a suffusion of yellow

Wednesday, 11 January 2017 08:43 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
For some bizarre reason my morning Earl Grey tastes faintly of coffee. This seems both unlikely and a little unfair. I don't think there is actually any coffee in the house.

Today is my last day of leave, which I propose to spend doing entirely self-indulgent things which probably include comfort-replaying something hack-and-slashy. It's been a lovely three weeks of leave, which have been characterised by a nice balance of achievement and goofing off.
  • I examined a PhD thesis, for the first time ever, which was pretty terrifying going in but actually doable, and I think I've done a reasonably fair and conscientious job despite large tracts of it being in an unfamiliar critical field.
  • I should have written a paper, but three days in I examined my conscience and state of energy, thought "Hell no" and withdrew from the collection, which made me feel guilty for about three seconds, and then enormously relieved; the editor was nice about it and the world did not end. (I also have to say that if there's a silver lining to the student protest cloud, it makes a magnificent excuse for not being able to do stuff).
  • I finished Portal, Portal 2 and Firewatch, all three of which were highly enjoyable.
  • I've managed over the holiday period to get back into exercising, which means I've been walking for about 40 mins daily, and am feeling much better for it.
  • And, notwithstanding water restrictions, I have madly grown a batch of gem squash plants and a mango seedling from seed, by virtue of randomly planting the remnants of various meals, watering them at erratic intervals, standing back and let the currently rather fierce African sun and my predilection for compost do their stuff.

By way of some faint point to this slightly vague and wandering post, have some random linkery.

  • This is an obituary for Leia Organa, rather nicely done.
  • This is an Ursula Vernon YA portal fantasy, evincing her characteristic combination of whimsy and down-to-earthness, and featuring a particularly virulent toxic mother figure. I loved it.
  • This, on the other hand, is an entirely adult, very dark, very freaky, very good Ursula Vernon horror story, finishing which made me go "Holy fuck!" out loud. There's feminist fairy-tale rewrites, and then there's ... this.

My subject line is a random Dirk Gently quote for no reason other than a vague association with multiplicity, and the fact that Tumblr has a current sideline in gifs from the new Dirk Gently tv series. It sounds completely off the wall, has anyone seen it?
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
For some reason the recent Garden XKCD won't load on my work computer, probably because complicated campus firewalls or something - you go to the page and all it gives you is a revolving tree silhouette with the word "LOADING" and a flashing ellipsis, with the mouseover "Relax." I thought that was the whole strip, and it was perfect - that's exactly what you do with a garden, relax and wait for everything to load.

Currently I am delighting in a random corner of my real-life container garden which is slowly and carefully loading three butternut squash plants, the result of me, in a fit of pique at having an entire tray of baby marrow seedlings eaten off at ground level by cutworm, madly planting 6 seeds from a butternut I happened to have for dinner one evening. I'm fairly useless at seeds, a 50% germination rate is bloody good by my standards, but as long as I can keep the neighbourhood tomcat from jumping on them in the course of his flee-the-garden escape route when I shout at him for stealing my cats' food and/or spraying in the passage, they seem to be doing well. In the meanwhile, the XKCD comic is growing things under lights on my home computer, although I cannot as yet persuade it to produce anything other than a row of identical boring trees. I love the way Randall Munroe's mind works, the controls for the lights are elegantly simple.

In a tangentially related note (technological replications of biological processes?), I give you Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group, because delightful. They solemnly and meticulously catalogue the taxonomical classifications of the little plastic widgets used to close bread bags.

In other news also not unentirely related to the unduly artificial mechanical replication of actual life processes, last night Machete Order brought us to re-watch Attack of the Clones. I had honestly forgotten (a) most of the movie, I clearly blanked it in sheer self-defence, and (b) how utterly terrible a film it is. Seriously: the plot sucks, the script blows, the dialogue is beyond lame and unnatural, the greenscreen is ungodly clunky, the "romance" "plot" is the unconvincing bumping together of two wooden effigies, one of them loutish, and the whole represents the utter triumph of overbudgeted CGI over reason, taste or the faintest replication of actual life. Unsurprisingly, given that it focuses on the CGI clashes of droids and clones rather than actual people, the whole thing can be summed up with "Newsflash: I don't care." Honestly, George, it takes a special level of anti-skill to make giant battles between droids, clones and Jedi knights actually boring.

