign up as a dealer. Not right either.

And on the contact page, that's it!)

I'm very far from impressed by the organisation of this convention.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2015-03-27 11:02
Subject: Oh my
Security: Public
'perhaps the most prolific poetry plagiarist of all time'

What a damning phrase that is.

I don't normally pay much attention to the world of English-language poetry (even less to foreign language poetry if I'm honest), but it appears that the advent of Google and other search engines has been setting the cats among several flocks of pigeons. The short version is that various published poets are now being discovered to have been engaged in behaviour varying from creating poems from a bricolage of others' words and phrases all the way through to taking existing poems, filing off the serial numbers and entering them in competitions. Some of the articles make it sound as problematic as the cycling world's drug problems, with entries being disqualified only for the runners-up to be disqualified too.

How did I stumble over this though? Well, Google of course. I decided to search to see what my one-time lodger was up to these days, only to discover him embroiled in this scandal, with that opening phrase applied to him.

I have one book by him, but it's a short novel and he maintains those were not copied.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2014-03-04 07:50
Subject: The Journal of a Tour to the Summerset Isles
Security: Public
This last weekend, while the better half was away on a Worldcon staff weekend, I was off in Tamriel.

To clarify, I was playing Elder Scrolls Online, the MMO game set in the same world as Skyrim.

It's still in beta, not being released for another month, and it's got some glitches, but oh my it's beautiful. There are occasions when, wandering along a bit of sea shore, when I could taste the salt in the air. Or I could feel the welcome coolness in the air as a thunderstorm broke and the rain started to fall. That's immersion, and the sheer quality of the graphics really helps.

more thoughtsCollapse )
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2014-02-05 14:50
Subject: Firewater and music
Security: Public
Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear.

I was at the Distraction Club last night, and I had a shot of this, as supplied by Ivan 'mad drummer' Sheppard.

It's a vodka infused with the Ghost Pepper (aka Naga Jolokia) Chilli.

It does produce quite a nice glow, but having it with no run up gave me my instant hiccoughs.

Yes, I have two odd reactions to chilli heat.

The first — as above — happens when I take a good dose all at once, with no lead in. In those cases, I often get instant hiccoughs, after only a handful of seconds. It doesn't last very long, but I do feel a bit silly.

My other reaction is that my scalp sweats.

That second one can happen even when I don't actually have much heat impact. Sometimes it's the only way I know is something is really hot, because the thing about chilli heat is it's something you acclimatise to, and that acclimatisation is something that can occur during the meal itself. If I'm idling over a meal, and the first few bites are relatively mild, I don't get the impact, but my body realises that heat is coming up, and it recalibrates ready. So I can end up eating quite hot curry, and yet the only symptom is my scalp getting moist.

In the case of the vodka, my scalp stayed dry, even though my mouth spent a couple of minutes going "Hey, hey, that wasn't fair" before settling down to a warm (and not unwelcome) glow.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2014-01-23 13:14
Subject: On Gravity
Security: Public
So on Tuesday we finally caught up and went to see the film Gravity. Only about 10 weeks late, but what the heck. The screen was reasonably full, and dorispossum/Kate and bdikkat/Malcolm came in and sat behind us. (At the time they came in, bellinghwoman was out of the room and I was buried in an article on my phone, so I didn't note their arrival. Oops, and sorry!)

The film itself was pretty damned good. We were in the 3D screening, and it's fair to say that if you want to see how well 3D can work, this is the best I've seen: it's stunning. Sound is done well too - the film makers have really thought about the fact that sound doesn't carry through a vacuum, so there are parts where it is totally silent.

(This made the slightly late arrival of one viewer particularly noticeable.)

The music was a bit overloud, but that could be fixed by turning down the volume.

thoughts with spoilersCollapse )

And then, because the film was only about 90 minutes long, and 3D showings have fewer ads, we wandered downstairs to Frankie and Benny and had (in my case) coffee and drinks with K&M and chatted for a while.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2014-01-23 12:18
Subject: Moan
Security: Public
It's the 23rd day of January. And for 21 of those days I know it rained.

I don't know that it didn't rain on either of the other two days, I only don't have evidence that it did.

Pretty please, can we stop with all this liquid falling from the skies?
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2013-12-31 12:51
Subject: Waiting for the gig to start
Security: Public
We went to a number of shows this year, and I decided to make a list for my future reference

wrapped for lengthCollapse )

That's 53 separate days on which we've gone to see something, and only 6 of those weren't live entertainment of some form. Some performers we saw a lot (Mitch Benn, for example - he was at all but one of those Distraction Club events, and he was also in HHGTTG as well as that solo gig). We also bought quite a number of CDs of music from performers, or after having seen them. A good number were cases where we didn't really know what we were going to see - the Bad Shepherds for example, but also many of the acts at the Distraction Club and of course, we buy the Folk Festival tickets before we know what acts will be on.

(Edited for cut, and to add reflection)
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2013-12-17 12:04
Subject: Saving time for the NSA: where I have been this year
Security: Public
It's that time again:

List the places where you spent a night away from home this year, marking places where you spent two or more non-consecutive nights with an asterisk.

