freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
sherlock irene

The new season of Sherlock starts on 1st January, and the BBC has just released a new, longer, interactive trailer that's pretty spanky and all. Tumblr is having hysterics, predictably enough. I must confess to a certain excitement. (Although, warning, that trailer made me exclaim "Sherlock, you bastard!" at least twice. They're interpreting the two years dead in the way the bulk of the fanfic does, which is to focus on how brutally the deception affects Watson and how emotionally detached Sherlock is from it; he's not going to be likeable this season). But I watched the trailer, and in particular the bit with the Stephen Moffat interview, and something crystallised for me, possibly because Moffat in interviews comes off as slightly smug.

See, my love for the narrative elegance of his early Doctor Who episodes notwithstanding, I still can't forgive Stephen Moffat for what he does to women across Doctor Who and Sherlock alike. He's not an enlightened thinker, certainly not a feminist one; his female characters tend to slide back into reactionary gender roles to a somewhat worrying extent. They wait. And have babies. Or unrequited crushes. Or are royally screwed around by circumstances. They're quite often passive in one or another way. They're almost always reacting to men, rather than having their own goals and agency, which means that ultimately any power that they have tends to reside in their sexuality.

And what he did to Irene Adler is the single thing that most annoys me about Sherlock. I've always vaguely assumed that it was because he insists on bloody well sexualising Sherlock, which I think is flat against both the letter and the spirit of Doyle's character. But today I realised it's not that, or at least not just that. It's also about the way he sexualises Irene herself. In the Doyle story she's "The Woman" because she's an intellectual equal to Sherlock: she doesn't seduce him, she out-thinks him. She's a sexualised figure in that she's beautiful and adored by men, but in fact she's characterised as a spurned woman more than an adventuress, and she doesn't randomly focus her sexuality against Sherlock himself: she triumphs over him in the story because of her intelligence, not her looks. The story takes for granted that Holmes himself wouldn't be susceptible to seduction anyway, it has to be a intellectual tussle. (In the original story Sherlock is actually fooled into not recognising Irene while she's disguised as a man, which I think is an important index both to how little her power is about her sexuality, and to how much Doyle equates her with Holmes himself - disguise is his own skill, after all). Moffat's Irene Adler is a complete reversal of this: the assumption in the episode is that she only prevails over Sherlock because her sexuality attracts, confuses and distracts him, which rewrites both of them.

That would be annoying even if Moffat hadn't gone the whole hog and made her into a dominatrix, which I find to be quite one of the most unpleasant symbolic sexual roles for women. A dominatrix, in the sense of a woman for hire as Irene is (I don't mean women in consensual BDSM relationships), is not about female power. The encounter is not about her desire to dominate: it's about the customer's desire (and that's usually male desire) to be dominated. She's a commodity, very much a sexual object whose apparent power is entirely illusionary. Irene Adler in Sherlock is thus neatly undercut in the same way that Molly's technical skill is by her infatuation with Sherlock, or that Donovan's strength of personality is by her affair with Anderson. Moffat can't think of women separately from men, and very often he can't think of them separately from their sexual identity. Even Mrs Hudson, apart from revolving around Sherlock, is tied to him through his past interference in the case against her husband. Irene Adler is the most extreme example of a worrying trend. (She's characterised as a lesbian who's helplessly attracted to Sherlock, for fuck's sake. Good grief. Sexist clichés much, Moffat?)

I love what Sherlock does to the canon, its creative re-interpretation of the characters, its updating of the narrative arcs. It's an amazing piece of adaptation. But it's also flawed, and a lot of what flaws it is Moffat's ideological ineptitude. It's doubly saddening, because I adore the elegance of structure of "Blink" and "The Girl in the Fireplace", but now I re-watch them with a critical eye for their women, and ultimately their women are sad.

(And it's only tangentially related, but while we're on the subject of women trapped in and punished by their sexual identities, you have to read this on the Susan/Narnia problem. It made me cry, and not so much forgive CS Lewis, as realise he's actually irrelevant.)