We still have to endure Revenge of the Sith, although probably only when Jo gets back from AfricaBurns. Anyone know any good drinking games? I have time to train my liver up a bit...
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
The recent Great Office Migration has come to a temporary halt while various other people play Musical Offices in the background, so I'm half moved back into my old office, with none of my books on the shelves and a noticeboard closing off the spanky new door between me and my colleague, held up by piles of boxes. (Greatest challenge of the whole procedure: trying to impress upon the Powers That Be that a soundproofed office is completely vital to her ability to function as a clinical social worker. They weren't getting it. Eventually we Heath Robinsoned it ourselves).

Having lovingly packed up my computer and carefully boxed all the cables resulting from it, the printer and the fancy Lync-using phone, I have now reassembled everything and persuaded it to work. This took no more than the expected pause for swearing at the telephone set-up help pages (a VoIP phone is fiddly) and at our network protocols, and the worst I had to do was change my campus password, which works with absolutely everything and which had somewhere in the whole labyrinthine process become dissociated so that half of everything didn't recognise it.

However, with everything up and running, and despite my meticulous packing principles, I have one cable left over. It was clearly connected to something when I dismantled it, and everything is running, but there's this cable. One of those fancy new ones with a USB plug at one end and one of those square-cross-section thingies at the other. Probably a printer cable, but I have a printer cable and the printer is working. Where the hell did it come from? Do they spontaneously replicate by binary fission or dodgy entanglements while tangled up in a box? Is one of my students a reverse kleptomaniac? I'm confused.

Failing any insights as to mysterious cabling, have some random linkery. This is a beautifully creepy and poignant Ursula Vernon story that's as much about writing as it is about anything else. And these are Owlvengers, thus neatly encapsulating two of my obsessions.

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This is mostly for [livejournal.com profile] wolverine_nun and [livejournal.com profile] noirzette, although any of you witterers with a musical background I wot not of are free to enjoy it as well :>. Musical notation as described by cats. This has just made me giggle for five minutes straight.

In additional to felinious musical notation, the dreary grey cactus desert that is work is currently being enlivened by (a) teaching third-years internet eroticism, with added Powerpoint, Secret Diaries and clips from Avenue Q, (b) the memory of an excellent girls' night at Fork last night with the Jo and the aforementioned [livejournal.com profile] noirzette (tapas and that Black Pearl cabernet/shiraz blend), (c) the joyous contemplation of the metric buttload of public holidays infesting the next few weeks (if I play my cards right I can have a four-day weekend followed by a four-day week followed by a three-day weekend followed by a two-day week followed by a five-day weekend, score!) and (d) the next in the Chocolate Digestive Biscuit saga, which this week is the miniature Woolworths ones. These are generally a pleasing thing, although slightly chewier and less melty in the biscuit region than the larger versions, and surprisingly difficult to eat neatly. Even if you consume the whole thing in one bite you still end up with chocolatey fingers. I'm going to have to extend the experiment to find the optimal eating position. Darn.

Further to the Fork experience (Fork is great! lovely food and only very slightly hipster, as befits a Long Street joint), I note with some alarm that my driving skills have a serious deficiency. I'm significantly bad at driving a social expedition into town, which in hindsight is perfectly logical, since it's not something I've ever done. I've driven small/old cars for long enough that I'm never actually designated driver for social groups, someone else with a larger car always drives. I'm thus really bad at (a) navigating into town from friends' houses, and (b) concentrating on the road while chatting. Given that the Great DVT Debacle and associated Warfarin seems to have permanently shrunken my booze capacity, I end up drinking a lot less than most of my compatriots, which means it's only logical for me to be designated driver a lot of the time, which means I'll get lots of practice in. Score!