Home is Royston, England

Cambridge, England
Strasbourg. Alsace
St Louis, Alsace (actually visiting Basel in Switzerland, but the hotel's a lot cheaper 50 metres over the border)
Bradford, England
Bosham, England
Bristol, England
Nottingham, England
Top deck of G-XLEC
Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), Hong Kong
Top deck of G-XLEB
Broughton (Hants), England (anticipated)

This is the first year since 1995 that we've not visited Ireland. We also failed to reach Scotland or Wales. On the other hand, we entered HK (and got the requisite entries in our passports) three times, but since that involved two day trips from HK into other countries (for values of 'other countries' that includes having to pass immigration both ways, and having different currencies), we don't get the asterisk on HK.

We came close to getting the same plane outbound and back, at which point I would have claimed one for that.

Countries entered (asterisk for ones not previously visited, plus sign for multiple entries):

England +
France +
Switzerland +
Germany +
Macao SAR *
China *

Oddly, I strongly suspect that to be the first time that I've failed to sleep in the majority of countries I've visited in a year, for though we do often manage to pass through countries (France, Belgium and Luxembourg) on the way elsewhere, we also tend to stay in more.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2013-08-14 12:42
Subject: A quick cuppa
Security: Public
Tags:food, language
There is a drink. It is made by injecting high pressure steam through finely ground coffee to cause the coffee to be quickly 'squeezed' from the grounds, and it's made on purpose just for you: there's no batch production.

Or, in other words, it is expressly expressed from the grounds, and expressly for you.

What a wonderful collision of three different meanings of a word. It's understandable that the originators decided to call it 'express coffee'. Except that, they being Italian and the letter 'x' not being in the Italian alphabet[1], that became 'espresso'.

So the Italian word for it is 'espresso'.

The French, however, call it 'expresso', since they have the letter 'x' in their alphabet, as do the Spanish (who call it 'expreso' - note the non-doubled 's').

(I have seen someone mocking French company Carte Noire for calling their drink 'expresso'. This is one of those cases where the ignorance is not where the mocker thought it was.)

We English usually borrow culinary words from the French rather than from the Italians, with the honourable exceptions of pizza and pasta where even the French use the Italian words. So we have courgettes rather than zucchinis. And as we have the letter 'x' (and the word 'express'), it makes more sense for us to use the French spelling than the Italian.

I note that Americans have much less of a tendency to use French sources in the kitchen — they have zucchinis and cilantro. So it's not invalid for them to use a different term in this case, one that differs in a single letter.

Me, I'm going to be perfectly happy to see either 'espresso' or 'expresso'. Both are correct in my eyes.

[1] The 26-letter western alphabet is often termed the 'Roman Alphabet'. The actual alphabet according to Italians is 21 letters: J, K, W, X and Y not being proper members, and the Romans[2] had 23 letters (missing J, U and W).

[2] Well, not all Romans at all periods, since as an example the current Romans are Italians and have 21 as previously stated.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2013-08-14 11:50
Subject: Brotherly update
Security: Public
Further to this post, sister now has a new house. She's had to pay cash because her last relationship left her with a trashed credit rating (as well as a very sour taste in her mouth) as a result of her being injudicious in trusting her fellow financially. However, with her inheritance and with a few thousand loaned to her by bellinghwoman and me, she's managed to scrape together enough money and get herself a semi, in Bosham near Chichester.

She's going to be paying us back in what she doesn't have to spend on rent.

We may decide to drop in on her on the 24th. Hey, it's not far from the house-warming we're going to already. Only the next door county, and if we're having to go south of the river anyway ...
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2013-06-18 11:29
Subject: Coffee
Security: Public
As sesquipedality has mentioned, Costa Coffee have been doing a promotion to their loyalty card customers - a Tassimo T40 coffee machine for £30.

This TAS4000GB is a machine going for £110 - 120 at various sites such as Argos. It's not quite as nice as my T65 which includes the Brita water filter as well, but it's pretty close. And that £30 doesn't account for the £20 off voucher code you get if you register the machine with the Tassimo website.

So, my sister will be getting one of these as a house warming present, together with a bunch of Kenco Crema pods, (and I'll take that code).

Hey, me, cheap?

(She's been lusting over mine for a while now.)

She just needs (a) to get a windfall of quite a lot of money, and (b) find somewhere to buy that's not too extortionate in the Chichester/Bosham area. Part (a) is a week or two away
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2013-05-01 11:24
Subject: The prodigal returns
Security: Public
When we don't see one of the cats of the evening, we don't particularly worry. They'll usually be there for breakfast.

Occasionally, they're not there for that either.

The last time we'd actually seen Toro was on Saturday, though I was pretty sure that he'd burrowed under the duvet early Sunday morning. But we didn't see him on Sunday. Or on Monday.

By yesterday (Tuesday) evening, we were round the neighbours asking them to check their sheds for him, but we were definitely worried. I was coming to terms with the likelihood that we'd not see him again.

