Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Experimental Cookery 2011 #1: Butter Bean, Chorizo & Red Onion Soup

Source: Gordon Ramsay's Fast Food (p.19)
Cook Time: 32 minutes start to finish. Note that I had a little help in the preparation phase; probably add a couple of minutes for that.
Difficulty: Dead easy
Servings: The book claims 4, but I only got 3 from it
Equipment used: Saucepan, chopping board, wooden spoon, 2 knives, ladle, bowl, strainer, small plate

This one is pretty much what it says on the tin - a soup made from butter beans, red onion and chorizo. Unlike the soups from Jamie's book (most of which I've now tried), this one didn't get liquidised at the end, and therefore was a chunky, rather than smooth, soup.

The end result was fairly tasty, but a little on the bland side. I think that if I do it again, I'll need to find something to add a bit more pep to it.

Result: 7/10

Monday, March 28, 2011

Experimental Cookery: The Return

I have decided to return to doing "Experimental Cookery" posts, mostly because I now have loads of cookbooks, and have fallen into the trap I once complained about: I never cook from them. Plus, lots of people said they liked those posts. So, they're back, until I get bored again.

I'll be doing a couple of things differently this time: rather than picking one book and working through it, I'll jump from book to book according to my own secret design (or at random). I'll also not be sticking to Tuesday, as I'm frequently busy on that day. Oh, and I'll try to offer some more useful information with the posts: the book used, the cook time, the difficulty, and the list of equipment that was used.

So, onward!

A nice restful weekend...

I had Friday and today off from work, mostly just to use up the last of my holiday allowance of the year. It has been a nice, restful time, by which I mean I busily worked through my list of things to do. Such as...
  1. Not going to tell you! Haha! Ha! Ha.
  2. Bought a new microwave.
  3. Started painting the second batch of Space Orks. Eight are finished, the second eight are now under way. I have another sixteen to do after these.
  4. Watched "Unthinkable" (not great), "Harry Brown" (good), and just enough of "Cabin Fever 2" to decide it wasn't worth watching.
  5. Watched the first two parts of the "Lord of the Rings". Yes, this is the same as the previous point, but it's good enough to deserve mentioning twice.
  6. Restocked the fridge with a meatloaf and chicken tikka masala.
  7. Washed the car.
  8. Lots of practice on the pipes.
  9. Finished Volume One of "Les Miserables". Poor young Marius is in love, at last.
  10. Ordered a frame for the picture that I got at Christmas.
  11. And the usual sundry and pointless tasks...

So, it's been a busy time. Also, despite the impression my previous post may have given, I'm not quite dead. At least, not yet.

#6: "Les Miserables Volume One", by Victor Hugo (a book from The List)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

An Apology and a Retraction

Lady Chocolat took offense at my previous post, which likened modern action films with ballet. She felt this did a disservice to ballet.

Which is a fair comment. Ballet doesn't have a character spouting inane dialogue.

(For the rest of it, though, I'm afraid the comparison is apt: both are heavily choreographed, both require extreme training for detailed physical performance, and ballet doesn't actually tend to have particularly coherent plots. I mean, just look at The Nutcracker: all those crazy squirrels running all over the place...)

Oh, I'm going to pay for that one...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Idiocy in Action Movies

Excuse me, but I need to rant for a bit.

I saw "The Transporter" in the cinema on a recommendation. And it all started rather well. We were introduced to Frank. He's a somewhat amoral mercenary driver. Oh, and he has a quirk: there are some rules that he won't ever break. Cute.

So, of course, on his next assignment, he breaks one of the rules, and looks inside "the package". And it's a cute girl. Okay, I think I see where we're going with this, but carry on...

Okay, he delivers the package. Oh, and there's the sudden but inevitable betrayal. Shocking! So, of course, he's going to go back and get the girl. But of course, because there are so many more of them, and he no longer has a car, he'll need to use a cunning plan to go get her...

Ah, no. He's just gone and kicked in the door.

And that was the point where the film lost any connection to reality. Simply put, beyond that point it didn't matter what they did, it just could not ever make sense.

This is akin to the "nuclear fridge" incident in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", John McClaine vs the Fighter in "Die Hard 4.0", or Pierce Brosnan's complete inability to sing. It doesn't matter what qualities the rest of the film has, it cannot get past that one thing.

Of course, the sequels to "The Transporter" and also the "Crank" films don't even pretend to make sense - they're stupid from the outset. People seem to view them as extreme action films, but they're really not. They're ballet, only with explosions and a CGI budget. I would say that they're a parody of action movies, but the people making them always seem to utterly humourless when talking about them. That, and they're not funny.

Frankly, I blame CGI for this. Prior to the advent of CGI special effects, stunts had to be done by real people. That scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" where Indy goes under the truck? Some poor stuntman had to actually do that. The ridiculous, impossible bus jump in "Speed"? Yep, some stuntman did that. Oh, and the scene from earlier in that film where Keanu's character jumps from the fast-moving car to a fast-moving bus? Yeah, someone did that... and his name was Keanu. Woah, indeed.