The subject line, as is only inevitable, is from the musical Cats, specifically the Jellicle variety. Jellicle cats sing jellicle chants.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I do love the essential randomness of the internet. It functions like a physical manifestation of the unconscious of an entire civilisation: all our bizarre subconscious impulses, individual obsessions, odd jokes, inappropriate thoughts, whims, daydreams, nightmares, flung into the public view in bewildering multiplicity and connected with strange, wayward, serendipitous linkages. I have no idea whatsoever how I stumbled across Des Hommes et Des Chatons, but somehow it's ended up in my tabs alongside the Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter collection (dear gods the beautiful lines) and the finalists in this year's Bad Sex Awards (dear gods the horrible language). "Des Hommes et Des Chatons" has caused me to giggle for the last ten minutes, so I wave it at you in the hopes that it brightens your Friday. Dishy men in poses echoes by cute kitties. How can you go wrong? Also, that's the internet for you right there. Not the least of its charms is the way in which, unlike older and more conventional media, it's been colonised in vast tracts by an essentially female voice.

Subject line from Terry Pratchett, Interesting Times: the answer you receive if you ask Hex (the Discworld's mad computer-analogue) "Why Anything?". More specifically, "Because Everything. ????? Eternal Domain Error. +++++ Redo From Start +++++."

tuned to a dead channel

Wednesday, 7 August 2013 05:11 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I do not appear to feel much like blogging at the moment. Right now that's possibly because I have a Horrible Cold In The Head, courtesy of my mother, who also has a Horrible Cold In The Head which she picked up from my niece. Children are plague pits. Fact. Anyway, we're both dragging ourselves around the house gravitating to heat sources (it's bloody cold, there must be snow on the mountains), her with a pestilential snuffle, me with a head full of cement. I have re-read two-thirds of my Phryne Fisher collection in the last three days. Bohemian flapper detectives may be keeping me sane.

In default of anything more intelligent, I present for your delectation the intelligence of others.

This is an incredibly interesting interview with William Gibson in which he talks about his own influences and writing processes, but even more about the interaction between the world and science fiction. My favourite bit is the ending:

If you’d gone to a publisher in 1981 with a proposal for a science-fiction novel that consisted of a really clear and simple description of the world today, they’d have read your proposal and said, Well, it’s impossible. This is ridiculous. This doesn’t even make any sense. ... Fossil fuels have been discovered to be destabilizing the planet’s climate, with possibly drastic consequences. There’s an epidemic, highly contagious, lethal sexual disease that destroys the human immune system, raging virtually uncontrolled throughout much of Africa. New York has been attacked by Islamist fundamentalists, who have destroyed the two tallest buildings in the city, and the United States in response has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. ... You haven’t even gotten to the Internet. By the time you were telling about the Internet, they’d be showing you the door. It’s just too much science fiction.

By way of antidote to all this contemporary bleakness, this is a rather lovely graduation address which exhorts graduates to be kinder, and thereby gives me lovely ammunition in some of the recent arguments I've been having with my therapist. My commitment to the therapeutic process has a very well-defined limit beyond which I simply don't buy the idea that it's OK to prioritise yourself above all else. It is an index of the success of the therapeutic process so far that I'm actually capable of arguing with her about it.

I need to go and blow my nose, again. I hope you are all well.

Subject line quote is, of course, from the opening sentence of Gibson's Neuromancer, which he apparently wrote without having any idea of where the novel was going to subsequently go. Writers' differing processes are fascinating.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am back at work this week, alas. I am rather well rested after two and a half weeks off (and having passed my driver's licence and bought a car and almost finished a paper), and am inclined to be relatively upbeat about returning to the grindstone, but just to reinforce this, have the most ridiculous dose of pure, pointless, ridiculous happy you'll see in years. Warnings for possibly excessive Japanese cutesy twee, but still, cute. Watch out for the mad individualists in the three-cat rows. And the ear-worm.

Subject line from T.S. Eliot's "Jellicle Cats". Reading his Old Possum poetry makes me paradoxically sad that (a) I never saw the musical, and (b) that it exists at all, because Andrew Lloyd Webber.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am inexpressibly charmed both by the article on useless machines BoingBoing linked today, and by the article's last line. There is absolutely no logical reason to build either a machine that only turns itself off or a remote-controlled duck, and the concept is thus enormously attractive. I disagree with Arthur C. Clarke, who apparently wrote (as per the above article), that "There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing — absolutely nothing — except switch itself off." It's not sinister. It's a beautifully concise expression of absolute and bloody-minded dedication to function in the face of all odds - what the article calls "purposeless purity". It's about identity, or at least about something about identity that I instinctively feel is important.

