freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I've managed, over the last few months, to get back into something of an exercise routine, which is a bit erratic at present owing to potential heat-stroke, but averages out at a brisk walk around the Common every second day and is making me feel exponentially better about life on a number of fronts. Exercise, who knew? It takes about half an hour, striding as fast as I can, which represents a speed at which I frequently overtake other walkers and have been overtaken precisely twice by walkers since I started the whole routine. (I'm overtaken by runners all the time. Given the high prevalence of wildly fit people who belt around the spanky new track around the Common, this is extremely motivating on purely scenic grounds.)

Since it's still heat-wavy and I had a truly appalling night last night, I walked this morning, brisk exercise being extremely good for sleep deprivation, muscle tension and the grumps. This adds a merry layer of smugness to the pleasures of the exercise, since I was the only walker present at all. There were runners and a couple of cyclists, but apparently Christmas raises the exercise-commitment threshold to the point where only a sprinkle of Serious Exercisers bother. And, of course, me. Basking in the temporary and entirely illusory categorisation. Far less grumpy than I was when I started.

One of the minor joys of the Common route is the City of Cape Town's outbreak of noticeboards, which erupt on all four corners of the Common to instruct the civic-minded exerciser of the Rules. Apparently we aren't allowed to sleep, drive, dump, smoke, sell, dig, pick flowers or chop down trees on the Common. We are also officially mandated to smile at all times. I rather enjoy this. Something about a ridiculous happy face with full civic authority.

Photo0000

I suppose this is a rather long-winded and roundabout way of saying Happy Christmas, all you witterers, I hope it's a good one and pleasingly relaxed, as well as being based in more sleep than I had. By way of Christmas cheer for all those of you with similar fangirl proclivities who haven't yet seen it (and with a tenuous and entirely wayward puppy linkage via smiley faces), the BBC has released a Sherlock teaser for the new episode on 1st January. I'm pretty much in the zone where I don't do Christmas presents these days, but this is a good one.

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Man-Of-Steel-In-The-Sky-

I've upgraded my home movie-watching apparatus recently, with a Blu-Ray player and home theatre system which I'm really enjoying (as, in fact, are the EL and the ELG, who have just finished Firefly and embarked on The Middleman, indoctrination clearly proceeding as planned). It's lovely to have good sound, and the Blu-Ray resolution is clearly better, especially for the large-scale visual spectacle movies (superheroes, sf, fantasy) to which I am unrepentantly addicted. It'll be even better when I upgrade the TV to a larger model, a project rife with difficulty as the TV cabinet is a specific size and I can't go any larger until the EL has modified the hell out of it. Which is OK, as I can't currently afford a bigger TV anyway.

So, one of the films I recently acquired on Blu-Ray was Man of Steel, the recent Superman remake. Re-remake, if you count the Christopher Reeve versions, which one does, because they're the Christopher Reeve versions. I actually liked the Bryan Singer one with Brandon Routh and Bald!KevinSpacey, it's a relatively thoughtful film, as is characteristic of Singer, and is quite faithful in tone and partially in plot to the first Reeve one. I wish I could say the same of Man of Steel, but I can't: I emerged at the end of it with an unambiguous conviction that Zach Snyder is a two-bit hack. Which I rather fear is the result of the ineluctable fact that Zach Snyder is a two-bit hack. A two-bit drunken hack, in that he gets drunk on his own CGI. (On the upside, I also re-watched Star Trek: Into Darkness last night, and was forced to the realisation that JJ Abrahams is rather less of a two-bit hack by comparison - that script, while not strictly Star Trek, could certainly have been worse. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch has a good voice for villainy, Smaug should be fun.)

So, Things I Liked About Man of Steel:
  • The cast. Henry Cavill is likeable, he has a certain gravitas and manages to be both clean-cut and a bit broody - a good sense of suppressed power. Amy Adams is always lovely. Even Russell Crowe only slightly gnaws the scenery. And if Michael Shannon's Zod is a cardboard cut-out villain, I think that's because Zod is a cardboard cut-out villain and the script is very definitely a cardboard cut-out script.
  • The visuals. The Krypton sequences are full-on space opera: the visual feel is striking and effective, all bulbous spaceships and strange multi-winged riding beasts. It has my vote. As, in fact, does Superman's new outfit, which is darker and more textured in tone, and feels rather less spandexy.
  • Clark discovering flight, which he does joyously, by speeding madly around the earth. Pure wish fulfilment, very happy-making.

Things I Didn't Like About Man of Steel:
  • The fact that they gave it to Zach Snyder, see above. The Superman mythos is dear to my heart as a result of indelible teen imprinting, and should be cherished rather than ravished.
  • The script. They do this unbelievable thing in the Krypton introduction where there is what appears to be an entirely random confluence of (a) Zod's eugenics-inspired attempted coup against the Council with (b) Jor-El and Lara's defiance of Krypton's pod-baby status quo to engender the first natural birth in thousands of years, and (c) the planet exploding, and I found myself sitting there thinking, good grief, that's a plethora of completely disconnected plots, can't you pick one? But apparently not. The same gratuitous proliferation of motives characterises the rest of the script, which is also prone to emotional beats which are no more than half-arsed and more than somewhat tone-deaf. Christopher Bloody Nolan has script credit, he should damned well know better. Although I suppose I never liked his Batman very much, either.
  • Profoundly and centrally, the film's gratuitous neglect of proper Superman morality in favour of completely unexamined swathes of excessive and gleeful destruction. Central to the Superman mythos is the exploration of superhuman power: what it means, how to use it, the responsibility it implies to protect the weak and innocent. Superman vs. Kryoptonian bad guys are really OTT action sequences, in which they can't simply punch each other, they have to punch each other through half a dozen skyscrapers or into random trains, factories, helicopters or articulated trucks, see subject line. By the end of it the city is almost skeletonised - I have never seen so many toppling skyscrapers in my life, and I have a serious disaster movie fetish. You cannot have Superman kill thousands and inflict billions in property damage as a backdrop to his fights, without apparently noticing. Nor can you pay token attention to it by putting a random group of hammy extras in front of Zod's eye-beams for five seconds while Supes looks anguished. Sheer tokenism. Destruction of the city by Old Kryptonians duking it out should be a profound moral dilemma right there, not an item of scenery. It is a profoundly disturbing aspect of contemporary blockbuster film and its reliance on CGI that it's become easy to destroy things wholesale - you no longer have to work for your violence or justify it in terms of the plot, you can just slosh it in there as though it means nothing. Zach Snyder's always had a torrid and obsessive affair with his CGI, but he can't do it to Superman. Not cricket. This film made me snort in disgust a whole lot, and apostrophise Zach Snyder as a drunken two-bit hack rather more than I care to. Which is a pity, because Krypton's pretty.

