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It seems to be about two months since I last posted - I knew I'd been thoroughly failing the one-per-week goal, but I hadn't realised it was that bad.

Mostly, things have been carrying on steadily, either level or slowly improving, since February:

  • Our cooker was finally fitted, and is very nice to have. I may have spent more of the day it arrived than was strictly necessary bouncing joyfully up and down and saying "cooker" excitedly.

  • The builders do appear to have successfully stopped the rain coming in.

  • The DWP managed to sort themselves out and start paying again, even coughing up the back payment in time for us to hand most of it over to the builders.

  • nPower continue to be both our electricity supplier and completely useless. Partly this is because they're so determined to make life difficult, and partly it's because dealing with them requires quite a lot of spoons that I often have more urgent uses for.

  • Our assorted medical conditions seem to continue largely the same.

Because of these things and, er, one or two others, I've not been online much, but will hopefully be able to pay some more attention to life now.
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So now that we've (finally) had various things done to the kitchen, the nice men from John Lewis came to the house this morning with our cooker (again).

Immediately, the fitter spotted a problem that he'd missed last time (because it was hidden by other, more obvious problems) that meant he still can't fit the cooker, because it wouldn't be safe. So now I need to call up the electrician again, and find out how much more of the money we don't have it's going to cost to sort this out.

And then I might cry, or go and live in a yurt.
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And now it looks as though water from the leaky garage roof has probably got into the electrics in the garage, to add to the fun. (If not, something else nasty has gone wrong with them, given the state of what's left of the fuse.) So I can add "get an electrician in" to the list of expensive things we need to do fairly urgently. Yaay!
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Once more, the plan to try and write at least one post per week seems to have got off to a poor start.

A number of things have happened over the last week or so. )

But the car passed its MOT test with no problems, so at least I can stop worrying about that. I hope. And the new is due to go in next week, and we'll be able to have real food!
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What with the moving house and the chaos and the unexpected brief trip upcountry only a week or so ago, we have as usual totally failed to get christmas cards sent out. Some of the tigers tried to help sort it out, but pens aren't really designed for paws. Especially paws as small as theirs.

Seasons greetings to you all, and may all manner of things be well.
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Progress towards getting the new fort properly sorted out has been slow, the last month, partly due to taking a week to go to Cambridge for the weekend (Photos to be sorted and uploaded hopefully fairly soon), and partly due to the fine sequence of colds that we exchanged on our return.

So we still don't have a proper cooker (or even a date when the kitchen will be ready for it), and we still haven't managed to get rid of the foul evil monstrosity lurking in one of the kitchen cupboards. By which I mean the key-meter for our electricity supply. (What's worse than going out in the rain to top up the wretched key? Realising just as you reach the shop that you've left the stupid thing in the house, and that you're now soaking wet and knackered to no actual purpose.) We're not sure whether the previous owners were actually forced to have the thing as a punitive measure, or just had no idea how badly they were being ripped off. But we're impressed by how difficult the electricity company (npower in our case, but I don't imagine the others are any better) make it to get rid of the thing. Normally, when you move into a house, they're delighted to start billing you, but with a key-meter, they seem to need a remarkable array of evidence that you really do own the place. It's almost as though they don't want to give up the absurd profit that they make from the thing.
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So [personal profile] stripey_cat and I both got up early this morning to be ready for the arrival of our cooker from John Lewis, accompanied by fitting team. The fitters duly arrived pretty much on the dot of 7am, took one look at the cooker's spot in the kitchen and said "we can't fit it there, it isn't safe". If we hadn't been fooled by the previous owners having had a gas cooker in the same spot (presumably installed before the regulations were tightened), we might have reached that conclusion ourselves. The presence of a plug socket intruding into the space above the cooker, the unprotected plastic wiring run down the wall, the bare chipboard immediately behind, the fact that the gas point isn't secured properly, and went sproing when the fitter poked it...