On a slightly less abstract note, these are very beautiful re-imaginings of contemporary films as artefacts of another time. I'd totally adore to watch Peter Sellars in Groundhog Day, and I need this Fritz Lang 2001 poster on my wall.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

I have infected the Jo with this, so let's see if I can snag a few more curious squid. New webcomic! I have discovered Noelle Stevens's Nimona, mostly as a result of pursuing my legitimate dodgy fanfiction concerns via an increasingly obsessive Tumblr feed (she's gingerhaze on Tumblr, if you want more lovely art and pop culture injokes). Nimona is a short, stocky, grumpy, shapechanging, uninhibitedly destructive wannabe-sidekick who has apprenticed herself to the rather restrained villain Ballister Blackheart, who is locked in a slashy-subtexted nemesis relationship with the hair-swishy hero Ambrosius Goldenloin, with whom he was at hero school. The art is deceptively naive and highly accomplished; the world does a deadpan and unlikely mixture of medieval with contemporary; the narrative delights me utterly by taking off in absolutely unexpected directions whenever it can. Look out for visual in-jokes in the crowd scenes. Also, enjoy.

While we're madly trying to infect people: I am currently basking in the warm glow of my annual Wikipedia donation, impelled thither by the discreet banner which popped up at me this morning and made me realise I use Wikipedia pretty much daily and wish it to succeed and grow. They're having their annual donation drive, which is how they fund the non-profit organisation which keeps Wikipedia going. You might consider slinging some small wealth their way. Have you been on Wikipedia today? I bet you have.

Infection being what it is, this accursed 'flu has resurged: am in the hacking, bring-me-a-soprano-and-an-attic stage of stuffy head, cough and concrete sinuses. Spurred on by my nice therapist, I am going home now, and the gazelles and faculty can just damned well survive without me for a few hours.

turn me over I'm done

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 09:05 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Mid-orientation/registration, and I am dead tired like a dead tired thing being tired in a lake of tiredness. Clearly dragging one's way through two intense weeks of organisation and lecturing on top of what appears to have been viral bronchitis is somewhat exhausting. Odd, that. My voice has mostly returned, although it's considerably more of a contralto than my wont. Hopefully the students are at least enjoying the husky seductive bit. Matters may also improve given that I slept properly last night for the first time in a week, the racking coughs having hitherto kept me awake. Health, how I do want you back.

I am dead enough that today's tabloid billboard caused me to giggle for ten minutes straight.


Perfect tabloid: layer the transgressions until they become completely ridiculous. If we were still doing Microfiction I'd love to see the narratives people might invent to reach that unlikely apotheosis.

Still in the Department of Being Easily Amused, Sarah Rees Brennan's summary of Bujold's Vorkosigan novels is amusingly apt. (Spoilery, if you haven't read them, and if so why not?, but pleasingly acute if you have).

In other random news, I have discovered Everything Everything. Their music is poppy, but complex and quirky. They're more electronic than I usually tolerate, and I also don't usually enjoy falsetto, so I'm a bit weirded that they're demanding my attention as much as they are. (The music video for "Kemosabe" is also interesting). Whether it remains complex and quirky once I've had some sleep is another story entirely.


Thursday, 11 October 2012 12:08 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I have just spent two days at home with a weird virus thingy which caused me to feel hot/cold, faint, faintly nauseous, slightly hovercraftian1, and as though my arms are around three miles long. It's an odd feeling, watching your hands do things completely independently of yourself. I am now back at work, but am prone to look vaguely at a point just beyond a student's left ear and mutter things about squid2. My hands are still typing this post more or less off their own bat, to which I say hooray. If I can work out how to outsource actual student advice to my hands, perhaps my head will stop aching.

During the course of the last two days I have read multiple volumes of frivolous YA fantasy (still very enamoured of Kristen Cashore and entertained by Tamora Pierce), played short snatches of computer games which have been prevented from being long snatches by the spinning of my head, and imbibed a great deal of fanfic. The list of links at Making Light is a particularly fine selection which has introduced me to Doctor Who/classic lit crossover fic (Austen and Gone with the Wind) and to Avengers fanfic, which tends to the cute. Still not sure about Tony/Captain slash, though. However, delightful to be reminded that Steven Brust wrote a Firefly fanfic novel. Also, memo to self, must watch Leverage, if only because Christian Kane.

