Insured and Assured

Claire and I have been arranging home insurance for the new house. This is a bigger chore than it sounds. It has brought into very clear focus for me the problem that is cherry-picking within the insurance industry. Basically, brokers want to insure the lower-risk, higher-profit people, and therefore refuse to insure anyone else. This is great for those who are desirable - which includes Claire and me - we get lower premiums to attract our business. But those who fall into the less desirable categories have to go to more specialist brokers, who need to charge higher premiums than would otherwise be necessary, as they don't have access to the higher-profit people. In short, it distorts the market, and risks leaving people vulnerable. I don't know what the answer is...

(The problem of insurance frequently being based on discrimination is a quite seperate rant.)

***

The Iowa primary result leaves me with quite mixed feelings. On one hand, Romney is perhaps the least objectionable of the bunch. Anyone who gets criticised for being soft on homosexuals, abortion, and the death penalty can't be all bad. On the other hand, he's also the only one of the bunch who has any chance of beating Obama come November. And for all his flaws, Obama is definitely preferable to any of this shower. Perhaps Bachmann's withdrawl will give enough of a Fruitcake boast to Frothy to ensure Obama's victory?

After the Storm

The BBC has chosen a number of frighteningly close to home pictures to illustrate today's storm. One is of our high street, one in Mum's village, another just up the road from Mum. The towns near my sister's home are also well represented. Luckily, our damage seems limited to a few slates. And I've spoken to our parents, and the immediate family has survived unscathed. Could all have been so much worse.

Happy New Year!

A new year is traditionally a time for reflection and expectation. 2012 is already set for dramatic changes - Claire and I move house this month. (Incidentally, could anyone who's borrowed stuff from us please get it back to us before we move? Via someone like Fiona or Nick if need be. Ta!) 2012 will also be a year of parties. My 40th is on 12th May, and we're planning to host Hogmanay as well. There'll be a house warming at some point, too.

2011 was pretty dramatic. Murphy arrived, and I got a new job. Looking back though, what stands out for me was the death of social networking.* Blogs have been abandoned (or moved without a forwarding address) - largely it appears due to a general disillusionment with LiveJournal. Facebook's constant UI changes have made near impossible even basics like finding out what parties I've been invited. Google+ was launched as the social network for anti-social people, with no one apparently saying anything interesting (or at least, not where I could hear them). A couple of years ago, social networks kept me connected to the important events of a couple of dozen friends. Today, it's about four. The fight back starts here!

May 2012 be good to you, and let me finish with 2011's biggest news.

Murphy

* - This may be connected to the fact I'm currently writing a blog post...

Consequences

I've just about recovered from Consequences last weekend. As expected, this is a friendly little con, with a strong emphasis on freeforms. I thoroughly enjoyed everything I played. ("Almost Crazy" and "Once Upon A Lilypad" are fun, short, light-hearted games, the former set at a sixties music festival with much opportunity for air-guitaring, the latter set in fairytale land. "Deliverance" (regency steampunk) and "Miss Maypole" (thinly veiled Agatha Christie) combine humour, angst, and mystery, and provided more for me to get my teeth in to.) I had marvellous players for "Santa Anna", which sank most definitively. I played many boardgames that were new to me. ("Last Will", "Ticket to Ride", "7 Wonders", "Shadow Hunters".) I met many lovely new people, confusingly many of whom were called Cla[i]r[e]. And I largely failed to catch up with old friends.

The downside of the con was definitely the socialising. The set up means that people tended to either be in games, or in their chalet. Steve's Saturday night party made up for a lot, but the lack of a central canteen and bar meant there was none of the catching up over breakfast/lunch/dinner/a pint that punctuates other weekend cons. Next time, I'm going to host a dinner party, and force some of my friends to talk to me, if only for half an hour...

It Was The Year Everything Changed

After many years of self-employment, I've recently taken a full-time job at Schuh, programming backend systems and tills. Not having to go through the cycle of chasing for work, chasing for payment is something I could get used to...