(Oh, about "Raiders...". There's a scene where Indy hitches a ride on a German sub, back to their base. On seeing that, my mind had filled in a bit, assuming Indy made his way into the sub, and lay low. But no. According to George Lucas, and therefore canon, Indy rides the outside of the sub all the way. And just like that George utterly ruins one of the best films of all time.)

It all makes me mad. Give me solid characters, a plot that actually stands up to a little consideration, and then layer on the stunts, the explosions, and everything else.

Or maybe I'll just stop watching action movies.

(Incidentally, this all came about as a result of an an argument about stupidity in the 4e rules. Apparently, it's unreasonable to think that fantasy should be grounded in some sort of reality, if only as a launching pad for the fantasy. But the problem is, if your 1st level adventure is "Die Hard", that gives you plenty of scope for further, escalating adventures. If your 1st level adventure is "The Expendables", then what the hell does your 30th level adventure look like?)

#5: "Pathfinder: Sanctum of the Serpent God", by Neil Spicer

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

No More Wheels for Sheila

The recent ruling by the EU that car insurers can no longer discriminate against men has had the very amusing effect of uniting both the left-wing and right-wing commentators in their condemnation of it. Those on the left hate it because for once this is a ruling that doesn't make women more equal. Those on the right hate it because this is yet another instance of that pesky EU getting involved in British business.

I do always love it when the two sides agree like this.

There is one argument against this ruling that has some weight, and it is this: young men do on average get involved in more accidents, and on average those accidents are more expensive. Therefore, since the insurance industry is entirely about managing risk, based on cold hard statistics, it makes sense that they apply those statistics.

I have big problems with this argument.

Firstly, it must be said that my insurance underwriter is not insuring men, they are insuring me. The driving habits of other men, no matter how outrageous, quite simply have no bearing on how I drive. And that's the thing about discrimination: although we always talk about discrimination against groups, discrimination is always felt by the individual.

(Statistically, women don't know the offside rule. Does that make it acceptable to assume any given woman doesn't know the rule, even if she happens to be an assistant referee? Similarly, if a young man grows up in a different country, absent the whole "boy racer" thing, is it still valid to charge them more based on that aspect of our culture? (Note: neither of these is a theoretical example.))

Secondly, we have always had a habit of ignoring statistics when they don't suit us. Tobacco is legal in this country, but cannabis is not. Indeed, the latter has just been re-reclassified as a class B drug, in defiance of the relevant statistics.

But leaving aside those quibbles, it remains the case that men on average do cause more accidents, and more expensive accidents. So, the underlying point remains, doesn't it?

Except... insurance premiums aren't based solely on the statistical model. Insurers are first and foremost businesses, and so a key factor in their equations is how much the customer will be willing to pay.

(As an experiment, when you get your renewal premium, phone up your provider and tell them Admiral have offered the same cover for £20 less. If your premium is based purely on the statistical model, their response has to be, "That's nice." I'm sure they won't mysteriously find that new and cheaper alternatives have just opened up.)

(Caveat: don't do this if your current insurer is Admiral!)

Then there are the usual marketing tools.

Consider introductory discounts. Your current insurer has at least 12 months of detailed data about your driving habits and claims history. Over time, they get a clear picture of exactly where in your category you sit. A new insurer does not have this data, so has to be more conservative - the risks are simply greater. Because of this, it should always be cheaper to continue with your current insurer. Somehow, though, it never is.

We also get the cross-promotions. Why is it cheaper to insure me as a driver if you're also insuring my home and contents? The one simply has no bearing on the other. It's not even as if they can claim reduced administraion costs - they're completely different departments!

And that's the crux of it: as soon as insurers stop using purely statistical means to arrive at quotes, the justification that discrimination is based on statistics loses its meaning. They charge what they charge because they can, because people expect it, and because they have no option but to pay.

If we're serious about equality, this was the correct ruling.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Not Hearing the People Sing...

It's funny to think that by this time last year, I had already read 16 books. This year, I have read four.

Still, that's not actually a problem. The reason for the relatively slow progress is that most of my reading so far this year has been in "Les Miserables", which has been extremely slow going. Last week, I finally finished up Part One (of five). I'm particularly enjoying the singing. Oh, and the bits that the editors decided not to translate from the French. (There was also a great pun that they did translate, but which was only funny in the French. Ho ho!)

The other reading I've been doing has all been game related. I've been slowly reading through the AD&D 1st Edition hardbacks (which have actually been fascinating - it seems I've been doing it wrong for years), and the most recent Pathfinder books.

The sort-of-but-not-quite goal for March is to finish the first volume of "Les Miserables", read through the "Dungeon Master's Guide", and read the latest Pathfinder, thus getting caught up on that front. Which will give me a grand total of seven books.

#3: "Pathfinder: Vaults of Madness", by Greg A. Vaughan
#4: "Pathfinder: The Thousand Fangs Below", by Graeme Davis