My current state of weird finds curious comfort in H P Lovecraft as agony aunt. With, of course, emphasis on the agony.

1 Floaty, teetering, and likely to spin off in odd directions. Also, full of eels.
2 I have no idea.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I have been marking second-year English essays this weekend, and am pretty much at the stage of ritual suicide. I don't know if it's a particularly bad batch, or if the impending sinus infection is making me unduly pessimistic, or if I've been infected by the Gothic gloom of the topic, but I am genuinely beginning to despair. These are second-year English students. They should, surely, be capable of stringing together a coherent paragraph which presents something vaguely resembling an argument? If I have to deal with another instance of [vague, unsubstantiated and categorical statement] + [unrelated and unexplained quote from the story] presented with a triumphant flourish as though it actually proves something, there is going to be a small, localised space-time explosion and my brain will end up fetchingly festooned around my ears in a manoeuvre not unrelated to Grunthos the Flatulent's lower intestine strangling him in the interests of sanity. Also, these dear children are clearly infecting my sentences. Aargh.

I console myself with Joseph Gordon-Levitt dancing. Adorably. It's very consoling. Right up there with manatees.

freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Why did no-one ever point me at this before? I think there would be significantly smaller piles of savaged student corpses littering the last few years if I'd had ongoing access to a calming manatee. If I strategically deploy this alongside soothing rain sounds (which I don't have to do today given that it's obligingly bucketing down outside), I can probably dispense with all this expensive therapy stuff. Result!

I must cop to blogging today solely in an attempt to distract myself from the pile of essays I have successfully avoided marking for in excess of two weeks, and which are beginning to have that ominous aspect. I shall contemplate a calming manatee for inspiration, and have at them. Excelsior!
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I seem to be going through a stage of oh-god-I'm-tired-and-I-hate-work. The important thing with this, I've realised, is the focus on "going through a stage". This is a phase. It too shall pass: the brain chemistry or the hormones or the sleep cycle will re-synch, motivation will wake up from its cave, and life will be liveable again. It will probably pass more quickly if I eat chocolate, hit a lot of niskaru very hard with a prismire sword (yup, replaying Amalur), and browse the internet for interesting kipple.

But I've also realised that the nub, the locus, the emblematic pivot of the state is my bloody inbox. The email inbox is the curse of the modern age. It's particularly pernicious, because in the abstract I rather like words, I write with a great deal of facility, I'm murderously fast touch-typing on a computer keyboard, and at base I rather enjoy the sense of achievement that comes from answering all a student's possible questions ever and spreading sweetness and light in three short, pointed sentences and a link. But the damned things keep coming. The end of term is in sight, and I'm seeing probably fifteen or twenty queries a day about admissions, incoming exam angst, course-dropping and the generalised existential panic which is the default state of the student under stress. No matter how torrid my love affair with words and how boundless my sympathy for the common or garden student in its natural habitat, there comes a point where typing another sentence is not something into which I spring with glad cries.

My backlog of unanswered mail goes back three weeks. It'll take a day of intense focus to clear them all. And clearing a backlog is not without its own horrors, mostly due to my dual overabundance of empathy and guilt, as a result of which I read a month-old plaintive plea for help and immediately feel like the Worst Person Evah for not having answered immediately to put this poor fellow creature out of their pain. Because the reality is that, while to me the individual mail is merely one of a shoal of its fellows which circle my hapless form nibbling like goldfish (some of which are piranha because it's All My Fault), to the writer it's a huge chunk of concern and fear which occupies their personal horizon like a stormcloud of doom. I have the power to make it go away. I haven't exercised that power because I'm tired, or busy, or overwhelmed, or cruising the internet, or they asked me to "kindly" answer at once. I am a Bad Person. There will be coal in my stocking.

This is thus, like the majority of blog posts in the history of ever, not a post so much as it's an avoidance, a bizarrely counter-intuitive retreat from text into text as I try to reassert my ownership of, and investment in, the process of writing. In this act I insist that writing is not always about someone else: sometimes it's about me. I wave my tiny flag defiantly. It's been scribbled on extensively. It's distracting me from my bloody inbox.