The extra time away from home, coupled with other stuff going on, means I'm not finding time to check on social media. I'd pretty much given up on Google Plus anyway - friends who were either saying nothing or filtering me out meant there was pretty much nothing on there - but Facebook is now getting only the odd glance, mainly at the "has anyone invited me to something" bit. Apparently there's a new version of Facebook? Hadn't noticed...

If you want me to actually know something, email is still by far your best bet.

Housekeeping

The schedule for Consequences is now available. (17th to 20th November, if you haven't already signed up...) Apparently there's one more freeform to be added, on Sunday morning. Otherwise, this seems to be finalised. I'll be running The Last Voyage of Santa Anna on Saturday afternoon - finally a con that doesn't dump me in the breakfast slot!

***

I'm now on Google+ - this is probably my profile? So far, I'm less than convinced. Posts appear in completely random order. The ability to add people to different circles seems a good idea, but there's no easy way to set up defaults for posting, so posting to a specific group of circles is rather too fiddly. There's also no way to set up circles that people can add themselves to. As it stands, I can set up circles for "gaming", "dogs", "politics", or whatever, but I need to manually manage everything, probably guessing what people might be interested in. Much better if people could choose for themselves.

But the big problem at the moment is the lack of people using the service, and the difficulty of finding those who do. Without a critical mass of people to communicate with, Google+ remains pretty pointless.

***

Cisco's thyroid is settling down nicely. His hormone levels are still a little high, but within the "not much to worry about" bracket. He's still on pills twice a day, quite possibly this dose for ever more. The next blood test is a couple of months off, and Cisco does enjoy his pill-smeared-in-butter-and-wrapped-in-ham treats. Also, his eye is finally starting to heal nicely.

The dogs are all pretty healthy at the moment. Murphy has settled in all too well, and is starting to show his demanding, pushy side. At the moment, if he doesn't get his own way, he's taken to throwing food bowls around or knocking over piles of stuff. Since this makes us laugh rather than give in, hopefully this will be short lived.

I took the three dogs for a walk on my own for the first time this morning. A qualified success. The start was chaotic. As soon as they got out of the car, all three headed in different directions. By the time we got back to the carpark, I had them all sticking with me, and getting them back in the car was pretty straightforward. Hopefully, I can improve from here...

Murphy

This is Murphy.



He's at the rear, nearest me. Tara & Zak are in front.

Murphy is a ~6 year old wolfhound boy, about an inch taller than Tara, and newly arrived from Ireland on the Stranraer ferry. His previous owner died, following a spell in hospital, and Murphy has been rehomed by the wonderful people at Erin Hounds. I drove down to meet the ferry, taking Fiona to help with dog control on the drive back. (Claire's on call this weekend, so can't be that far from a reliable Internet connection.) We introduced the three dogs at the local park, with additional assistance from Andy. They got on better than we could have hoped, with Tara even flirting. He's also met Cisco, who is already tolerating Murphy in the same room and sniffing at him.

Murphy's very affectionate, a beggar, prefers human food to dog food, and helps to clean kitchen counters. Some of this we may need to train him out of... Zak and Tara have told him off over beds and food (respectively), with Murphy running and hiding. At the moment, he's sleeping and eating in a different room than the other dogs, so we can manage the relationships. So far, all looks quite promising.

I don't know if we'll keep his name. I quite like Murphy, but we might come up with something better. Time will tell, I guess...

On The Upside

Lest people think I'm overly negative about the current series of Doctor Who, here's the positives list:

River Song. Love River. Or, to be honest, probably more a case of love Alex Kingston. Even with a poor script, she's wonderful. Here, she's stunning.

The Silence. Creepy. Intriguing.

Canton Delaware. Though, again, this may be inspired casting...

"The Impossible Astronaut" set out any number of intriguing mysteries. Let's hope the finale brings cool answers...

The Doctor and Idris. Nuff said.

Auntie & Uncle were classic Gaiman oddballs. Shame they didn't get more screen time - could have dropped some of the running along corridors to fit them in.

