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Wednesday, May 24th, 2017 03:04 pm
I'm willing to sing about punching Nazis, but I'm not willing to seriously advocate that doing so (or censoring them) is ethically and morally right.

Ken White (Popehat) has an excellent post as to why not. (oddly enough, -do- read the comments here).
Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 08:40 pm
So it turns out that coating candied citrus peel, does, in fact, have a purpose.  Two of them, even.

One is to keep the moisture in.

The other is to keep the damn things from sticking to everything in sight. 

I had a heck of a time even getting it off the parchment paper.  I tossed them in sugar, so that should help some.  They're already pretty dried out, so keeping the moisture in is no longer something to worry about.  A little chewy and I should probably have some concern for my fillings, but still quite tasty.
Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 06:21 pm
I've been meaning to write this for a while, but I just got blocked on Twitter by the editor of Rail magazine for pointing it out (!), so now seems like a good time. If there is some reason I am laughably wrong, now's the time to point it out.

Fairly often, when renationalisation of the railways is discussed, a neat little pie chart turns up showing some small percentage of income goes on TOC profits (here is an example: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/static/images/structure/css/fact-about-fare-2014.jpg - this one discusses fare income, but as far as I can make out from http://www.orr.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/24149/uk-rail-industry-financial-information-2015-16.pdf today's figure of 1.9% does reflect the distribution of all income. I don't know why Network Rail can't replace their pie chart with one based on more recent figures...)

As far as I know this is true, but what pops up next is the assertion that only that small percentage is to be saved by renationalising the railways. That seems to be totally untrue, as a bit of a peek at the other slices of the pie chart will reveal.

First of all, there's a much bigger chunk (11% in 2014, 7% now) marked "leasing trains". Do the rolling stock companies (ROSCOs), which were of course created out of British Rail, make a profit? You bet they do. Their surplus is about 20%, so there's another 1.4% right there.

Secondly, there's "interest payments and other costs". There was a bit here about how the TOCs are probably hiding some profits via (say) borrowing money from associated companies in countries with less corporation tax, but as far as I can make out all the interest payments are made by Network Rail. There is a pretence that Network Rail is not just a bit of the government, and that compels it to borrow money at a higher interest rate than the government would.

(However, the ROSCOs may well be posting an artificially low surplus, either through such tax avoidance or via the private equity practice of buying an asset with a loan secured on that asset. That would represent yet more profit that doesn't show up on the pie chart.)

Then we have staffing costs (25% of the pie chart). Fragmenting the railway has added untold layers of bureaucracy; the ROSCOs have staff to deal with leasing the trains to the TOCs and the TOCs have staff to deal with leasing the trains from the ROSCOs. The TOCs have staff to deal with Network Rail and Network Rail has staff to deal with the TOCs - a lot, because a train cannot simply be delayed now without a careful apportioning of the costs arising from that delay. A vast management tree is essentially duplicated across 20-odd TOCs (yes, it would be a bit bigger in a company the size of BR, but there wouldn't be 20 of it). It's hard to obtain any decent estimate of this (I would be intrigued to see figures on the relative number of officebound staff employed by BR and the current system, but I suspect they are well hidden) but it's hard to suppose it's too small a proportion of that 25% to show up.

So I think two things are true; the proportion of the railways' income that is lost to the structures of privatisation certainly is not 1.9% - it must be at least as high as 3.3% if we add the ROSCOs' profits in - and there is every reason to suppose it is considerably higher, even if it is hard to know exactly how much.
Sunday, May 21st, 2017 09:25 pm
Or, in this case, the grapefruit.

One of my goals for the long weekend was to make grapefruit marmalade. Marmalade isn't all that much more difficult than jam, one you get good at cutting pith from peel. And with grapefruit it's much easier to do than with, say, limes. Which is why as much as I love limes, I will likely never make lime marmalade. The thing with marmalade is that the peel to fruit ratio needed in the pot is very different than the peel to fruit ratio that comes from the tree. You end up with three or four grapefruits worth of peel leftover and today, looking at my sink full of the remains of my kill, I couldn't bear to just toss the remaining peel.

So I candied it. Oh. My. Goodness. I knew I enjoyed candied orange peel, but I've really only ever been able to buy it covered in chocolate. This is unnecessary. Possibly a waste of good chocolate, in addition to a waste of good peel. It's taking me a great deal of willpower not to just eat the drying tray's worth for dinner.

And, as an bonus I should have expected but for some reason I didn't, I also have a cup or so of grapefruit syrup. So glad I remembered to put mineral water on the grocery list this afternoon.
Friday, May 19th, 2017 08:29 pm
Recipe fits in two 9 inch loaf pans, my ass.

At the moment, it fits in two 9 inch loaf pans + all over the sheet of aluminum foil I put under the pans because I thought the box might be lying.

Oh well, plenty of bits to eat with my fingers before sharing the loaves.
Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 11:07 pm
I've finally got around to looking at travel for the Worldcon. My hotel booking means I want to get the Viking Line overnight ferry from Stockholm 1630 Sun 06 Aug to arr Helsinki 1010 Mon 07 Aug, and depart Helsinki 1730 Mon 14 Aug to arr Stockholm 1000 Tue 15 Aug.

This will cost 201 Euros for a 2-berth cabin, so... anyone else on the same dates fancy splitting the cabin?