Subject line from Douglas Adams, Restaurant at the End of the Universe, describing the classic Disaster Area song lyrics, boy-being meets girl-being beneath silvery moon etc. This is a favourite catch-phrase of mine, although I tend to misremember it as "which then, for no adequately defined reason, explodes", which I honestly think has a better cadence, anyway.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Things Which Feel Odd:

  1. Climbing back into your driver's seat after picking the car up from the car wash. Someone else has driven it. The seat and the rear-view mirror are in the wrong place, and it inevitably takes me about three traffic lights to adjust them so they feel right. But the whole car has a strange air of the indefinably alien. Something's different, but you can't tell what it is. It isn't your space any more. (Although it's certainly cleaner).
  2. Spending a happy half hour noodling around on the piano (currently I'm trying to play Arcade Fire, a project doomed to failure owing to their texture fetish, which means you actually need six hands, twelve people and a violin to have any stab at reproducing the sound) and then trying to type. I both type and play with some facility, fast, and without looking at my hands, and apparently cross-wiring happens. My fingers keep trying to do arpeggios instead of QWERTY. I have to consciously rein them in for a bit before all the right circuits click in. Very odd feeling.
  3. Christmas in July. Particularly when we're even more disorganised than usual, and it was actually Christmas in July in August in September in October. That is, last night. Roast chicken and ham and all the trimmings and Jo did barszcz and uszka for starters (garlicky Polish beet soup with mushroom dumplings, for both of which I have an unholy passion) and I made chocolate berry trifle (because Christmas pudding is of the divvil), and we ate and drank too much and pulled crackers and exchanged ridiculous presents in large quantities, and listened to Annie Lennox sing English Christmas carols. It feels odd and wrong, though, because it's all the good bits of Christmas, and none of its socially-mandated unpleasant ones. No enormous awkward obligatory extended family jamborees with added fighting and guilt trips, or expensive present expectations which entail battling the consumerist hordes through acres of tinsel and product-pushing. Although I did go forth and buy myself an actual Blu-Ray home theatre system this morning, to replace our almost-defunct hi-fi, which was a conscious decision to spend my November bonus early and thus was almost Christmas-shoppy. Except for me, not other people. Feels odd.

Subject line from Arcade Fire's "Wasted Hours", which is for the most part not actually thematically appropriate at all but was on my mind and is a gentle, wistful, beautiful thing. Also, I think googling how to spell "barszcz" has infected me, I keep trying to blockquote this paragraph by typing "blokqvote".
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
There's that annoying little intersection near our home, where there's a stop street to the access road before the main yield to the major road. I always stop at the stop street, because cars tend to peel off madly from the main road and dive diagonally into the access road in front of me without warning. So yesterday I paused in my usual restrained and law-abiding sort of fashion according to my Lawful Good, and the complete idiot in a souped-up Corolla with a black paint job and mag wheels came roaring up behind me and overtook me at the stop street as I was pulling off. I slammed on anchors enough to miss him, probably with centimetres to spare, and engaged in a few seconds of extremely unladylike behaviour during which hooting, shouted imprecations and the employment of the middle finger may have featured. (I am a little tense at the moment, because work, but also because I am not driving legally and a collision would ramify into serious nastiness).

There is a point to this anecdote other than bloody bad drivers - bloody bad drivers are a fact of life and hardly worthy of comment. The point is that I drove behind this idiot for the next five or ten minutes in traffic, addressing to him an angry monologue which cast aspersions wholesalely on his ancestry, personal hygiene, mental processes, life choices, taste and moral standing, with added hand gestures and a considerable degree of non-Wiccan-approved ill-wishing which with any luck will cause all four of his fancy tyres to explode just in time for his car to be stolen while his wife leaves him for a rally driver and the police ticket him for dangerous driving. The fun thing is that he was doing exactly the same thing to me. I could see his hands waving, and he kept glaring at me in his rear-view mirror as I lurked behind him mouthing abuse. We were having this sort of virtual, abstracted shouting match which was actually weirdly satisfying despite being completely intangible and disconnected. As road rage responses go, it was relatively non-destructive, although beautifully illustrative of that strange power-trip driver thing where it's automatically the other person's fault. (It was totally his fault. I mean, really. What was he angry about? that I stopped at a stop street? good grief.)

Work is hell, I am utterly exhausted and still somewhat husky, and I am responding to the dear gazelles by mutating into a grumpy grizzly bear. Life is full of seething hordes of people who don't read my notices, something I take personally. Even the advisors are doing it. There is frustration. But after this week things settle down and I may once again be human. [livejournal.com profile] librsa just gently pointed out that I'm hardly blogging and not seeing anyone, which I fear is to be expected at this time of year. I will send up flags when humanity is restored.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am sternly informed by my fellow New Year celebrants from last night that I am not in fact permitted to consider the burglary the first act of the new year, but the last act of the old one. To which I say, gee, thanks, 2012. Way to exit with an over-dramatic flounce like a complete arsehole.

We had the usual giant multi-course New Year meal for eight of us last night at jo&stv's, which was just getting into gear around Course 3 (those amazing Vietnamese rice-paper spring rolls Jo made after stealing my cookbooks for inspiration) and my third glass of champagne (needle indicates "slightly incoherent but passionate holding forth about fan fiction" on the drunk-o-metre) when a complicated concatenation of events caused Karen to phone Jo to tell her to tell me that the house had been broken into. It appears the bastards kicked down the front door, rushed in while the alarm wailed, stole the television (again) and Winona (my netbook - woe!) and ran away quickly before the armed response arrived, which they apparently did in under three minutes. ADT hauled in the police, but repeated phoning of my cell was bootless as it was in another room and we were making a fair amount of noise. (Phoning the Evil Landlord was absolutely bootless as he's hiking somewhere in the Cedarburg and is likely to be entirely without either reception or the actual phone). So the nice policewoman apparently sat in the house for an hour twiddling her thumbs in between phoning down the entirety of the list of numbers tacked up next to the phone, which is how she reached Karen, who phoned Jo.