I also bring you the results of the aforementioned internet-cruising. I stumbled across this old but kick-butt series of posts on The Awl, about women and power in the images of geekdom and sf. Bits that struck me: killer robots are women, or, perhaps, women are killer robots. "They're servants that won't serve, beings that we let into our homes because we thought they'd regard us as their superiors, whose compliance we took for granted until it vanished." It does explain the backlash. Also, a love song to Ripley and Buffy and River Tam, women who fight back. And feminist utopias: "Speculative fiction is sociology's dream journal; nerds want a place to belong; on the Enterprise, nobody cares if you're into space travel." That last statement made me strangely happy.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Cape Town! currently the locus at regular intervals of storms, heavy rain, hail, high winds, cats puddled around heaters, a soaring electricity bill, and that savage bite in the air that tells you somewhere in the fortunate upcountry there is snow. I am, needless to say, an extremely happy pervy cold-weather-fondler. This last is despite a certain amount of unavoidable angst, given that I leave for a three-week overseas trip on Saturday, and while plane tickets, hotels, visas and various other bits and bobs are duly sorted, I have only written one of the two papers I'm supposed to be giving. (For no adequately defined reason, an entirely unnecessary re-read of Memory, Sorry and Thorn appears to be implicated in this last dereliction of duty). However, deathless insights into feminist re-writes of "Aschenputtle" will buy it over the next few evenings, stat. News at eleven.

In support of this, should there be, as yesterday, a brief and unlikely lull in the atmospherics resulting in a resurgence of the worry-factor, there is always the soothing option of http://www.rainymood.com/. It was clearly designed specifically for me, and I'll probably run it nonstop during the February heatwaves.

And, by way of inspiration, there are always the Bulwer-Lyttons. This year they have caused me unholy glee in the SF section by the perpetration of ungodly puns.

Professor Lemieux had anticipated that his latest paper would be received with skepticism within the small, fractious circle of professional cosmologists, few of whom were prepared to accept his hypothesis that our universe had been created in a marijuana-induced industrial accident by insectoid aliens; nevertheless, he was stung when Hawking airily dismissed it as the Bug Bong Theory.


don't worry, be happy

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 10:41 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
We have reached a completely bizarre state of human evolution. Human ingenuity over centuries has conspired to advance technology to the inevitable pin-point where I can spend an incredibly happy and giggly couple of minutes watching a random video, set somewhere I can't identify (India?), created by no-one I've ever met, of monkeys jumping into water. Which they do like kids, knees tucked into chest in the classic cannonball position for maximum splash, and with the beautiful, unconscious abandon of cheerful dogs. (Do monkeys have knees, within the meaning of the act? I suppose they do). Anyway, please watch. It's waywardly happy-making.

I am pleased to report that, in keeping with the tenor of the above, Day 3 of Operation Do Not Snarl At Students is proceeding according to plan, no deviation from tac-map yet reported. I seem to be acquiring the habit of a deep, calming breath to forestall unleashing the grump-beast, and am consequently feeling much better about myself and life in general. Picture me flitting about the faculty spreading sweetness and light to undeserving students. Students are quite sweet, really, and pathetically grateful for kind words.

taking it personally

Monday, 2 July 2012 01:29 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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.)
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There is a peculiar trait of students and their parents which (among, alas, many) is beginning to seriously annoy me. Sometimes I receive queries about applying as a transfer student. These emails usually ask, in broad, general terms, how one sets about applying as a transfer student, and whether or not credits from another institution will be transferred. I am not an admissions consultant: I know damned well that the only actual place my direct email address is available on the web is on the sidebar of the long, detailed page on which I outline the exact process for applying as a transfer student and transferring credits. This means that they've found the page, completely ignored the information it contains, fixated on the email address, and emailed me directly for, effectively, a personalised digest of all the TL;DR they can't be bothered to assimilate.

Since I put the damned page up precisely so that I don't have to repeat myself umpteen times in emails, this narks me off more than somewhat. I am becoming very good at a terse, pseudo-polite reply which pretends that they've never seen the page in question and directs them to it with an invitation to email me with any specific questions which are not answered by that page. I devoutly hope this annoys them no end. But I'm not sure if the whole little charade says sad and derogatory things about the nature of students, the nature of media society and its short attention span, or about human nature in general. I am dismally inclined to suspect the latter.