Four-bloody-a.m. this morning, I hear a demanding yowl. It doesn't sound like Sake who has a slightly different note. I got out of bed in the darkness and headed downstairs to the conservatory where the noise seemed to be coming from. I turned on the light, to see Sake in the doorway. Oh, no, not a false alarm. And then behind the cat tower, there's another cat.

Yes, it is Toro, and he's decided to wander along home to see if there's any food, and if not, why not.

I will admit to the cardinal sin of rousing bellinghwoman at 04:00 to show her that he was back. He was dutifully appreciative of the attention and snuggled under the covers for a while before later wandering off downstairs to be fed.

Of course he was gone by the time I roused this morning to the sound of a neighbour knocking on the front door to tell us she'd seen him for the first time in a few days.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2013-03-06 00:44
Subject: Happy Birthday
Security: Public
Happy Birthday to simonb. Yeah, just another day, isn't it ...
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2013-03-02 23:09
Subject: On the unwonted mutability of the seasons
Security: Public
OK, we're now in the season of Spring. So can the bl**dy weather please get with it?

(Not even our daffs have appeared yet, just the cherry blossom and the snowdrops.)
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2013-02-10 16:19
Subject: Food and drink
Security: Public
Last night, we had an ox-cheek pie (with a herby shortcrust pastry top). I like ox cheek - it's a very cheap cut that cooks up really well given enough hours gentle cooking time.

To drink, we had a bottle of Grant Burge's Filsell Old Vine Shiraz 2000, from the Barossa Valley

Damn, I wish we had a few more bottles of that. I haven't a clue where I got it, but the back label was right is saying that it would benefit from careful cellaring. Online guides indicate it peaked a year or two ago, and that I'd have to pay £30 a bottle to replace it. But I may be tempted to get a newer vintage.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2013-01-28 16:45
Subject: Mopping up spilt blood
Security: Public
It's somewhat ironic.

Saturday saw higher temperatures, with the snow beginning to thaw off. The late evening saw heavy rain, which washed away the last of the snow.

So of course it's on Sunday morning that we got a knock on the door: an elderly man had managed to slip and fall over on the pavement two doors down, and the knock on the door was a passer-by asking for help.

(We were in, whereas the inhabitants of the nearer houses weren't.)

It was an old man from the other end of our street. He was a bit shaken, and bleeding from his forehead. But he was conscious and decently coherent for someone aged 87. Some of his neighbours turned up, and we made him comfortable with blanket and cushion while waiting for an ambulance to come (we wanted him checked out, in case of concussion etc.).

And then we used some of the rest of the tissues to mop up the small red pool on the ground.

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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-12-21 13:57
Subject: Evidence mounting on the cause of obesity
Security: Public
In a university study in China, a morbidly obese man was put on a diet.

The diet was designed to make it difficult for a particular gut bacterium to thrive.

It worked, because after 23 weeks, the population of that bacterium had gone from 35% to zero.

Perhaps coincidentally, the man lost 51 kilos, despite not exercising.

Or just perhaps, the hypothesis that gut bacteria can do other sorts of harm, not just give you ulcers, may have some truth. We'll have to see more and larger studies, but the general hypothesis that the modern epidemic of obesity may indeed be just that - a bacterial epidemic that anyone can catch - is looking more plausible. The high sugar high refined starch Western diet may be to blame, but I'm wondering how much that is due to it being what the enterobacter likes rather than its actual calorie load. And I wonder it's why diets that are at first sight illogical are effective.

New Scientist article (may require registration)
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-11-08 15:05
Subject: Raining and pouring
Security: Public
So, no sooner does Toro gets his knee repaired (at least the shaft of his femur reattached to that knobbly end of it that is the upper half of the knee joint) than we get a call.

From the care home my mother now lives at.

She's had a fall, and been taken down to the Lister to check her knees. By the time that was done, it was getting late, so she spent last night there.

Pardon me if I look a bit distracted right now.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-11-07 17:09
Subject: Locked up with lots of appeal
Security: Public
Following yesterday's post, an update on Toro

He's now had his femur bolted back together.

This will do no good whatsoever if he puts it under strain, so for now he's got to be confined. Which means locked in a cage, for weeks and weeks.

(3 to 6, anyway)

We're leaving him at the vet's till Monday, when we will collect him and his cage. (Sake will, meanwhile, be also being collected, in her case from the cattery where she'll be for the Novacon weekend.)

And then we'll be keeping him in a cage at home.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-11-06 11:41
Subject: Feline misadventure
Security: Public
We really don't know how he did it, but Crystalpaws Neko Totoro — or Toro to us — broke himself last night.

He came trotting in through the cat flap at about his dinner time, and went upstairs.

C went up to bring him down to be fed, and put him in front of his bowl, in which he seemed somewhat uninterested.

He ate a bit, and then came out into the hallway and sat down, with one rear leg pointing in the wrong direction.

We think he'd have had difficulty getting in through the cat flap if his leg had already been like that, so somehow, in the course of five minutes, he managed to either dislocate or break something, and he didn't even yelp.