It all makes perfect sense, really. For a given value of "sense". Given that this was at about 10.30pm, my apologies to anyone else who was randomly phoned. (Including the Evil Landlord's sister, who came rushing through from Paarl as a result of a garbled voicemail just as everything was over and we were departing to resume our rightful year-end gourmandising). The Nice Next-Door Neighbour is of the opinion that the unfortunate officer was prodded into the above slightly excessive action by Mrs. Cake, who was rampaging around in her usual busybody fashion when I arrived, and it does seem in character.

I am beyond pissed off. New Year's Eve is logical if you're a burglar, everyone is either out or drunk, but it's bloody rude, and we ended up delaying Robbi and Vi's delectable smoked ribs main course by over an hour. I was deeply attached to Winona, and hadn't backed up the last two hours of LARP writing I did on her, which is making me spit. The TV was six months old, we'd just replaced it after the last burglary, and I shudder to think how the insurance premiums are going to skyrocket. The front door is trashed, the security gate is trashed, and I spent the night at Jo&Stv's rather than alone in a house I couldn't lock properly, fretting about the cats and the unspecified hordes doubtless carrying the house contents off into the night. (Fortunately they didn't).

The marvellous handyman sort of person Claire's dad unearthed for me has just left, having hauled himself out to work cheerfully on New Year's day for a complete stranger, and equally cheerfully accepted whatever the hell I wanted to pay him as he didn't think he'd achieved much. (I showered him with everything in my wallet). Since the security gate tends to the cheap and nasty his efforts to repair the lock were fruitless, but he has nailed the security gate to the front door frame, which means I'll have to do all entrance and exits via the back courtyard and the shed for a bit, but am unlikely to be murdered in my bed tonight unless they bring Grond or a tank or something. I feel very maiden-in-tower. Fetch me flowing golden locks and a prince, stat.

There is probably a stern Dutch Uncle talk I shall be giving the Evil Landlord in the near future, once he's staggered back from his four-day hike, which will entail pointed requests for a better security gate on the front door, a serious repair to the door frame, which has now been multiply splintered by callous door-kickers-down, and something baroque involving electric fencing. This morning's breakfast with Jo&Stv featured blueberry pancakes*, on the grounds that there were blueberries left over from last night's dessert, and a spirited debate on the relative merits of moats, bear traps, bears, bears in boats**, alligators, sentry guns, and something more lethal which explodes the heads of any unauthorised personnel over 20kg in weight, suggesting we'd be fine barring incursions of midget ninjas or (Jo's rather rude contribution) Hobbit.

I need to do That Post, all year-end reflective and resolvey, but right now I'm too narked. However - and I say this with something of forced cheer - happy new year.



* New recipe I wanted to try for the hell of it. I approve.
** I have no idea. We did conclude that the bear traps would probably simply sink.

train in vain

Tuesday, 27 November 2012 03:56 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Today was distinguished by complete handout-construction panic in pursuit of the three training meetings I am running in the next two days, and was interrupted by (a) a meeting that was pointless because I know all about everything that was covered, and (b) a meeting that was pointless because everyone else should have damned well known all about everything that was covered. The degree of confusion among our faculty godly bods about basic faculty procedures brings me out in a rash. I have had no time to drink tea, read my email or catch up on my webcomics, and am entering an elevated state of twitch. Also, now my handouts are not the things of elevated beauty and utility I prefer to bestow on my trainees. Phooey.

As a result of all of the above I am lashing my tail in a leopardine fashion and preparing to bite all comers. This has caused me a Revelation, viz. that there actually exists a legitimate and possible use for Tom Cruise, in that tonight I plan to feed my grump by watching Mission Impossible: whatever the latest one was called and growling at idiots. All this annoyance has to go somewhere, and he's a worthy target. Also, bonus Hawkeye!
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Apparently there are mutant ninja Catholics in my family tree. Or, possibly, just Calvinists. Either way, there's a hell of a lot of guilt going on. Things about which I am currently guilty: my lack of communication with the house agent in France because I'm afraid if I email her she'll say she's no longer my agent; the blasted-heath state of the garden; my complete failure to do anything resembling exercise for the last couple of years; my lack of blogging; the way my poor little car billows smoke out from under her hood after driving for longer than five minutes; and my inability to replace her owing to a rooted reluctance to provoke the insurance gods by buying a new car while still driving illegally on a non-existent Zimbabwean driver's licence, an ancient and expired certificate of competency and a South African learners. Oh, and, of course, the driving illegally. I outrage my own Lawful Good on a daily basis. It's probably doing me untold damage on the astral plane.

In slightly mitigating pursuit of the driver's licence, I have attained the preliminary step of the aforementioned learner's licence, which was annoying but not too difficult to achieve, even given my grad student intellectual perfectionism which means I still haven't quite forgiven myself for getting three questions wrong out of a hundred. (They were multiple choice. There's no excuse.) I have also embarked on a series of lessons with a rather lovely driving instructor lady with a throaty contralto voice and a pleasing air of unflappable calm, neither of which are consoling me for the lessons, which I loathe and abhor with the fiery passion of a thousand suns.

Driving a car is a particularly strange and powerful psychological process. Apparently most people identify themselves as good drivers regardless of actual skill, which I think has something to do with the weird process of identification and body schema which causes a driver to extend their own body sense to encompass the car itself. (This is why even a minor rear-ending in slow traffic causes homicidal rage: it's a personal space invasion akin to a complete stranger slapping your butt unexpectedly). And having your self suddenly extend to a tonne or so of hyper-engineered metal and plastic with pleasing curves and superhuman speed capabilities is a massive power trip, a heady extension of agency no less effective for being routine. (This is why Iron Man is such a powerful archetype, and is probably at least partly why the movies make so much money).