I am in Week 3 of The 'Flu Bug From Hell, which laughs off anti-biotics (I knew we'd start seeing resistant strains sooner or later. We're all doomed.) and which is in its particularly disgusting snuffly stage, this morning with a side order of pounding sinus headache. Words cannot express how boring this whole thing is. Fortunately it's Friday and I'm working at home; also, I console myself, as is traditional, with linkery.

  • This is an excessively beautiful series of designs for ballgowns based on the superhero costumes from the Avengers, circa the recent movie. Inventive, sensitive, wholly appealing.

  • This is a particularly cogent, intelligent and well-balanced analysis of the status of reproduction in our society, and the conceptual problems it presents. It's written by a philosopher, so has that lovely incisiveness of argument. I find it very sane.

  • This is Ursula Le Guin talking about the illusionary nature of genre and the stupid status differences accorded "genre" and "literary" texts. She's a wise lady.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Friday-working-at-home, hallelujah, since I currently feel as though I've made a hamfisted and inexpert attempt to hang myself, failing miserably to produce any positive outcome other than a really sore neck. There are apparently high-pressure pain conduits running from under my ears down my neck and under my chin, where they quite distract me from the sinus headache. This degree of pain is a new one for the glandular wossnames, bless their experimental little hearts; I can only hope that my hapless form is not a lab-rat to a spirited attempt to blow my head off by inflation or constriction.

I have been noodling happily around various work projects all morning, to a sound-track composed entirely of random YouTube linkage (mercifully, the inexplicable yen for ELO, which has occupied most of the week, seems to be over). The usual trail of arbitrary link-following has led to a couple of truly lovely covers of Toto, by variously (a) pub acoustic cover-band guys with excellent voices, and (b) a full a-capella choir. "Africa" is one of those beautifully anthemic pieces with strong harmonies and a rousing chorus that really lends itself to this sort of thing, and I refuse categorically to be embarrassed about my thorough enjoyment of both these versions.

(The Perpetuum Jazzile version is absolutely worth waiting through the slightly lame rain-simulation at the start, although I have to give them props for the effectiveness of their thunder. Also, latent Belladonna experience makes me heartily jealous of their tenors).

Finally, Doctor Horrible gave me the vague idea that Felicia Day's voice was a bit thin and quavery. Apparently not. She kicks butt in this one, which is also insanely cute and catchy.

Now I shall set about ruthlessly re-defining myself as an academic in HR jargon, and writing plaintive remonstrances to the Dean about mentorship programmes. I like Fridays. Work is done by mystic processes while pretending to be something else.

and so become yourself

Thursday, 29 March 2012 05:07 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
They (and that's the doom-laden unspecified-authoritorian "They" that should probably be THEY) have been renovating our building on campus since the beginning of the year. Today I fled the scene, silently screaming, at about 3.15, since my office had become absolutely untenable owing to the three scraping and two bashing-type fellows engaged in doing something nasty, brutal and permanent to the plaster around my windows. The noise was indescribable. I have had a much more productive couple of hours at home, peaceably answering emails while listening to the rain on the roof and the distant, premature mewling of cats. (Supper is at 6pm, and not a moment earlier. They know this. This does not in any way prevent them from daily attempting to speed up time by means of complaint, ankle-level seething and concentrated feline glares).

I have been working quite hard, she says with faint surprise. There are all sorts of interesting things afoot in the faculty with reference to new course structures and teaching/learning initiatives and what have you, and I'm having a lot of input into policy and design. Hideous power, in fact, is mine. It's pleasantly chewy and instrumental work, and contents a deeply authoritarian and structure-ridden portion of my psyche. Slowly, by exercise of will and guile, I am warping this job into something I may actually want to carry on doing.

Since I don't really think the gritty details of faculty policy are madly interesting to the uninitiated observer, I leave you instead with interesting linkery.
  • This is a spirited defence of popular fiction, one with which I wholeheartedly agree. No guilt!
  • This is simply beautiful. The world's ocean currents, as a dreamily-drifting graphic that looks like something by Van Gogh.
  • And this is simply amusing, and surprisingly heart-warming. Homophobia is slowly eroding, at least in contexts outside the religious right. There's hope.


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