My current hypothesis is that he managed to pop his left hip while coming in through the cat flap, but we're waiting on the X-ray.

(As far as breed is concerned, Abyssinians are energetic and athletic, and certainly not known for hip dysplasia)

ETA: no, it's a fracture of the femur at the growing point. The leg may have finished growing, but it apparently takes time to finish toughening up and meanwhile his musculature is already full strength. So he appears to have managed to snap it under his own strength.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-10-31 10:26
Subject: Unwanted speed
Security: Public
This morning, on the verge beside the road that James I & VI rode on the way to become King in London, and down which Constantine the Great came on the way to the Imperial Throne in Rome, was ... a speed camera van.

It's a common location for it, as the road is opening up after the town centre traffic and it's also at the end of a longish downhill slope after the rise to cross the railway bridge. Both of which make it all too easy to find yourself doing a few miles over the limit.

I wonder how many they do catch there on the Old North Road. And I wonder what a Roman Emperor would have felt.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-10-31 10:21
Subject: Many happy returns
Security: Public
Since Semagic has just reminded me ('reminded'? that implies I knew it and forgot it. OK, 'informed'): happy birthday today to khrister and songster.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-10-26 13:21
Subject: PCon lunch
Security: Public
On one of the days during PhoenixCon this year, which was at the Irish Writers' Centre, we went down to a restaurant in the basement for lunch.

The food was expensive, but good, and it was tricky getting a seat.

Checking back, I suspect that we were in Chapter One, which has had a Michelin star for the last few years. That would explain it all.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-10-26 12:44
Subject: Crossing the boglands
Security: Public
We've done it before. We've woken up in the Royal Marine hotel in Dún Laoghaire (though we may have been still calling it Dunleary back then), had breakfast, got in the car and driven down to Kinsale, and had dinner there.

This time, we had drinks in the bar of the Royal Marine afterwards.

...Collapse )
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-10-24 23:18
Subject: An example for the Adelphi
Security: Public
Once upon a time, we would attend the Irish National SF Conventions, the Octocons. And perhaps we will do so again. But we will never forget our first one, for two reasons.

Firstly, on walking in to the convention and asking to register, we were recognised by the person behind the registration desk, despite the fact that bellinghwoman had never set foot in that country before our arrival a couple of hours earlier. (sacristan still recognises us, but these days with more excuse.)

And secondly, because it took place that year, and for the next few years, in the Royal Marine hotel, which is in the ferry of of Dun Laoghaire (and no, I no longer have to check that spelling).

This was one of those magnificent places, known for having been the haunt of Sinatra and Laurel & Hardy and a whole lot more. It had a beautiful frontage, and would catch the afternoon sun nicely. Just up the hill from the ferry terminal, and from the DART station, it was easy to get to as well. But it was fading, and at the end of the 90s it was slated for closing and possible demolition, or at the least conversion into flats. Octocon itself moved away and found itself for a while in the hinterlands of Co. Kildare, in Maynooth. We forgot about the elderly lady by the seaside.

This last week, we were back. The hotel is still there, but they've knocked part of it down. Happily, the part they demolished was the rather cheap 1960s (?) extension that the function rooms had been in. And they've built a new 8 storey extension in its place, with new modern rooms. It's got light pouring in through its sides and is, in general, a good piece of modern architecture. It's the right size for its position, being only slightly higher than the car park and shopping mall beside it, and it just works. By dint of arriving two days early, we got a nice room, one with an extra 7 foot of width over the normal rooms, and it had both a bath and a shower cubicle.

It had only one real downside: the bed was too soft for me.

(On the other hand, that meant it was unusually to bellinghwoman's preferences.)

As for the frequent complaint about plugs: there were 4 free sockets just above the back of the desk, and two beneath each bedside table, giving a total of 8 sockets. It's a serious gadget freak that can need all of those.

They also do a pretty good wedding, with above average food. This being Ireland, you will get steamed potatoes to go with your roast potatoes, but the beef served was both generous and tender. And the banqueting suite is not an internal box - it has full height glass along the frontage, looking down to the Irish Sea.

In general, especially if you can get the £65/day rate we got (no breakfast, but that was €9 each if we wanted it), a pretty good one.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-10-24 13:19
Subject: Emeralds under my Tyres
Security: Public
We're back from Ireland. It was an excellent time in general, but one particular point is worthy of mention at this point.

I hired a car, a 6-speed diesel Vauxhall Insignia. It came with scuff marks on the front and rear bumpers.

It did not come with that lever one usually finds between the seats for operating a hand brake.

It's just possible the two are related.


What it did have was a button. Stick a fingertip under it and pull upwards, and a noise would be heard and the wheels would be braked. Press it down, and that brake would not immediately release: instead, a chime would sound and a warning light would appear on the dashboard indicating one should press the pedal.

(Which pedal it didn't actually state.)

So I'd press the button, and then press the various pedals to get the light to disappear.

I'd done about 400 miles over the course of a few days (mostly on cruise control, where hand brakes are totally unnecessary) before finally realising that the button pressing part was not actually required. Just put the car in gear and try to drive, and the brake would release without any fuss whatsoever.