I've always loved driving, not just the speed and independence but the interaction with the car, the sense of co-operation; I listen a lot to a car's engine note, I enjoy that mutual responsiveness of driver and machine. So it's a truly horrible and dispiriting experience to encounter the quite ridiculous demands of the K53 driving test, and to feel, after 25 years of driving, like a troglodytic and ham-fisted amateur. 25 years will allow you, apparently, to build up some really awful driving habits. I do things in the wrong order, I ride my clutch, I never use the handbrake, I appear to routinely roll back about an inch without noticing while taking off, and I am to date absolutely incapable of rewriting my hardwired routines to meld corrections to all of the above with the particularly bizarre and impossible set of observations the K53 requires of its hapless victims. I now have a permanent crick in the neck from blind-spot checking, and an abusive relationship with my rear-view mirror. Attempts to grok the K53 are not only making me temporarily into a truly terrible driver, they're also inculcating me with the belief that there's no actual way I'll ever pass the damn thing without heavily bribing the examiner, which is not an option owing to sheer bloody-mindedness as much as the Lawful Good.

In short, aargh. The guilt levels are not assisted by the fact that the hatred of these lessons is sufficient to cause severe avoidance, which means I've not got around to phoning for the next appointment since approximately Thursday. Any of you who see me in Real Life might do me the favour of prodding me gently and asking reproachfully about driving lessons. I may growl, but it's for my own good.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)


Apparently. He actually looks it, from the photo. A shy person peering at the world from a self-effacing corner of the window, and vaguely hoping it'll go away without noticing.

I can relate, being as how I am homicidally grumpy again. I blame Spring, which is annoying me with (a) the inexorable march of the year, now with added upward student angst, (b) the rise in temperature, and (c) a continually prickly nose and ongoing feeling that my skin is hot and too tight. Pollen. Evil stuff. (Interesting factoid, however: Sex Pollen interludes are apparently a well-defined subgenre in superhero fanfic. Presumably the more supremely dodgy ones.)
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
There's been a big red ABSA poster up in my corridor for two weeks, advertising some sort of graduate development programme. It has a little mathematical conundrum on it, which reads as follows:

2+3=10
7+2=63
6+5=66
8+4=96
9+7=?

This bugged me for a couple of days, as I dashed madly past it in Hellweek flurries, and eventually I stopped and looked at it properly. 9+7 in this context probably equals 144, but I'm curious - is this a strange and random ABSA pattern-recognition game, or some sort of recognised mathematical procedure with a label of its own? I'm thinking the former, mainly because it apparently works with my vaguely organic pattern-recognition brain. Structuralist study of narrative does weird things to the pattern recognition.

Apparently the cosmic reward of being determinedly and successfully nice to students all last week (only one slight slip-up in the last few hours of Friday) is that I'm grumpy as hell this week. Then again, this week they're trying to do stupid, illegal things which show they haven't read the notices. I am becoming progressively more crone-like and codgerish about non-notice-reading gazelles.

And, in other news, it's August! aargh! I still have to finish two papers in less than three weeks, although I do pretty much know what I want to say and how I want to say it, which helps. However, a new month also means the monthly assault on another prevalent vice, namely unmarked quotation.

  • 4th July: I am quoting, of course, "As time goes by", which will now proceed to ear-worm me for a couple of days and give me a random, rootless desire to re-watch Casablanca. Than which, I suppose, there are worse things. I woke up this morning with A-ha's "Take on me" on the brain, for no adequately defined reason, so I should count my blessings. Anyway, it was also an egregious but slightly lateral pun on both the passage of time and fundamental particles, since I was burbling about the Higgs boson at the time. (Absolutely the best and most definitive response to the Higgs boson is, of course, from Scenes from a Multiverse. Of course they're conspiring. With cigarettes dangling out the corners of their mouths.)
  • 9th July. As any fule kno, this is a quote from the Mutant Enemy zombie logo at the end of Joss Whedon productions, and anyone who didn't recognise it should be properly ashamed. Ashamed, I say! *waves unreasonable geeky fangirl flag with unrepentant chauvinism*
  • 13th July. I have no idea what I was doing here, other than conflating Joss Whedon randomly with incense. Why, I can't say. I don't like incense.
  • 15th July. I wish I could say I was quoting Walt Whitman, but in fact I'm quoting Robin Williams in, of course, Dead Poet's Society, and once more I cannot say why, I can't stand the film. While being, of course, one hundred percent behind the idea of captains. Notwithstanding which, there seems to be a certain level of masochism in this month's subject line choices.
  • 18th July. This one was for [livejournal.com profile] wolverine_nun, who knows as well as I do that this comes from Flanders and Swann, "The Gasman Cometh", and I have no doubt that a select but gratifying number of you also recognised it. I couldn't give tuppence for all of the rest.
  • 23rd July. We used to play and sing this in guitar club at school - mountain folk song about the miner's life, which is insanely catchy and which I suspect I've quoted before. Both the Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Johnny Cash versions are jauntier than I remember it being, we tended to sing it a bit more like a dirge. Well, obviously. "Another day older and deeper in debt", after all.
  • 25th July. Oh, dear. I am quoting Bobby McFerrin. I seem to do insane amounts of research for these subject line glosses, and this batch has revealed that the 1988 hit version is actually completely a capella, which I never realised before and which makes me very happy indeed.
  • 26th July. My contractually obligated David Bowie quote. I was ridiculously proud of the thematic fit in this one, given that post was about Tom Cruise and the lyrics are from "I'm Deranged", and at various points insist that not only is it funny how secrets travel, but "It's the angel-man" and "Cruise me babe".
  • 29th July. Omar Khayyám, who has, as evinced by outbreaks of bloggery in November and December 2005, has a quote for absolutely everything.

