So for many years now I’ve been summarizing my year simply as a list of cities visited. It’s a simple, but effective, reminder of what I’ve done and where I’ve been.

I don’t really write a review of the year, but I thought I’d share some reviews of things I’ve enjoyed this year.

Books

I read 54 books this year, all on my Kindle which I continue to love. I’ve come to appreciate not just that I can carry a library with me at all times (and no longer need to have an extra suitcase just for books when going on holiday) but also the lightness of it. My fingers and wrists are dislocating so much these days holding real books would be asking for trouble.

I’m still carrying my trusty Kindle keyboard 3G which has lasted me well, other than a couple of dings to the screen, but I am very very tempted to get myself one of the new Kindle Voyages … not least because the new paperwhite technology looks really interesting.

I claim no highbrow taste in my fiction reading. I mostly read fiction for escape (and most of those 54 books were read in two weeks … my two weeks of holiday), and revel in crime fiction, scifi and fantasy. My favourite discoveries this year were:

  • Scalzi, to my chagrin, is not a writer I’d encountered before. I genuinely enjoyed Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale
  • After reading David McIver’s excellent post recommending fantasy to read I have enthusiastically read pretty much all of the Kate Daniels series that he recommended, starting with Magic Bites. It’s an action-focused romp with plenty of violence, and a very interesting re-imagining of vampires, and some fairly regular werewolves, though with an interesting reinterpretation of how they exist.
  • Not a new discovery, but the final installment of the Skulduggery Pleasant series (as misnomer, since it’s really about Valkyrie Cain), The Dying of the Light came out. I find there’s a look of really good fiction that happens to be YA. I suppose this isn’t surprising; to keep my attention when I was a teen, you needed great pacing & plot 😉
  • My favourite novel I read in 2014 was The Moment by T.C. Anderson. What started out as an AU fanfic grew into a really astounding novel. This is what I find really fascinating about fanfiction … sometimes there are outstanding writers who seem to just need to use characters almost like scaffolding, in order to tell a story. I’d love to see her develop her voice further, and am looking forward to her future work. Please note: this story definitely comes with all manner of trigger warnings; be safe, ping me if you want/need specifics.

Games

Favourite phone game was definitely Hitman Go (iOS, Android). I was very skeptical that Hitman (already one of my favourite games series ever) could translate well from live action over to turn-based, but they’ve done a brilliant job with it. It’s gorgeously designed, infuriatingly hard to get a perfect score (as in all Hitman games) and has retained many of the best features of the Hitman series: suspense, the need to understand guard movements and be stealthy, and the rewards for sometimes being bloodthirsty, and sometimes sneaking by unnoticed.

Console game of the year for me was a series I hadn’t previously played: Mass Effect. I got Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 for Xmas last year and got hours & hours of enjoyment out of them. Definitely wonderful to see the series come over to Playstation; and even made me actively consider getting an Xbox to not miss games this good in future.

TV & Movies

We have a tendency to binge watch series, to the extent that pretty much all our TV & film consumption is via box set, Netflix, iPlayer or similar now. I still rather love the experience of the cinema though, and particularly enjoy being able to get to the BFI IMAX screen easily now that we’re in London more.

TV I enjoyed this year:

  • Sons of Anarchy — I particularly enjoyed finding out that Charlie Hunnam is from Newcastle and went to school round the corner from where we used to live
  • The Good Wife — we’ve stormed through the first four seasons and are now enjoying the fifth. Seriously good telly
  • Person of Interest — I’d seen the occasional episode and wasn’t at all convinced, but after urging from our housemate Tristan we really got into it. It has an intriguing overarching storyline and a good execution of the “mission of the week” approach
  • White Collar was another light but very entertaining watch
  • I hugely enjoyed two prison dramas this year: Orange is the New Black and Wentworth. The latter was a particular delight, even though I’d never seen the original series that it reimagines, made doubly wonderful by realising that the reason the lead was so familiar was because she played a recurring role in Xena
  • I finally got to watch Breaking Bad and saw what all the (deserved) fuss was about. Another series with an incredibly dark ending that I finally got around to watching was The Shield

My favourite movie-in-cinema I saw this year was definitely Guardians of the Galaxy in all its silliness. Vin Diesel’s wooden performance was even better on a ginormous screen 😉

The “year in cities” approach to summarising a year is something I adopted from Jason Kottke many years ago. In writing this year’s entry, I realise I somehow drafted but failed to publish 2012 and 2013’s posts; I will have to freshen them up, check they are correct the best I can without the wonderful help of sadly missed Dopplr and send them out into the world.

But for now, 2014. It was a bit of a complicated year and I ended up living in three separate places. Many of these were speaking-related trips, and you can see which conferences I was speaking at on my Lanyrd profile.