I probably plan to do the rail bit in one vast 24 hour splurge (there are some overnight trains, albeit not sleepers) but of course a ferry cabin-mate need not do the same train journey.
Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 12:15 pm
What are you reading?

The ebook of Max Gladstone's first five Craft novels was $13, and I've been meaning to read them for ages, so I picked that up. I'm about halfway through Three Parts Dead so far.

It's very good, as expected. Like Walter Jon Williams's Metropolitan / City On Fire, it would be "urban fantasy" if that term hadn't been co-opted first for punk-rock elves and then for werewolves and vampires. Secondary-world fantasy, set in a city that's decidedly post-medieval. It's detective-ish: a failed wizarding student and her mentor come to town to find out why the god who powers the city seems to have died, and what if anything they can do to fix things. Neat stuff, neat characters.

It's also hitting the exact tone and close to the exact feel that I was going for in my own partially-begun novel. This is mostly frustrating: someone already did the thing I want to do, now if I do it I'll be ripping him off. It's also kind of validating: hey, I had a pretty good idea, there, maybe I ought to stick with it.

What did you just finish reading?

The Skill of Our Hands, by Steven Brust and Skyler White. Took me forever to get through this, for reasons that are not necessarily the fault of the book. It's disconcerting to read a book set in 2014 about how the immigration nonsense in Arizona was clearly a threat to decency, while living through 2017 as it's enacted. So that threw me. More, I think these are just not my kind of book, at least not on first read, and I'm not sure why.

What do you think you'll read next?

At the Gathering, Jason Holt, one of the guys from Czech Games Editions, handed out copies of his Galaxy Trucker novel to everyone who got something at the prize table. Emily's read it and was highly amused, so, probably that. Along with the second Craft novel in ebook.
Tuesday, May 16th, 2017 11:55 am
As of yesterday I've developed a sore spot on the inside/back of my right hip, at a contact point for the bike seat. Excuse me, saddle. I'm not sure whether it's a bruise or a stretched muscle. I'd been thinking "bruise" but this morning it started out sore and felt much more neutral after a five-minute walk. I can't figure out a work-appropriate way to stretch it, unfortunately. Ibuprofen it is. I'm not sure whether the saddle needs adjusting, or if I just need to adjust to it.

I'm taking the bike in tomorrow anyway to get a rear fender attached. I rode home yesterday through a pretty good rain. That's still a surprisingly pleasant experience: the rain keeps me from overheating, and not having glasses means I can see in the rain, which is neat. But the pannier and the back of my jacket are both mildly mudspattered, and I'm told a fender will help with the worst of that.

The other thing about biking in rush hour in the rain is that it feels ... unsafe? Unpredictable? Impossible? I get a sense that there's no way I can possibly be sufficiently alert to account for all the cars and the pavement and the weather conditions and whatever else. That it's only a matter of time before something unpleasant inevitably happens. That part is less thrilling.
Sunday, May 14th, 2017 09:17 pm
A Tribute to Carrie Fisher: I grew up on Star Wars: the original was one of the first movies we had on VHS and got watched over and over again, Jedi was one of the first movies I saw in the theatre. And I still hadn't realised how much of an impact it'd had on me until I got unexpectedly sniffly at this video. Gonna have to look up Wishful Drinking and The Princess Diaries, I think.

Frodo Didn't Fail: "Again and again in The Lord of the Rings, we see that strategically pursuing the greater good fails, while remaining true to moral principles succeeds even when it looked foolish."

Love in the Time of Cryptography: "Having your friends and community testifying to your love beats all the selfies in the world."

The Ballad of Maui Hair: "Friend 1: I'm going in for surgery on the 18th. Friend 2: Oh, dear-- Maui Hair: I didn't see the hospital in Maui. *thunderstruck silence* Friend 3: Of course you didn't. Bless your heart."

So A Nazi Walks Into An Iron Bar: the Meyer Lansky Story: "I'm picturing a lot of newsboy caps and comments like 'no no not like that, my bubbe (ofblessedmemory) punches better than that, you grip the brass knuckles like this.'"



Also, hey, it's been awhile since I checked in with my 101 in 1001 list. I've not been ignoring it, just not talking much about it.

101 in 1001 update )
Thursday, May 11th, 2017 01:05 pm
The tops of my thighs are serious about letting me know that they have been Used. Yoga this morning may have been an error in judgement; even on a good day 'powerful pose' is the devil incarnate, and today even the prayertwists were rough. Hoping for good things from the "continue to work/stretch those muscles rather than letting them freeze" plan.

Had my first dropped chain yesterday. I turned to head up a steep hill, shifted down to low gear in front, and couldn't figure out why I was pedaling and still losing speed. Walked up the hill, took a look, and convinced it to reseat on the gear with minimal fiddling. YAY I FIXED THE THING.

First ride in the light rain this morning. (Not that Vancouver really gets any other kind.) Rather pleasant, honestly. Kept me cooled down, kept me alert, feet didn't slip off the pedals too many times. Suspect I'm gonna want a rear fender sooner than later.

I spent some time yesterday and today studying the city's map of surprisingly comprehensive bike paths. Makes me want to get out and ride the seawall. Or Stanley Park. Or, hell, just through some of the more pleasant and interesting East Van neighborhoods.