I would have found this out earlier, probably, if a manual had been available in the vehicle.

In future, I will insist on that.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-10-02 10:56
Subject: Local Folk
Security: Public
We like live performance. It's something we've only really got into in the last couple of years, but we do go to a number of live performances of both music and comedy. And we reckon that over 90% of the time, we're happy to have gone

But oh dear, sometimes we're not.

Last night was a case in point: we went to see Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick at the Junction in Cambridge. Swarbrick in particular is a legend in the British Folk scene.

We left at the interval.

It was all that is wrong with Folk music: traditional tunes rendered inert under a peatbed of respectful seriousness. We didn't quite have the singer with a finger in his ear, but Carthy spent almost all the time retuning his guitar and still being out of tune. I spent some of the time waiting for the interval trying to appreciate the guitar technique, but it wasn't anything special.

No, not for us. There are obviously people who do like it, judging by the few seats unfilled, but not us.

Contrast that with the gig we went to last Friday: Megson. They were performing in our local church as part of the Royston Arts Festival. They also do Folk, they also do Traditional songs, but they play with life coming out of every note they play. They too are a duo, in this case Stu Hanna and Debbie Hanna-Palmer, but they provide a much fuller performance. Perhaps it's that they're young, but they know that above all music must live.

The upside of going to the Junction is that I bought tickets for Megson's performance there in November, which will be the third time we'll have seen them this year. (The first being when they opened the Cambridge Folk Festival this year - before that we'd never heard of them.)

So tonight, it's Distraction Club night, a melange of performances, some of which we know and will love, some of which will be new to us.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-09-28 12:41
Subject: 21st Century Blues
Security: Public
Music:Let the Heartaches Begin - Midge Ure
So why did Midge just stop singing?

Oh, because the music player had just auto-updated.

What is deeply impressing is that when I told the new software to continue, it picks up in the same place the old version stopped. This is almost as smooth as it could be.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-09-17 16:08
Subject: Visit warning
Security: Public
Ireland. We will be in you next month.

We'll be visiting for the induction into servitude wedding of natural20 in October, and, my having a few days holiday left to take before the end of October, we're coming over on the Wednesday 17th. Anybody who is around on the 17th to the 19th who'd like us to descend on you, squeak here.

We are hiring a car, so we might even drop down to Cork.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-09-17 13:14
Subject: Cats
Security: Public
There we were last night. We'd watched Dr Who and were watching QI. About ten minutes in, we heard a cat yowling.

Now there are a lot of different yowls, not to mention a number of different cats around, so we just assumed one of ours was asserting territorial rights over the black and white mog that keeps wandering into our garden. But after a few minutes, it was apparent that there were no replies, this was a lone cat yowling.

And it sounded like the "I'm here, would you please come and retrieve me?" yowl. Not a desperate yowl, but one where we were supposed to do something. Oddly enough, it was quite distinctly audible within the living room, less so elsewhere in the house.

so what happened nextCollapse )
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-09-04 14:34
Subject: Comfort food: chilli beans
Security: Public
Tags:cooking, food, recipe

When I was young, one of the dishes my mother used to cook us was a variation on a chilli con carne. It was deeply inauthentic, as befits British cookery of 40 years ago, but it was tasty, inexpensive, and very easy to prepare. And we all loved it.

I have recently started to cook it myself, at least a variation on it, but I think I have the essence of the original.

So, with no more ado

Chilli beans


  • 500g lean minced beef (extra lean is better)

  • 1 tin of baked beans

  • 1 packet of Colmans chilli con carne mix

  • 2 tablespoons tomato ketchup

  • 4 tablespoons water
  • Preheat an oven to 160C

  • In a casserole, brown the minced beef

  • Add the spice mix and stir in

  • Add the remaining ingredients and mix in

  • Mix all together and place the casserole in the oven for 45 minutes

The above will serve two hungry people. When I was young, we used to have it with freshly baked crusty white bread, but bellinghwoman and I have it on its own.

The original also had a couple of bay leaves in, but I've so far managed to forget that both times. You can also add some chopped browned onion. If you feel like it, you can be serious with this, adding your own spices rather than using a pre-made mix, and using tomato purée and sugar and vinegar instead of the ketchup, but at that point you're starting to head off into proper cookery. The essence of this one is its simplicity.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-07-18 11:00
Subject: Now hitched
Security: Public
Last night we went to see the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, where they did two one-hour episodes gently harvested and distilled from the corpus that is HHGTTG.

And it was with original cast, where available. Which meant no Peter Jones as the book, since he's been gone these too many years, but the original Arthur, Ford, Trillian and Zaphod? Oh yes.

Staging was something between a radio play, with actors holding scripts in front of microphones, and a full stage play. Costumes were worn, and prosthetic bulges used on the Vogons. Marvin was a puppeteered creation, but done well withal. And at the back of the stage, a band who opened the proceedings with the intro tune (diverting momentarily through a Dr Who theme ...). HHGTTG was always a very audio production and this kept to the precedents.