So they've taken our lovely new cooker away again, and we're stuck with microwave and kettle for the indefinite future while we find someone to refit half the kitchen for us. Which is definitely a "first-world problems" sort of problem, but it's a problem we'd rather thought would be ending today, not continuing towards (and perhaps beyond) Christmas.

[ETA: and a quick look at the weather forecast suggests today will be grey, miserable, and very wet, with a side-order of low cloud and ongoing heavy rain.]

[ETA2: then I moved on to the news, and the events in Paris really put our very minor problems in perspective.]
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I said in my last post that the fort had moved (implicitly from the Shires) to Dol Amroth. It occurs to me, however, that given Taruithorn's traditional alignment, it's more likely we've moved from somewhere near Cirith Ungol down to the Bay of Belfalas or nearby parts. (But not Umbar, because logically that must be Penzance, because everyone knows that's where the Pirates come from.)
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OK, so that was a little more than ten days. But the fort has been successfully relocated down to Dol Amroth, even if some of the details went a little wrong, and I've now had time to turn a pile of components into a new computer.

All that's left to do is finish relocating things into the rooms we wanted the movers to put them in, redecorate a couple of rooms, unpack the remaining 90% of our stuff from boxes, and tell everyone we've moved! Oh, and check whether the other half of the things on my list of things to be done before we moved retain any relevance, having rather missed their moment.

I'll try and get a post with some pictures in it up fairly soon, but I need to re-relocate the server, first. And take some pictures of the house, come to that.

Meanwhile, if anyone really fancies spending a few days painting and moving boxes around, we have an actual spare bed. And a room it could be put in that (a) isn't the living room and (b) has proper curtains. More realistically, we should at some point have multiple spare beds, and a games table, and a house that's generally a more desirable place to visit. But that'll take a bit longer :)

ETA: the new location should be visible at the top of my journal page to anyone with access/flist status. Message me if you want to see it and can't!
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(Although given the time, perhaps "Moonlight Shadow" would be a more appropriate title.)

The Movers' vans arrive in a few hours time, and my next entry - barring catastrophes - should be made from Devon in about ten days time.
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As alluded to elsewhere, my computer has given up the ghost. While there are many worse things that could have happened the morning after exchanging contracts on the house move, turning my machine on to see the message

Drive Read Error
Press ctrl-alt-del to retry

did not fill me with joy. Since it still complains about drive errors even with the drives taken out I'm pretty sure this is (a) a motherboard fault and (b) a terminal one. Hopefully it hasn't trashed the actual drives on the way out, especially since my backups are (oops) several months old. None of the data on them is actually valuable, but losing/having to redownload it would be irritating.

Also, of course, moving house involves a lot of communicating with people, and while my spare Raspberry Pi is ferpectly adequate for text emails, it's not the best machine in the world for dealing with people's websites (and doesn't have my comprehensive collection of relevant bookmarks and stored passwords). Again, hardly the end of the world, but adding nuisance factor to something that's already stressful and time-consuming.

And because of the short notice, we're going to be without phone and internet connections for the first week or so after we move. Which might make it easier to get more than just our computers unpacked, now I think about it, so maybe that's not all bad :)
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I had a semi-dream, last night, in which I discovered that being always one step away from actually getting a mortgage was a kind of Sisyphean punishment I'd been sentenced to. I really wish it hadn't felt like such a plausible explanation. (No idea what I'd done to earn the punishment, mind.)
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This is an improved and much shorter revision of this post. As with that one, this one only attempts to deal with answers for a culturally native-english-speaking audience. Also, if there's something in here that you think is wrong/stupid/hurtful, then (a) I'm sorry, that wasn't my intent, and (b) I'd be very grateful if you feel able let me know, so that I can correct my error (and avoid repeating it).

So: you've got a website/survey/business database/list of supporters/whatever, and you want to ask about the gender and title of address for the people on it.