Abroad

  • Dusseldorf, Germany* (oh so many, many times)
  • Sitges, Spain (near Barcelona)
  • Praia da Rocha, Portugal
  • Portland, Oregon, USA
  • Austin, Texas, USA

UK

  • Newcastle, UK**
  • Thatcham, UK**
  • London, UK**
  • Belfast, UK
  • Edinburgh, UK
  • Bath, UK
  • Bristol, UK*
  • Falmouth, UK
  • Tiverton, UK*
  • Cardiff, UK

Previous editions: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.

* denotes multiple trips
** denotes places I lived; in a “rented a room or bought a house/flat” way rather than a “oh god how many nights will I have to stay in this hotel room” way

This should be the dawn of a new equality. Stop inadvertently marginalising people.

This is a brief, important plea.

It it truly wonderful news that we now have something approaching equal marriage in the UK. It is brilliant that same sex couples can now marry in England and Wales. It’s disappointing that the details for those in existing Civil Partnerships who want to upgrade/convert to marriage haven’t been figured out yet, and that it throws trans* people under the bus, but still, it’s progress.

So please stop fucking it up by calling it “gay marriage”.

Equal marriage isn’t just for those who identify as lesbian or gay. There are a LOT of other folks who are going to benefit, including those who are bisexual, queer and those who prefer not to self-label at all. [Edited to reflect that there are real issues in the current same-sex marriage legislationthat make it definitely not good for trans* and genderqueer folks, in particular the concept of spousal veto]

Being in a same-sex relationship doesn’t make you gay. I’m a lesbian, my wife is bisexual. Being in a committed same-sex relationship doesn’t change that — that’s like saying someone is asexual when they are not dating. If you insist on calling our marriage “gay” then you are marginalising her, insisting that her identity is defined by our relationship.

That’s not cool.

So please, let’s call this what it is. Equal marriage, which enables same-sex marriage. Or y’know, just marriage. Marriage between people that love each other & want to publicly commit to each other, who no longer need to worry about whether or not they will be denied legal recognition based on their sex, or sexual orientation.

Let’s celebrate equal marriage. But let’s not do so by marginalising even more people. Surely we’ve had enough of that?

[This was originally posted on Medium, but I am self-archiving per the Tao of Tantek]

2013 was an interesting year, starting as it did with a six month sabbatical. I got a fair bit of travel done, and a LOT of writing done, and spend the entire time half working, half not. Not quite as exciting a travel year as 2010, given it was a working sabbatical, but still some interesting new places.

Abroad

  • Austin, Texas, USA*
  • San Francisco, California, USA
  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Praia da Rocha, Portugal**
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Port Elizabeth, South Africa
  • Mumbai, India*
  • New Dehli, India
  • Pune, India*
  • Dusseldorf, Germany
  • Ratingen, Germany

I was meant to have visited Budapest, Hungary, but sadly had to abort my trip due to illness.

UK

  • Newcastle**
  • London**
  • Thatcham**
  • Newbury
  • Richmond/Kew/St Margarets
  • Bedford
  • Penryth
  • Brighton
  • Glasgow
  • The Isle of Eigg for dev/fort 8

** denotes places I lived at some point in the year
* denotes places visited more than once

Why equal marriage matters to me

(cross-posted from the wonderful Medium because it’s important to have your own copies too, however great a community is: original)

I was a child without a future.

Don’t get me wrong, I had all the advantages. I was bright, got excellent grades. I’d been born white in Apartheid South Africa, experiencing incredible (undeserved) privilege. I was likely to get a full scholarship for university. I had a stable home life.

But I was facing the endless drudgery of working and going home to an empty life stretched out ahead of me. Painfully alone, forever.

I didn’t want that.

I remember contemplating suicide for the first time before I even hit my teens. How different I was became increasingly apparent from about the age of ten. The girls in my class started to get giggly around the boys, to dumb themselves down (in SA at that time, girls weren’t meant to be smart and smart girls definitely weren’t attractive).

I was bemused. I mean, boys were alright. Some of my best friends were boys. But this sudden attraction my classmates were feeling? I never felt it, never comprehended it.

And with puberty came planning. Futures, weddings, girls scribbling their names with their crush’s surname appended. Idle, childish daydreams, but central to conversations all around me.

I couldn’t imagine anything worse. Marrying a man I didn’t love? Enduring sex I didn’t want and could never enjoy? I decided very young that I would rather die.

And so my planning became razor blades, hoarding pills, finding secret hideaways where I wouldn’t be discovered until it was too late.

Dark years. Hard to write about, even decades later.

So how am I here today?

Xena.

Yes, that’s right: Xena, Warrior Princess.

In the relatively early days of the Internet, I discovered Xena messageboards. They gave me a lot of things: terminology for the things I felt, an explanation for why I found the show so compelling despite its ridiculously low production values and hilarious accent combinations (all medieval Greeks spoke with Kiwi accents, doncha know?), tentative new friendships. Exposure to a bunch of people in other countries, some just as backward as my own, some more progressive.

Interestingly though, the vast majority of us were in places where it wasn’t good to be gay: America, Africa, Australia.