This week's quotation round-up brought to you courtesy of hopeless inconsequentiality, and a headache. Now I go to fend students off with a crowbar and meet my Deanly-requested teaching and learning report-construction doom.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
The ceiling in the foyer outside my campus office randomly fell in the other day. This is both ironic and inevitable, as the building has been rendered hideous for most of this year by the merry crash of scaffolding being erected, the merry crash of scaffolding being dismantled, the thumps and joyous cries of builders chipping plaster off walls, likewise for builders slapping plaster onto walls, the headache-inducing smell of paint fumes, and the intermittent, ground-shaking, skull-invading roar of angle-grinders, jackhammers and other industrial monstrosities one shouldn't encounter outside of Einstürzende Neubauten. Side effects have included gents on scaffolding outside the ladies' loo, gents on scaffolding breaking the windows in the ladies' loo, a sort of involuntary Gothic outbreak in the courtyards where the builders constructed the post-structuralist art installation draped in black roofing material, and a continuous, tenuous, palpable film of dust over the back of my throat.

Now that it's all over, the outside of the building looks wonderful, and I am relieved to note that they have replaced the supports of the Classics balcony. (One of the first things the builders did was to remove the wooden cladding around the base of the metal poles, revealing that they were rusted through to leave about a 2cm pitted central core supporting the edifice. Fortunately balcony and Classics professors are all still present and accounted for. I like the Classics department.) However, all the jarring has clearly mounted a sneak shockwave attack on the structural integrity of the ceilings and floors, and we have the sudden descent of several square metres of plaster just in time for innumerable droves of undergraduates to stand in precisely that spot while we sign their forms to change their course registrations. It all seems somehow Meant. Fated. Because of course it'll happen like that.

On the other hand, enough students have been driving me homicidally insane in the last couple of days that I'd rather relish dropping ceilings on them. The narcissistic bubble occupied by your average post-adolescent would depress me profoundly if I wasn't rather sadistically relishing my awareness of the way it's going to be ruthlessly burst by their experiences of the Big Bad World over the next decade or so. I figure that being snarled at by a wild-eyed advisor figure crouched dragon-like over her desk is probably good practice. My bad temper, let me show you it. It's for your own good.

Other than ceiling collapses, the usual pile of student corpses and a rather high exhaustion level, life is rendered more pleasant than it might otherwise be by the presence of my mother, who is inhabiting the house with her customary unobtrusive cheer. Of course, the ceiling of the guestroom collapsed right on schedule the day before she arrived, owing to the heavy rain and a breakdown of a famous Evil Landlord/Heath Robinson leak collection contraption in the ceiling, and we only rendered the guestroom habitable in time by dint of serious heater action. I'm sensing a theme here. Probably the one from The Amityville Horror.

grrr, aargh

Monday, 9 July 2012 10:58 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am catastrophically grumpy this morning, mostly because of (a) waking up, and (b) spending an hour in the traffic department after getting lost twice in the rain, failing dismally to book a learner's licence. (Because I didn't allow enough time for queuing in the wrong queue to pay, being told I should be in the other queue for the eye test, and realising I didn't have time to re-queue before my first plaintive student of the day). In retrospect, I am also homicidally grumpy because (c) the traffic department has clearly violated my religious principles, viz. LOTS OF CLEAR, UNEQUIVOCAL NOTICES TELLING YOU EXACTLY WHERE YOU NEED TO BE. I could probably sue them for abrogating my constitutional rights.

I am possibly also imitating the surly action of the badger because I'm halfway through the extended ending to Mass Effect 3 and have stopped in sheer boredom. Because really, being told exactly why in excruciating detail the three choices you have are equally lousy and don't allow you to role-play your character with any consistency, does not in any way prevent them from being three equally lousy choices. I have decided that I am probably mostly furious because the only choice which would allow my Shepard to live is a no-no in roleplaying terms, and I strenuously object to a game which requires that I rescind any further imaginative investment in the character via a pointless death I have no way of intelligently avoiding. If I want pointless death, there's a lot of real life for that. I thus have very little motivation to actually complete the game, as the imaginative investment ends the moment I do. Phooey.

On the upside, however, my mother arrives from the UK tomorrow, which is a Good Thing. I am also booked with plane tickets and accommodation for the Great Dual Conference Trip in August/September, am surprisingly unbankrupted by above, and almost have a Nesbit paper for the one. The other paper is on Catherynne Valente poetry and I kinda know what I want to say, so levels of academic angst about the whole thing are pleasantly low. Also, being a keynote speaker at the last one was a pleasing exercise in perspective. These two papers are 20-minuters, and I am a fundamentally obscure academic so no-one will really care if they're not plug-you-in-the-eye wonderful. It's a remarkably liberating feeling which bizarrely increases the chance that, joyously unpressured, I will actually write a good paper.

On a related note, I am planning on being in London for a sort of quantum period somewhere between the 1st and 5th September, and propose to drift happily between as many different venues as wish to see me and are able to offer me a horizontal surface upon which to sleep. Offers gratefully received, and will instantly solidify the quantum dates by observation.

taking it personally

Monday, 2 July 2012 01:29 pm
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Circumstances of late have conspired to give me a sudden need to be Randomly Feminist. This is mostly about a confluence of recent articles bouncing hither and yon across the 'net, but last night I also dreamed I had a massive argument with Tony Stark about my complete refusal to wear high heels, so there's that.

  • This is Bruce Sterling's Alan Turing Centenary speech, which boingboing linked to in a general "hooray Bruce Sterling Seminal SF Writer" sort of way, thereby causing me momentary insecurity and confusion. Because, while I kinda see what Sterling is trying to do there in terms of his address to Turing's marginal identity and the complexity of identity in the context of the Turing test, I also spent two days going "Huh?" and trying to work out what I was missing that boingboing obviously got. Boingboing is usually pretty sussed on gender issues, and it weirded me out that they linked without comment when I found Sterling's argument so problematical in its unthinking assumption of pretty reactionary ideas about gender identity.