The first episode comprised the story up to the explosion on Magrathea, so a pretty straight telling of the part everyone knows. It was somewhat helter-skelter, since it was condensing what was originally 3 hours down to 1, but the essence was there.

The second episode was a bit more confusing, since it was a concoction derived from the remaining 4 books. Random Dent appeared, and the Guide Mark II, and we also had the Milliways episode, but not necessarily in the order one might expect, and there was a nice lampshading at one point when Arthur conceded that several chapters of his life seemed to have gone missing.

Guest stars for the evening were John Lloyd as an excellent book, and Rory McGrath as the Meat of the Day offering his beer-basted liver (40 years of basting) and a Coq au Vin (one portion, small, only). Oh, and even the Higgs Boson got a mention. All in all, an enjoyable evening, with a packed out audience. The only downsides were that the upstairs bar was closed (why, Corn Exchange, why?), and the merchandise was priced laughably expensive.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-06-29 13:13
Subject: What's with the Zombies?
Security: Public
What's with the Zombies? Why are they taking over SF&F?

OK, that's perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but let's look at the Hugo list for this year, at least as far as I've got through it.

Of the 5 novels, two use the Z word

That's Deadline by Mira Grant, and Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

A third novel, A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin, doesn't use the term. But it's the 5th novel in a series in which — well how shall I describe it? — dead people rise again and attack their former families and friends. Zombies by another name, and even if they don't feature during this novel, their existence is the great threat behind the series as a whole.

In the graphic story section, there is Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication by Howard Tayler. His current story (i.e. a year later in the online Schlock Mercenary publication) is also using the zombie trope, though we will have to wait a few more days to discover whether corpses infect.

(In the novella list Mira Grant reappears with Countdown, but I will just note that that's a prequel to her novel and not list it as another example. Also reappearing is Game of Thrones the TV series, which is the dramatic version of the 1st novel of which Dance with Dragons is the latest.)

So we have a whole swathe of stories from a bunch of writers in which zombies feature.


Is it a coincidence, or is there something in the concept of the zombie that allows writers to play with existential threat? Now that imminent nuclear destruction has gone, is our biggest threat the suicide bomber? Is the zombie a metaphor for the enemy that you cannot reason with, and that doesn't mind if he dies so long as you do too?

If so, how come Martin was there back in 1996, when Game of Thrones was first published?

(I'll also note autopope's Bit Rot, where it's a robot zombie outbreak.)
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-06-28 12:56
Subject: Don't take this tablet
Security: Public
Oh Google, why? Why is there no SD slot of any form in the Nexus 7 tablet?

You did this on the Nexus S phone. Which is why I didn't buy one of those, and went for the Samsung Galaxy S II instead.

You did this on the Galaxy Nexus phone. Which is why I won't buy one of those.

And now you've done it on the Nexus 7 tablet. I don't think I'll be buying one of those either.

Please don't skimp on storage, even if some other manufacturers do. I will not buy something that tops out at a mere 32 GB - I've got that much filled on my Galaxy S II phone's external card.

Yes, I know, I know, Apple don't do it. But you shouldn't copy their bad habits. This is one of the reasons they never get my money.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-03-18 22:52
Subject: Cats and crime
Security: Public
I blame desperance.

We previously had a pair of Abyssinians, one male, one female.

They were beautiful, affectionate, and intelligent. They were also well behaved.

We now have another pair.

They are also beautiful, affectionate, and intelligent.

However, ever since desperance visited, they seem to have started trying to steal food from the kitchen surfaces, something the previous two did not. And yesterday, Sake added Assaulting a Police Officer to her charge sheet. Honestly, we've been trying to teach her that licking the top of someone's head is not something to be done.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-02-08 15:23
Subject: The Third Row is the new Front Row
Security: Public
Rule #1 at comedy clubs and gigs: if you're in the front row, expect interaction of some form with the performers. This may be fairly benign - at the Armstrong and Miller show at the Cambridge Corn Exchange the other month, the worst we had to do was pull our legs in as Ben Miller went charging along the row to borrow a victim for Armstrong's dentist's chair sketch.

But when we go to the Distraction Club, we're usually in the third row. There's a row of tables in front of us. We should be safe.

Yet, two months in a row, I've been 'got'.

Last month, it was Paul Sweeney who somehow caught sight of my raised eyebrow and started taking the proverbial out of me. Amusingly so, and not maliciously, but even so.

This month? Oh dear. A white Dublin comedy hip-hop duo called Abandoman. If I'd read this review in advance, I might have had qualms about being that close to the front. But I got hauled out of the audience, and played my first ever game of Connect 4 — with Mitch Benn and the Distractions around me as well — as the show finale.

I expect it on YouTube within the next few days. D'ya think I could file a DMCA request to have that taken down?

(Abandoman were great. If you ever get the chance to see them, get along and do so. They're the type of act which must be seen live, they rely so heavily on audience interaction. To see someone improvising completely appropriate lyrics in response to whatever random stuff lands in front of him is something that just won't come across on a recording: you've got to see that sharpness in action from a distance of a few feet away.)