The simplest solution

Don't. Unless you're my chosen medic discussing treatment options[1] or a sociology researcher (or, ok, working for certain government departments who are legally required to ask[2]), you don't need to ask about my gender. Really, you don't. If I'm signing up to your gardening newsletter, my gender, sexuality, skin colour, eye colour and favourite album are all equally relevant. "Doing it right", in this case, means not doing it at all.

Also, if you don't ask, don't assume. I thought this went without saying, but clearly it doesn't. Assuming a gender based on (say) first name is pretty silly, potentially very offensive, and will not make you any friends.

Titles are much the same; you simply don't need to ask about them. The number of people who will be offended by a newsletter addressed "Dear Subscriber" rather than "[title][name]" is pretty small. We know it's all being done by the computer anyway.

[1] in which case, you probably already know the answer; you also hopefully understand that the physical, neurological, and (most often relevant) biochemical issues are rather more complicated than [M/F: choose one]. But that's beyond the scope of this essay.

[2] our laws on the subject need changing, both because said departments generally don't actually have any need to know and because they're usually only allowed to accept "M" or "F" as an answer. But that's beyond the scope of this essay too.

The simplish solution

If you absolutely have to ask - perhaps you actually are a sociology researcher, and the answers are a major part of your research - then you should provide a free-text write-in for people to put their answers in. If you're going to ask about things that form an important part of people's identities, then you should allow them to give the answer that they think is right. Just let people choose whatever title and gender description they want (including none at all; do not insist that the box have something in it) and everyone will be happy.

Making life hard for yourself

Perhaps you need to ask, but aren't able to allow write-in answers, for some reason. Your boss is allergic to them, or your database system only allows four bits per answer, or something. At this point, there isn't a right answer available to you anymore, but you can at least aim for something that doesn't deny the people's existence.


The absolute bare minimum you should be offering in the way of answers here is a set of four: "Male", "Female", "Other", and "Prefer not to say". (If you're not going to offer "Prefer not to say", because the answer is vital to your research, then please make that clear at the start rather than letting me get all the way through answering your questions before closing the tab/binning the form when I find I can't tick a "none of your business" box. My willingness to complete research surveys has been substantially decreased over the years by having my time wasted like that.)

Note that "Other" and "Prefer not to say" are not the same, and can never be combined. Someone who ticks "prefer not to say" almost certainly self-identifies as something (whether that be M, F, some combination of those, or something else), but doesn't want to tell you what. Someone who ticks "Other" has expressed their desire to tell you that they do not self-identify as binary M or F, and might well have chosen to be more specific if you'd given them the option. If they specified "Other", they explicitly did prefer to say.


If you want to try and produce a drop-menu (or equivalent) of titles for people of all cultures world-wide to choose from: you're either a genius, or going to fail horribly. If you succeed in producing a good one, there will probably be plenty of volunteers to co-sign your Nobel peace prize nomination. To avoid extending the scope of this post far beyond my own knowledge I'm going to restrict myself to dealing with English-language titles. That (hopefully obviously) means that any solution suggested here is only suitable for use in an exclusively anglophone environment; it's going to be automatically inadequate as soon as any other language or cultural group needs to be considered. You may be able to apply the same logic to get something useful for non-english-exclusive groups, but you really want (non-privileged) native speakers to check out whatever you come up with, because honorifics work differently in different cultures.

Here are the two entries your menu absolutely has to have:

  • None of the above

  • Prefer not to say

Ideally, you should also offer "No title", but rolling that into "None of the above" isn't entirely unreasonable. As with gender, though, "Other" and "Prefer not to say" need to be kept separate because they're totally distinct concepts. Someone whose marriage is a vital part of their identity may care very much about being addressed as "Mrs", and if you haven't given them that option, then "Prefer not to say" is just as wrong (and thus just as insulting) as a forced choice of "Mr" or "Ms".