    On the whole, I think I blame boingboing for not being more alert. You can't ask the question “can a computational system be a woman?” without first asking the question "what is a woman?", i.e. addressing the issues of stereotype and patriarchy and acculturation over biology and what have you. This is, I think, what Sterling is really trying to do, in suggesting that you can't expect machine consciousness to develop without lived experience, but he signally fails to do it in any sort of way which shows awareness of his own limited sense of "feminine identity". The paragraph which really got my goat:

    The two women are going to feel deep sympathy and solidarity with this tortured, alien creature who so much wants to be a woman, while having zero chance of ever having a woman’s lived experience. This entity is a woman who will never be beloved, was never a daughter, sister, wife or mother. This woman never nurtured anyone, never had so much as a pet cat. She never danced, never sang a song, never felt the sun on her skin, could not comfort a weeping child, could not weep at the graveside of her parents, never got a smile, a compliment, never saw her own face in the mirror…
    Because clearly women are all about emotion and nurture and beauty and mirrors and an experience of marginality. Only women are wounded, and might therefore empathise with a subject machine intelligence. And more horribly, only women have "identity" which is separated in some sense from intelligence or cognition - i.e. highlighting the importance of identity in cognition is done by talking about female identity, not male, because male cognitive identity is naturalised. In his efforts to problematise the idea of identity, Sterling basically re-enacts the "men do intelligence, women do emotion" trope as an extremely troubling binary assumption.

    And who the hell is Sterling to start defining "a woman's lived experience"? Why is a woman's experience necessarily about dancing and mirrors and comforting children? Can't our experience also encompass joy in simultaneous equations and running a business and driving fast cars? The world at large has never paid attention to the "woman" part of Turing's question because it's either, if you address it as Sterling does, a bloody stupid question, or, if you address it properly, it requires that you identify a machine intelligence by its ability to imbibe, digest and construct itself via about two thousand years of global culture and power relations shaping biological function as they impact on its moment of creation as a consciousness. Which may have been Turing's point, and is certainly the point Sterling is trying to make, but I don't think Sterling actually gets why it's such a tricky one, or why his own blithe assumptions about identity (and gender and hormones, oy vey) are so incomplete.

    Also, to assume that a gay man is necessarily either "feminine" or "effeminate" is quite horrifyingly unthinking. And appears to have no real point. Honestly, as [livejournal.com profile] pumeza and Confluency pointed out on Twitter, the main problem with his speech is that its argument is completely incoherent.

  • So, to balance things out a bit, have Nora Ephron's 1996 Wellesley commencement speech. Which kicks butt, or more specifically, stomps blinkered post-feminism righteously into the mud. By way of an antidote paragraph:

    One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don't take it personally, but listen hard to what's going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: Every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks are the words: Get back, get back to where you once belonged. When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn't serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move to limit abortion rights is an attack on you—whether or not you believe in abortion.
    When a highly-regarded science fiction writer, a member of a usually thoughtful and politically aware group, makes stupid stereotypical assumptions about gender identity, it's a kick in the damned teeth, is what it is. Kick back. Also, mourn Nora Ephron. She knew.


(Edited 2/07 to clarify a couple of points in which my own incoherence was annoying me.)

bibliophibian

Wednesday, 9 May 2012 07:59 pm
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I had a weird and slightly horrible experience yesterday, which was to wander into the university library in order to dig books out of their stacks. The nice library assistant person who checked my record (and to whom I have definitely given curriculum advice in the last year or so) revealed that I last took books out over a year ago. This is not quite as sad as it sounds: it's not that I'm not doing Serious Academic Stuff, it's just that these days I seem to do the Serious Academic Stuff either from online versions of journal articles, or (given the peripheral and non-pc-in-the-SA-context nature of my interests), by simply ordering copies of the books for myself. The academic landscape has been radically transformed both by the contemporary movement into virtual idea-exchange, and by my still rather new and bizarre possession of disposable income.

What it did mean, though, was that I haven't tried to use the library for actual research since they did a huge re-arrange of it at the start of last year (bang, may I add, in the middle of my orientation programme's attempt to put 1300 students through library tours in two weeks. The confusion was indescribable). It's a very swish space now, all comfy chairs and fancy wall-mounted computer monitors, and filled with studious students umbilically attached to laptops. What you don't see when you first wander in, though, is any particularly striking number of books. The main area has become a reference collection, with no shelves above about waist height (and it's not real L-space until they're over your head) and a lot of computers and info desks. I couldn't find the 800s section where I am wont to hang out. They'd moved it into the subterranean lair that used to hold the older journal issues. I cannot help but find this worryingly significant.

And they're breaking up the Special Collections libraries, including the speculative fiction collection we originated back in the Tolkien Society days, and which has grown in the interim, by the efforts of its wonderful librarian, into a significant chunk of genre material, both primary and secondary. You have to study sf/fantasy in genre, not scattered in isolation across vast tracts of the Dewey. It's about writing in community and context, and particularly in the academic sense, if you don't appreciate that, you're lost. But clearly non-pc-non-South-African collections Take Up Space even more than other categories of books, and are therefore expendable.

I am very much a denizen of the internet, and I couldn't survive academically or intellectually without it, but I also can't help feeling that something has been lost. For a start, I shouldn't be alienated by my own library. I grew up in this library, all the way from a titchy undergrad and right through the rigours of a PhD. It should be my home planet, the warm seas or intellectual air through which I breathe or swim. I should be at home in its most involuted and space-warping corners. If I have become disconnected from it by a process of abstraction, my intellectual pursuits all solitary and virtual, then I am no longer at home among its musty stacks. And anyway, they seem to have shrunk. Does the virtual realm even have L-space? Its own twisty byways, certainly, but not created by the sheer weight of words on paper in the way a proper library does. And I shudder to contemplate the virtual version of a .303 bookworm. You don't want to meet a .404 hollowpoint bitcruncher in a dark corner.

It is deeply significant that enormous piles of books are the one thing in the multiverse I don't mentally classify as cluttery, and therefore undesirable, stuff. And libraries damned well shouldn't, either.

Hulk? smash!