One thing I've learnt: from the stage, the place where bellinghwoman and I usually sit is pretty much in the centre of the field of view. I could see her taking pictures of me.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-02-06 11:57
Subject: The surprise trip: 2012-01-19: Day 0 - From Home to Heathrow
Security: Public
Music:Richard Thompson: Jennie
Tags:among the fjords, among the nords, astronomy, holiday, hurtigruten, norway
The title may be a little misleading. The trip wasn't a surprise, in that I'd blocked off the required holiday since May last year, when I'd been told to take off the period from the 20th to the 30th of January 2012. But what I didn't know was what - or rather where - it would be.

There were some clues.

I was given some socks for the wedding anniversary back in December. They were marked as hot weather or inner socks.

Second clue - for Christmas, I was given a very effective down jacket, and some other socks, and some other cold weather clothing.

So, Morocco was unlikely (and anyway, we don't really do hot. Well, bellinghwoman doesn't, unless it's somewhere stunning like HK).

And I was informed that we weren't going to Svalbard. I suspect that rather few people go to Svalbard in January: it's before sunrise, and the polar bears have had plenty of time to get really hungry, at least those stirring from hibernation.

So, my primary guess was St Petersburg. I've been collecting the Nordic countries, starting with Iceland in 2004 and finishing with Finland in 2008. That Finnish trip had then continued on to Estonia, another Baltic country, but we'd not been back to the Baltic since, and we need only a handful of countries to complete the Baltic set. St Petersburg is the great Russian city on the Baltic and would have been the obvious next step. However, you need a visa to visit, and I'd seen no indication of that.

So it was with a sense of delighted puzzlement on my part that we departed by car on the Thursday evening. After 200 yards, we turned right at the end of our street, thereby cancelling out a whole bunch of likely destinations. 50 yards later, we turned right again, thus killing another whole set (anything involving a ship from Harwich, or a plane from Stansted).

By the time we turned down the sliproad onto the A1M and thereby avoided Luton, Heathrow Airport was my primary candidate, though Gatwick Airport was still in the frame.

And Heathrow it was, or rather the Holiday Inn on Sipson Road, where we were to spend the night. bellinghwoman had arranged a package of a room for the night followed by the long term car park.

And so to sleep, me still not knowing where we were going.

You looking at the tags may have a better idea.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-02-02 13:12
Subject: Photographing Skyrim
Security: Public
Although I've not played it for the past fortnight, I've been enjoying the game of Skyrim, which does a very good job of invoking a Scandinavian-style region, inhabited by various races but most aboriginally by the Nords.

It was therefore with a certain frisson that some days ago I went shopping for a camera tripod in the Norwegian city of Bodø. Bodø is the capital city of Nordland.

Oddly enough, I didn't see a single local waving a sword in my direction.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-02-01 17:33
Subject: Norway - sea and air
Security: Public
Back from our inspection of the award winning work of one Slartibartfast, I will note one thing: the number of airports visible from the sea. It seems that almost every community of any size has one.

Looking at the SAS in-flight magazine on the way home, I glanced at the map of the places that that airline serves in the region: over 40 places in Norway (a total somewhat higher than all the other countries it serves in the Baltic region put together). It appears that by the time your town has reached 5,000 population (yes, five thousand), it can expect to have SAS planes landing there. There is very roughly an SAS served airport per 100,000 population, which doesn't look so extreme until you realise that Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim together comprise 1.4 million people but only need 4 of their quota of 14.

When you discover that Kirkenes (population ~7000 if you include the surrounding areas) has over a quarter of a million passengers a year - or nearly 40 flights per resident per year - you realise how much flying is required. There are really only three options for getting from Kirkenes in the north to the southern part of the country. Firstly, road. To Bergen for example, that's 2600+ km if you don't route through Finland and Sweden. Or you can take the Hurtigruten ships. Which will get you down to Bergen in 6 days. Or you fly.

So if you need to get anywhere and back in less than a week, the aircraft is it.

(On the other hand, you send your cans for recycling by ship.)
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2012-02-01 16:38
Subject: Meme for today
Security: Public
The meme in question is as follows: leave a one-word comment on this post, starting with the third letter of your LJ name, that describes today for you. Then copy this post yourself so I can do it back.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2011-12-28 15:46
Subject: Travel ...
Security: Public
As a change, here's something different

Approximate average speed over the year 2011 by all modes of transport: 1 mph

I'm fairly sure this was the first year this century in which I didn't get into an aeroplane. Countries visited are as a result somewhat down, being only England, Wales, Ireland, France, Switzerland and Germany. Much of this was due to staying home because of the new cats from late spring through till the autumn.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2011-11-21 12:01
Subject: On Gaming, and Skyrim in particular
Security: Public
I have to say, I am adoring this Skyrim game. Not only does it have one of the nicest landscape renderings I've come across (I'm running it at Ultra, and not hitting slowdowns), but the world feels lived in. OK, there is an excessively high bandit population, but maybe I'm just a trouble magnet.