The most important thing they gave me though was a friendship with a woman twice my age. She lived in Austin, Texas, with her partner of more than a decade. They were happy together, had a house, a business and a pair of adorable dogs.

I honestly had no clue this was an option.

Hearing about their life together was like being released from a tiny iron cell, coaxed outside and invited to look at a view that stretched out beautifully for miles.

I wouldn’t have made it out of my teens without knowing that view existed. I’d have been a statistic, part of the horribly high LGBTQ teen suicide rate.

In Apartheid South Africa, there were no visible, happy gay folks. We weren’t equal in the eyes of the law or society. I couldn’t daydream about marrying my dream girl, draw hearts round the names of my crushes. Marriage wasn’t an option for people like me. Happiness wasn’t an option for people like me. And it really felt like living wasn’t much of an option for people like me.

So if you’re bemused about the fight for marriage equality, wondering why it matters? It’s not just about giving folks equal rights and responsibilities. Not just about protecting our children and our families. Not just about legal and societal recognition and equality.

It’s about giving kids a future to believe in, too.

I have a lovely, trusty little laser printer which has served me well over the years – a Samsung ML-1510. I was a little disappointed to see that there weren’t modern drivers for Mac OS X for it, until I discovered SpliX. Lovely set of CUPS drivers, restoring my ML-1510 to full usefulness in a matter of moments :-)

Sharing in case anyone else has a need for a Mac OS X driver for the Samsung ML-1510, or indeed a number of other Samsung printers — there’s a full list on the project page.

Over the past few years we bought a flat and then a house. Some recent conversations IRL and on Twitter reminded me that I never wrote up the tools that we used when househunting. A number of these sites were useful when doing so — please do let me know in the comments if there are others worth including in the lists.

First Things First: Financials

  • Use a mortgage calculator to check what you can borrow and what your repayments will be. Remember to factor in utility bills, council tax, etc into your affordability calculations.
  • Calculate what stamp duty you’ll need to pay and investigate what your conveyancing etc costs are likely to be. Searches, fees, etc, all add up! If it’s your first time buying, then check out MoneySavingExpert’s very comprehensive guide.

Understanding the Area

  • The excellent UpMyStreet used to be my go-to for understanding an area, since it included ACORN data (type of people living in a postcode), crime, affluence, education level, etc. Sadly they were acquired and their functionality doesn’t seem to have been included in the new owners’ own site.
  • However, the MousePrice Area Guide feature gives a fair amount of information and I particularly like their heatmaps.
  • Check My Area is another decent resource, giving affluence ratings etc.
  • If you want lots (and lots!) of detail, then the Office for National Statistics’ Neighbourhood Statistics page is for you. I find the Neighbourhood Summary the most useful, but if you really want to crunch some numbers, they’re all here.
  • If schooling is important to you, then find Ofsted inspection reports to judge whether those in the area are right for your kids.
  • For detailed crime stats, Police.uk plots them on a map and lets you filter by category. Really helpful to judge the relative seriousness of the crimes in the area — for instance, in student areas there might be a lot of “unsociable behaviour” but this might be OK if the violent crime / burglary rates are much lower.
  • Lastly, Walkscore is an excellent little site that helps you understand how easily you can get what you need within walking distance in a particular postcode :-) A much more advanced version of the “nearest pint of milk” test!
  • UPDATE: Good point from Chris in the comments: broadband availability matters too! The maps on Think Broadband are useful and if you want to see the sort of packages and speeds available, then the USwitch broadband checker is a decent start.

Searching for Specific Properties

  • Zoopla is one of the better sites, with good map features including the ability to plot a very specific area that you want to live in.
  • Mouseprice again is useful and has a REALLY useful (if a little glitchy, certainly in Mac Chrome) heatmap search option — useful for seeing in colour which areas are likely ex-Council or similar if you’re looking at an area you don’t know so well yourself.
  • PropertySnake lets you search for properties that have been discounted and also shows how long they’ve been on the market for. Sometimes indicates a buyer who’s holding out for a price they won’t get, but sometimes shows those properties that are a good investment if you’re willing to put the work in to modernise them etc.

Making an Offer

  • Before you get too excited about that massive bargain you just spotted, use Homecheck to see whether the discounted price is due to flooding, industrial contamination or similar. Postcode searches are free, but if you want to get very specific property level advice I think you need to pay. Remember you’ll have to get this sort of search done during conveyancing anyway, so use this as an indicator but don’t shell out loads on searches.
  • Check that there aren’t any planning permissions already granted that will impact the property you have your eye on by finding your local Planning Authority on Planning Portal.
  • Check what council tax you will pay by first finding out the Council Tax Band and then checking the local council site for the actual tax band costs.
  • OurProperty is good for finding what the specific property previously sold for. Though of course you can’t tell from this data what improvements have been made or additional lending taken out against the property, it’s a decent starting point to understanding the context of the seller.