Monday, 30 April 2012 11:51 am
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Ways in which The Avengers, seen yesterday at Cavendish, was precisely calculated to elicit outbreaks of geeky and fangirly glee:

  1. Trailer for The Hobbit. Squeee! (The dwarves singing still makes me cry.)
  2. Trailer for Prometheus. It looks both gritty and beautiful, and I will overcome my dislike of being scared in movies to actually see it.
  3. Trailer for Spiderman. I like Spidey, and anything has to be better than Tobey McGuire.
  4. Trailer for Men in Black III. Even if it's terrible, the essential good nature both of the movie and of its stars is likely to make it watchable. Also, aliens ftw. And, could the summer releases be any more geek-friendly? We've mainstreamed. Oo, er.
  5. The movie. Joss Whedon is my master now. That was a perfect balance of character development, humour, pathos and severely kick-butt action. Wheee. I shall probably dissect it at length anon, but I'm still cogitating.
Ways in which watching The Avengers in Cavendish was precisely calculated to eject me from the cinema growling and swearing and gnashing my teeth at passing kiddies:

  1. The 3-D. While this was nicely handled in the movie, I deeply and fundamentally object to the darkness of picture which inevitably results. Cavendish's light levels are always too low anyway, and there were tracts of this which were murky beyond belief. I will be delaying my re-watch until someone puts it on in 2-D.
  2. The ham-fisted and oblivious incompetence of the Cavendish projector team, who turned the lights on full halfway through the mid-credit scene, rendering it both illegible and inaudible as two-thirds of the audience immediately started talking and leaving. I also have no idea if there was the usual post-credits easter egg, as there was no point in waiting for a tantalising washed-out glimpse. The level of fury this has engendered in me is slightly worrying. They may as well have replaced the entire credits with a large sign reading "YOUR EXPERIENCE FAR LESS IMPORTANT THAN YOUR SPEEDY EJECTION IN FAVOUR OF THE NEXT LOT OF BUTTS ON SEATS".
  3. The inutterable twit who insisted on waiting for my parking place as I was leaving, blocking the road and forcing me to approach the ticket machine at right angles and necessitating a lot of backing and filling in the middle of a stream of cars. I'm afraid I shouted rude words at him.
It's actually bizarre how badly the lights-on thing wrecked my experience of the movie. The easter eggs are a sort of geeky in-joke, and staying for them is an expression both of insider knowledge and of investment in the text, both of which the unspeakably malignant cinema is obliviously slapping in the face. I swear, most of my future watching is going to be on the DVD version, and I hope Ster-Kinekor, its empty cinemas and all its bloody incompetent ilk sink gently into the sea.

On the other hand, mad props to the actual 6 students in my class this morning. There should be about 40, but on a Monday between public holidays I was expecting about 3, and I'll cheerfully settle for twice that.
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Tuesday wol occurs in handfuls! I can't even remember who linked this. Possibly [livejournal.com profile] first_fallen.



Other than that, I got nuttin'. Change of curriculum is over, and the corridor outside my office is littered with the bleeding, savaged corpses of students who didn't read the notices. I seem to be excessively grumpy. On the upside, chilli chocolate steak at Bombay Bicycle Club last night. Also, happy birthday the Jo!

Subject line, of course, is Goats. Goats: overclocking your lemons since 1997. Good grief. Who even remembers 1997?
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Given that I am frequently guilty of theorising in the approximate realm of postmodernism, it's not really fair or consistent for me to take umbrage at undue jargonising. But, dammit, it's my umbrage, and I'm jolly well taking it. I gloss airily over the manifest iniquities of management and pc-speak that infect many meetings I am obliged to attend, and the degree of mental conditioning required for an apparently adult human to use "way forward" or "synergy" in cold blood. What's narking me off right now is emails couched in what appears to be mutated business-speak, if the business concerned is semi-literate, narcissistic and unduly self-important.

Is it just me, or is it basically rude to send me an email which contains the sentence "Kindly correct the transcript accordingly"? Particularly if you're a student talking to me, and you're referring to the email confirming your qualified status I've just sent on your behalf, as a favour, and in the middle of registration. "Kindly" always annoys me. It's a smug, condescending little word, which positions the writer as being obviously in the right, pointing out a glaring error to a lesser mortal who should have dealt with it already. It has the nuance of righteous irritation. I occasionally use it, but only when I'm annoyed beyond belief and wish to convey same in superficially polite but trenchant prose to the object of my fury. From a student to me, the supposed authority, it's unbelievably arrogant: the tone assumes that the correction of course will obviously be made, because of course it's a stupid error which the student is kindly pointing out to me.

Gah. It's made me all twitchy. "Kindly" always makes me all twitchy. As do "Thank you for your earliest attention to this matter" and "Your soonest response appreciated." Because nothing I could possibly be doing could possibly be more important than your request.

Of course, it doesn't help that the same student has some specialised spelling affliction which renders him unable to spell "course" - it's "coarse" throughout, on multiple documents. It makes the whole thing seem rather dodgy.

But the fact that I'm here to whinge about trivialities means that, against the odds, I've survived another orientation and registration nominally unscathed, and with the piles of savaged student corpses acceptably low. If I can just totter through change of curriculum next week, there may yet be calmer waters beyond. And my boss gives me chocolate. It helps.
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Oh, dear, I have fallen in to Goats. I am already a die-hard fan of the writer's other comic strip, Scenes from a Multiverse, but Goats has been going since 1997, and there's a lot of completely surreal archive for me to peruse. I think I'm in around 2004; the artwork is definitely improving. My daily levels of surreal are now pleasingly high, inundated as they are by satanic chickens, kinky aliens, zombie fish, overclocked lemons, and adorable Vulcan bratwursts with nice sweaters.

Also, I like the name Toothgnip. It's fun to say. I may have to acquire another cat simply so I can christen it Toothgnip.

Mostly, however, it's amazingly comforting that I can chalk up the state of mind resulting from another exhausting day in a job I hate to space wizard battles. Explains a lot.
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So, yesterday I committed a stupidity. Well, really, technically I committed the opening stupidity on Monday, by having a truly horrendous migraine the whole day, which means actually I committed the stupidity several decades ago, in being born into a body which is permanently Scraaaatched in a number of creative and interesting ways. I haven't had a proper migraine since I was in undergrad, but the vague, dissociated migraine symptoms which have been randomly floating about all year (occasional horrible headache with nausea, occasional aura symptoms without headache) finally coincided on Monday with a distressing accuracy. I spent the morning throwing up. It wasn't pretty.