I've encountered two dragons so far. One was ... challenging. The other was challenging in a different way, as my attempts to attract its attention didn't actually work, and it flew off. But in general, they're big, fast, nasty bastards that you need to be very careful with. The first one fried me several times before I ended up in a spot where I could shoot at it and its fireballs deflected off the scenery in front of me.

What I do like is the openness of the game. I'm not stuck in a class - well, only my particular game-play style is sticking me with heavy armour and a bloody great axe, but that's me. I could equally well be wandering around firing off spells. I've got a few quests I've been asked to do, but the givers seem rather resigned to me maybe not actually doing them.

And oh, I've got a house, a sidekick shieldmaiden, and a horse, the latter two of which will fight with me. (It's slightly embarrassing when the attacking wolf gets kicked to death before I've got my bow unlimbered.)

I'm majoring in archery, two-handed weapons, heavy armour, smithing and lockpicking, with a side-order of persuasion.

I also like the character building. The Jarl of Dragonsreach has a particular lazy yet penetrating gaze, and the way he focuses on you is more than a little disconcerting.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2011-11-17 12:34
Subject: On the scales
Security: Public
And while on the subject of weight, I also tried the cats.

Totoro is weighing in at about 10 pounds, which is a not unreasonable weight for a tom coming up 9 months.

The surprise is that Sakura is 9 pounds. Put them together, and she looks smaller than her brother, but weight-wise, there doesn't seem to be much in it. I think it's down to the colouration: he's a black-flecked brown while she's fawn, and I think it's that dark coloured things look larger than their light-coloured equivalents.

They're also both mostly muscle. She managed to push open the bedroom door yesterday morning, despite it supposedly being shut.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2011-11-17 11:43
Subject: Reboot and reload
Security: Public
Reboot and reload is my phrase for what it feels like my gut has done over the past few days. In the early hours of Monday morning, my digestive system got extremely unhappy — I suspect a norovirus, though without pathology testing I cannot be sure — and between a mixture of projectile vomiting (thankfully only one episode) and watery diarrhoea, went and emptied itself.

There's a lot of bacteria in your gut - it contains something like ten times as many bacterial cells as there are human body cells in the whole of your body. They're a lot smaller, of course, which is why you don't actually weight the best part of a tonne, but it still makes a measurable part of your body weight.

After 48 hours, I'd dropped at least 5 pounds weight.

I've now put a couple of pounds back on, some of which will be fluid replacement. But oh, I really don't recommend it as a weight loss treatment.

As of Saturday, I should be safe to visit a hospital.
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2011-11-15 16:26
Subject: Oh, irony
Security: Public
Novacon 41 was enjoyed this weekend just gone. We enjoyed catching up with friends, which for us is a lot of what conventions are about, and went out for two meals. The first, with feorag and autopope, was a South Indian place named The Chennai. The food was (mostly) good and pretty vegan friendly, the price not extortionate, but oh my, they really do need more waiting staff on a Friday evening. Despite entering before 18:00, it still took about two and a half hours for them to serve us the two courses we did have, and rather than ask for the bill, I went to the counter to pay. I would go back, but only if I could be guaranteed better service.

The second was with groliffe, Caro, drplokta and flick, at a teppanyaki restaurant that the latter two had spotted while lost in the city looking for the hotel. Teppanyaki is a type of cuisine I wouldn't want to eat every day - it tend to be rather limited, in my experience - but I seem to have it about once a decade, and it does makes for a fun meal. It's somewhat more expensive though, with a bill of nearly twice what the Chennai cost (though in the Chennai, no alcohol was included).

Sunday evening was the beer tasting and 'Mexican' meal organised by the con, about half way through which I realised I was developing a really nasty cold, with my sinuses closing up. So I headed for bed at an early hour.

There then followed, rather unexpectedly, an extremely upset stomach and an episode of projectile vomiting (happily, I was in a fully tiled bathroom when that last bit happened). Looking things up, I may well be the victim of one of the noroviruses - the symptoms listed by the NHS all fit. There's not a lot I can do, except stay home and, definitely, do not visit any hospitals.

Bad news #2 - my mother was taken to hospital this morning.

(Bad news #3 - somehow, I managed to miss paying off the credit card that gets one payment taken from it every blue moon, and just got hit by charges on it.)

On the (possible) norovirus, during the tasting, at one point I went out to use the Gents, to discover in there a fellow fan who may well have suffered the same problem. If so, I expect others to also have encountered whatever the cause was.

(Incubation time: 24-48 hours, which means probably something I ate on the Saturday. The Teppanyaki is unlikely, since that was a fully shared meal, and apart from drplokta not having the seafood, and Caro having the vegetarian options, the other four of us had equal exposure. The burger at lunchtime is my #1 candidate, though it can transfer without food being involved.)
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The Bellinghman
Date: 2011-10-14 14:25
Subject: Overload
Security: Public
autopope starts posting on Twitter as @cstross.

Twitter grinds to a halt.

Surely no connection.

(If I was being paranoid, I'd wonder if TPTB have learnt from the Arab Spring and are strangling social media in an attempt to hinder the Occupy$FOO protesters.)
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