You then need a list of titles that includes as many people as possible but is still short enough that "none of the above" replaces a large number of unusual titles rather than looking targeted. Maybe half a dozen entries, plus "None of the above" and "Prefer not to say" (both of which are likely to get treated as "none" by your mail-merge if there's a mailing list, but that's a separate issue[3]). "Mr" is easy; it probably represents over a third of the population. Cultural issues mean we need at least two entries for women to cover the equivalent space; "Mrs" has no competiton, but does our list take "Ms", or "Miss", or both? I don't know what the usage rates are, but they both seem fairly common, and I know people who are strongly attached to each one. If we take both, we've used four of our six spaces, so we can only have two more entries. A little quick research suggests that the next most widely used title is probably "Dr" (about 1% of the population). "Mx" is a bit trickier; allegedly around 0.5% of the population identify as non-binary-gendered (although I'd expect that number to rise, the way that the proportion of people identifying as non-het has done). While it's unlikely that every non-binary person will select "Mx" from the proposed list, I know a number of definitely binary people (mostly women) who do use it for preference, to avoid giving information about their gender. So 0.5% doesn't seem an unreasonable guess for that one. I'm not aware of any other title that comes close to covering that high a proportion of the population

That's six. While "Dr" covers quite a lot of people, I think it's the one I'd be happiest to lose; it's the only professional title on the list, apart from anything else.

So I think the bare minimum that's acceptable (if you must ask for a title) is:

  • Miss

  • Mr

  • Mrs

  • Ms

  • Mx

  • None of the above

  • Prefer not to say

I'd likely be happier if you added "Dr", but I do feel it's a bit the odd one out. And again, I don't think that's a perfect solution; it's a basic minimum I think people should be held to account for not meeting. Much better to allow free text (remembering to allow the box to be empty, because some people feel very strongly about not using any title[4]), or simply not ask.

[3] If you plan to argue in the comments that it's ok to combine them in the form if you're going to handle them the same way in code, please go back and read the bits about them being psychologically different and how the goal here is to avoid giving offence, because you seem to have missed the point.

[4] I suspect I come into contact with a disproportionate number of such people - both Quakers and those opposed to titles for other reasons. But I confess I've not actually made any attempt to find out what proportion of the total population they are, and if anyone has good numbers I'd be interested to see them. (Notably, in assuming that my experience is disproportionate, I've discounted "No Title" from the list of the six most-common titles, and if that's wrong, I should correct it.)

ETA: [personal profile] pseudomonas has a useful short form letter explaining this here. The UK government guidelines can be found here and there's also a discussion about the reasoning behind them. There's also some commentary from the sociology department at Stanford University here.
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As reward for getting on with tidying the house, to make it saleable, I decided that I really wanted to rewatch Buffy, and so bought a complete box set. [personal profile] minion_of_tevildo and I have thus been watching it in our breaks, and are currently about halfway through season three. We've discussed a few crossover ideas (notably involving what various canons would make of Spike) over the last few days, but this evening's idea came suddenly and with the force of a lightning bolt:

Bodyswap: Cordelia Chase / Cordelia, Countess Vorkosigan

The most likely suspect is, naturally, Ethan Rayne, looking to cause mischief but not particularly interested in getting anyone killed. Swapping a (from his perspective) minor member of Buffy's support team for a random other person with the same name should be fun, right? I'm not quite sure that even Cordelia V. is going to be able to actually turn him into a good person, but I do think he's fairly rapidly going to wind up more alarmed by her than he is by Giles. While tracking him down, of course, she's going to give the Scooby Gang the Betan sex-ed treatment for their idiotic love-lives, permanently readjusting a number of heads (and extracting a few from colons somewhat prematurely, from the series point of view). She's not going to have much sympathy for the Council's bullsh*t, either; post-"Helpless", Giles is going to find himself with an unexpectedly potent ally, and Wesley is in for a torrent of pain when he arrives. She might even be able to rescue Faith from herself, if she arrives early enough.