As a result of the above I was still headachy and nauseous on Tuesday, and trotted off to my lovely doctor for serious migraine meds, which, while zotting the headache in short order, caused me to be sleepy and spaced all afternoon. Under the influence of drugs I was thus insufficiently alert when the nice man rang the bell at the gate. He said he was working for the next door house, cutting bushes away from the telephone lines, and he needed access to the other side of the hedge from our side. In my vague and unthinking state, I let him in. I didn't even think about it when he asked for an extension cord, which I set up for him so he could use an electric trimmer. Since it started to bucket with rain about three seconds after he left to collect his tools, I wasn't even surprised when he didn't come back.

You've seen this coming. Sometime in the approximately 20 seconds during which my back was turned in fossicking for extension cords, this curiously plausible "workman" nicked my wallet and cellphone out of my handbag, which was in the study. This has left me poorer by a cellphone, about R400 in cash, all my bank cards, various store cards and, adding insult to injury, my Zimbabwean driver's licence. It has also left me gibbering slightly, along the lines of "oh gods what was I thinking, he could have raped and murdered me, aargh!", and tending to kick myself repeatedly while muttering self-directed imprecations about stupidity and uselessness.

I spent an hour phoning to cancel cards yesterday, and four hours replacing things this morning. The infernal bureaucracies involved in cellphone theft require that you go to the cellphone place to block the SIM and phone, then to the police with the block codes, then back to the cellphone place with a case number and affidavit to activate the cellphone insurance. Since I went to the police first - twice, because I forgot we fall under Mowbray rather than Rondebosch and went to the wrong precinct - I have thus visited the police three times and the MTN store twice this morning, as well as the bank. I have a new wallet, bank card and cellphone, the latter without undue outlay as by a bizarre coincidence my contract has just come up for renewal anyway. It's not really a consolation.

The complete bugger, however, is the driver's licence. Three seconds of halfway intelligent reflection suggest that it's going to be quicker and easier to simply apply for a South African learners and take the damned test than to try and extract a duplicate licence from the chaos that is Zimbabwe. I am, shall we say, unamused, although wryly aware that I had this coming, having failed dismally to apply for a South African licence on the basis of my Zim one for approximately the last decade.

It's all terribly "want of a nail". There's one tiny moment yesterday which is the hinge-pin of events, where if my fuzzy brain had simply swung one way rather than the other, the last 24 hours would have been much less stressful. When the man made his request I actually thought "I should tell him to ask his employer to phone me." Then I thought, but that's such a pain, and besides I might have to give Mrs. Cake Next Door my number, which is not going to end well, and the "nice and trusting, if somewhat drugged" response kicked in, so I let him in without actually thinking about it further. I shall not, shall we say, be doing that again. But I also rather resent the way in which this erodes my door response. Quite a lot of people who ring our doorbell aren't actually crooks, but they just lost the benefit of the doubt.

hydrocarbon Ragnarok

Saturday, 14 May 2011 10:01 am
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Still homicidally misanthropic, a state not improved by contemplating the need to interview 60 potential orientation leaders in three days next week after spending the weekend writing a report for the Dean. Eek. I console myself with random linkery, hoping thereby to also entertain you, because by gosh and by golly just at the moment in my own right I'm not entertaining at all. I also suspect I'm giving innocent Scrooges and serial killers the world over an undeserved bad name.

  • China Miéville does it again, where "it" entails being lyrically strange, wayward, incisively political, sad and haunting. I am completely seduced by this story, it has a beautiful, inscrutable and tragic inevitability, and some really weird literary echoes. Also, China Miéville is one of the few writers I can think of who could make the phrase "hydrocarbon Ragnarok" do so much work. Covehithe. You should read this.

  • Random Heartwarming Moment: Paul Simon makes a simple fan very, very happy by hauling her up on stage to sing and play guitar. She does pretty well, despite the inevitable hyperventilation. It's a sweet enough moment to penetrate even my current homicidal misanthropy.

  • Just for [livejournal.com profile] smoczek, chart porn. Many of these are witty and recursive to an extremely pleasing extent.

  • Fafblog, predictably enough, weighs in on bin Laden's death with the proper perspective. The mash-up of the "killed thing" with the royal wedding, while perfectly politically pointed in terms of media spectacle, cracked me up completely.

While I hate everything and everyone, I hope you have a lovely weekend. Please to raise a glass at some stage to my esteemed mother, whose birthday it is today - one she shares, weirdly enough, with the esteemed [livejournal.com profile] egadfly. Homicidally misanthropic felicitations to both of them.
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It's been a rude shock to come back to work after a ten-day break, particularly when my week has been rendered more than somewhat hideous by a continual stream of angsty student queries. My immediate response to a knock on my door has been instant, reflexive, homicidal rage, which I instantly have to choke down in order to be empathetic to their problems; this has resulted in increased homicidal impulses owing to frustration, and as a result a rather nasty feedback loop. It is also bringing out my worst hedgehoggy tendencies to contemplate the fact that, following a roleplaying game on Wednesday night and Salty Cracker expedition last night, I have [livejournal.com profile] khoi_boi's birthday dinner tonight, a LARP tomorrow and a dinner date for Sunday night. Five days of unrelieved socialising make Extemp a grumpy, grumpy thing. I apologise in advance if I accidentally dismember anyone in the next few days. Nothing personal.

That being said, last night's dinner was excellent (La Mouette has a winter special on their six-course tasting menu, highly recommended), and our Lady Blackbird game is continuing to be disreputably and chaotically hilarious. The game system allows for a minimal DM presence and considerable input from the players, three out of five of whom are experienced DMs, so we tend towards horribly complicating our own lives in inventive ways. There is, thank the aetheric space-jellyfish, reason to believe that my thoroughly annoying character may be showing signs of actual personal growth, and a concomitant drift away from rampant and entitled narcissism. We can hope, anyway. If not, the Pirate King is going to almost certainly have to spank her frequently just to remain sane. On the upside, detonator innuendo, a moodily-organ-playing captain, an asteroid field which grows evil vodka potatoes, experience points for disdain, and a pirate called Cholmondeley Veruca. "We have booby-trapped your ship, in the sense that we've sent Kale to fix your engines". Also, points to the (somewhat besotted) Captain for reflexively shooting the pirate who made personal remarks about Lady Blackbird. It was cute, and is directly contributing to her personal growth. Thank the gods.

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