Also kinda cool to see a creepy Ood again.

The Doctor's Wife vs. The Day of the Dead

We've been pretty unimpressed with the bulk of TV on offer at the moment, so instead have been re-watching Babylon 5. One of the shows we have been watching is Doctor Who. The presence of one Neil Gaiman script in both series leads fairly obvious to comparisons.

In case you haven't heard me singing B5's praises before, suffice to say that I regard it as one of the finest TV shows ever made. For all its flaws, no other program has even attempted to match its ambitious storytelling. At its best, Doctor Who also make the "finest TV" list. But the key phrase there is "at its best". An anthology show inevitably has greater variability week to week.

So far this year, Doctor Who has been lacking in peaks. "The Impossible Astronaut" started rather flat ("Oh, they fake killed the Doctor. Again."), then raised some rather interesting questions, and some cool mysteries. Unfortunately, the second half then completely ignored all the good stuff. Instead, we got more fake killing. ("Oh, they shot Amy. Again. Oh, and they shot Rory. Again.") Then we got a plan from the Doctor that made no sense, which forced the entire human race to commit genocide, for no obvious reason. "The Curse of the Black Spot" was worse. I rarely agree with Louise on Doctor Who, but her summary of the episode as "dull and stupid" is spot on, and for all the reasons she gave - the plot made no sense, the buckle failed to swash. Oh, and they killed Rory. Again.

Gaiman's episode carried great expectations, and largely lived up to them. It was a good episode, and far better than anything else this year. But it wasn't great. The basic premise of "The Doctor's Wife" and "Day of the Dead" are similar - a minor character impossibly turns up and has a chat with a major character. The differences are telling.

Robin D Laws likes to distinguish between "iconic" and "dramatic" characters. (*) Dramatic characters are changed by their experiences, whereas iconic characters remain unchanging, instead changing the world to meet their requirements. Sherlock Holmes or James Bond are iconic; Frodo Baggins or Thomas Covenant are dramatic. The characters in Babylon 5 are dramatic - almost unique for sci-fi shows to that point, and still a rare trait. The four major characters chosen to talk to the deceased are struggling, respectively, with drugs & responsibility, drink & love, duty & desire, and choices & consequences. The conversations illustrate these struggles, and form part of the characters' ongoing transformation. Even G'kar, who deliberately stays out of the conversations, is changed by his (lack of) experience.

The Doctor, on the other hand, is resolutely iconic. His conversation with Idris would not have been significantly different had he been in any of his former incarnations. After nearly half a century, the Doctor remains basically unchanged. Amy & Rory are even more iconic, being merely the latest examples of generic Doctor Who companion #2 (tomboy) and #1 (screamer). Amy even has the rather odd characteristic of instantly forgetting anything dramatic that happens to her, leaving her frustratingly unmotivated and dull. Their background is so undefined that there are no interesting conversations they could be having, so instead they get to run up and down corridors while being vaguely threatened by the baddie. Oh, and they killed Rory. Again. The episode ends with nothing changed, underlining the characters' iconic status.

There is nothing wrong with iconic characters. The Doctor has been part of many very successful stories over the years. But the interest in these stories lies in the iconic character's effect on those around him. We need to care about the minor characters - who lives, who dies, who succeeds, who receives punishment. Here, "The Doctor's Wife" falls short. Aunty and Uncle are barely introduced before they are summarily dismissed, Home is a one-dimensional menace. Only Idris gives this interest, and she is as iconic as the Doctor, though here uniquely given voice.

Don't get me wrong here - "The Doctor's Wife" is a decent episode. Idris is interesting, and the two iconic characters have an interesting conversation. Witty one-liners abound, and for once the plot hangs together. But Babylon 5 gave Gaiman far more tools to hang a story on, and he therefore turned in a more interesting story. Personally, I'd like to see Gaiman take on a Doctor Who script that doesn't focus on the central characters.

***

* - I have no idea if this distinction originates with Robin, but he's the one I got it from.