On the other end, Cordelia C, dropped into the Vorkosigan family, is going to have a harder time of it. Even if she works out what's happened fast enough (which she should do; she's smart[1]), she's not going to fool any of the other Cordelia's family or friends for an instant. They're going to work out that she's an imposter equally fast, and while (post-Mark, at any rate), they'll be open to the idea that the imposter is relatively innocent, the idea that she has no idea where she is or what's going on is unlikely to be accepted. Once she gets over the initial panic, and they all get pointed in the right direction, things will be alright (for her; Ethan is in a world of trouble at this point[2]), but before that, Cordy will have a very bad time. [ETA: for bonus points, there needs to be some unavoidable social situation in which CC has to pretend to be CV, under the supervision of Lady Alys. Because seeing CC come up against that immovable object on the subjects of fashion and etiquette...] There could also be some serious political strain. Depending on the timing, Cetaganda or one of the Jacksonian houses could plausibly be blamed for the switch, with everyone on Barrayar simultaneously trying to point fingers and keep it quiet that anything's happened. Then, of course, they don't believe in magic (or, presumably, have any local expertise), so they're probably just going to have to wait for their Cordelia to get everything in line back in Buffyland and get the spell reversed.

[1] She's going to get some very interesting life-lessons about (a) being overly self-interested and (b) pretending to be stupid.
[2] Seriously, Aral's response to someone kidnapping his wife as a joke? Miles and Gregor will merely be homicidal; Aral will be much, much scarier.
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Two weeks ago:

Me: The house is very cluttered and full of boxes, so you can't get to the walls or anything. I'm worried it might put people off, so I'm trying to make space as fast as I can, before we put it on sale.
Agent: That won't make any difference, don't worry about it. People can see that they'll need to redecorate, and the clutter isn't going to affect that because they know the boxes will move out with you.


Agent: The feedback from the viewings is that the house is very cluttered and full of boxes, so people can't get to the walls or anything, and it's putting people off. Is there anything you can do to make space (preferably by the next viewings, this afternoon).
Me: [fumes silently, rather than saying "you've just wasted a fortnight, on which you intentionally focussed your marketing efforts in order to get a quick sale".]

Aged pasta

Apr. 26th, 2015 11:16 am
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I've just found a large (several kilos) stash of dried pasta, which we're never going to use because of K's allergy to wheat gluten. It's several years past its "best before" date, but there's nothing obviously wrong with it. The local food banks &c won't take it (past best before) and I'd really rather not throw it away. Any suggestions? (I'm happy for someone in the Oxfordish area to collect, or potentially even to deliver it to someone.)

[ETA: now handed over to a someone else, who will ensure whatever's edible is eaten and whatever isn't is given to a suitable preschool.]
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It seems to be a couple of months since I last managed a weekly journal entry. Again. Oops. Mostly I think that's a question of letting the good be the enemy of writing anything at all, but there has actually been an element of doing stuff and getting genuinely exhausted. Which is actually a good thing (even if making me exhausted is currently not as difficult as would be ideal).

The leg-brace continues to make my life much easier. I'm still limited in a range of ways, but I can do so much more than I could a year ago, and it really feels like freedom. The consequent reduction in stress levels does rather seem to be helping with other things, too.

Not unrelated to my regaining the ability to actually do things, the idea of moving down to the southwest has rather rapidly gone from "nice idea" through pln to "we've had a couple of market appraisals of this house and looked at a few possible places in Cornwall". My target had been to get our house onto the market this week, which sadly isn't quite going to happen. But our storage unit is filling up nicely, and the house looks a lot more spacious with half the stuff removed from it. I'm sometimes finding it tricky to pace myself properly, but mostly I seem to be managing that alright, and the satisfaction (and relief) of making the house visibly tidier every day is immense.
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I haven't actually checked by rewatching it all, but I'm pretty sure that Red Dwarf never did the terribly obvious "Open the pod bay doors, Hol" "I can't do that Dave" joke.

I'm also surprised not to have seen any jokes about a book featuring dodgy dungeons and unusual fantasies called "Fifty Shades of Grue". Although I admit I can't think of a good one off-hand.


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