Subject line from "A Scandal in Bohemia", naturally: Watson talking about how alien the concept of romantic love is to Sherlock. I want to rub Moffat's nose in that paragraph.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It being Stv's birthday and all, we went out to Overture for supper last night. I feel that it is important and indicative that, if the Salty Cracker crowd could be said to have a favourite default restaurant at which to hang out and celebrate anything at all, it's bloody upmarket and one of the top ten in the country. The waitstaff know us. Stv got free champagne. At in excess of R600 a head for a four-course meal with a wine pairing, that's an expensive neighbourhood joint. (And a bit distant, too, being half an hour's drive away in Stellenbosch). It was a lovely evening, although slightly negative notes were introduced by the following:
  1. It's faculty exam committee season, which means I'd spent the entire day checking and annotating the 635 student records on a 364-page board schedule which is a fraction under 2.5cm thick. This puts me in a strangely zen state composed of equal parts of numerical trance, Machiavellian structural insight, advisor empathy and seething resentment, and incidentally renders me completely exhausted and glandular to the max. I was only really capable of conversation by the end of the first course and my second glass of wine. Overture was a kindly panacea to the day's ills, but conversely I wasn't really in the best state to enjoy it properly.
  2. We may be overdoing the neighbourhood joint five-star expensive restaurant thing to the point of over-exposure. The food was, as always, excellent, but I didn't think it hit its usual plane of dizzy high. Lovely tomato risotto (they always do great risotto), but slightly arb green bean salad with unidentifiable duck, and bland square chunks of mostly tender pork. Fellow diners' mileage may vary, you are perfectly free to blame my exhausted state rather than any diminution in quality, but I wasn't blown away. Beautiful evening on the terrace, though, exquisite dusk clouds, and as always the best sort of company.
  3. It is possibly fortunate that my tiredness was sufficient for me not to rise to the provocation offered by a fellow guest, who during the course of conversation incautiously offered a statement to the effect that she thinks Stephenie Meyer writes well. Them's fighting words, where I come from. It is my professional opinion that Twilight's stylistic and narrative infelicities are only marginally better than its gender politics in general loathsomeness. In default of the spirited debate and righteous suppression I would normally offer to such provocation, I present, as threatened, the blog which picks Meyer's grammar apart, with maximum snark. Fortuitously, today also gave rise randomly to this Slate article, which does statistical/linguistic analysis comparing three hugely popular texts - Twilight, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. It's a fascinating comparison, and in particular the tables which look at adjectives are extremely telling. Viz:





    The thing which immediately strikes me: Collins's characteristic adjectives and adverbs are generally more sophisticated, but they also relate to complex states and actions and very frequently to abstractions. Rowling's are very action-oriented, but you can see her younger audience intentions in their comparative simplicity, with a focus on straightforward emotional states which tend to reflect action. Meyer's are definitely less sophisticated than those used by Collins, but they're also almost entirely emotional, and when they're physical it's physicality which largely reflects or responds to emotion. This echoes the frustration I feel when reading Twilight (and, for the record, I've read the entire series twice and supervised a couple of graduate theses on the books, if I diss them it's from full knowledge and exposure), because really, when you get down to it, nothing much happens in them. You drift passively around in Bella's head while she angsts and reacts and feeeeeeeeeeels. The language is not accomplished at the structural level, frequently obvious and clumsy and weirdly unfocused (my undergrads can do better), but it's the pacing, characterisation and plot which are really problematical, and which are heartily outdone by almost any piece of fan fiction I have read recently. I stick by my assertion. Even without getting me started on the gender politics, Meyer does not write well.

Rantage and random analysis brought to you courtesy of my really rather strong feelings about this, did you notice? And by the sure and horrible knowledge that in about twenty minutes I go to meet my four-hour meeting doom. Doooooom! At least the energy from all that ranting has my blood buzzing enough to mostly compensate for my state of over-fed, mildly hung-over sleep deprivation. Now with extra glands. Sigh.

Subject line is still Arcade Fire, "Wasted Hours", from The Suburbs. It's a ridiculously catchy, lilting, gentle tune which was playing in the car this morning and which has thoroughly colonised my head. It's curiously soothing, particularly after losing a day to board schedule checking. One feels they understand.

train in vain

Tuesday, 27 November 2012 03:56 pm
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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!
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It's Hellweek! Hooray! the queue of students trying to change curriculum stretches down the stairwell for two floors, into the basement. On average, if I've scheduled 6 advisors, 4-5 of them have turned up, which is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick but still isn't doing much for the queue. My day is blocked out with appointments at 15-minute intervals, and I've just had an entirely lousy 10 minutes with the faculty Exec, as they rampaged all over a proposal I'd made.

Today's Floored By Student moment:
Older student (in her late 30s): wishes to change programme, but has neither the Matric points nor the university results to support this.
Me: I'm very sorry, I consulted the admissions committee and your marks do not suggest you are likely to succeed if we move you. Your application is refused.
Her: AARGH tears serious illness family to support crushing my dreams aargh!
Me: I'm sorry, but no.
Her: AARGH tears hysterics have only one year left can't afford another year to continue in the same programme aargh!
Me: Aargh. *Ignores queue of 8 students outside my door, treks off to consult Faculty manager and Deputy Dean, wrests concession on compassionate grounds from them, returns.*
Me: *discovering something I should have noticed earlier* Oh, dear, you can't finish this year anyway, you need to repeat a first semester course.
Her: Oh, that's fine, I can do it next year.
Me: But you said you had to finish this year for financial reasons.
Her: *is silent*
Me: So you lied to me about your financial pressures?
Her: *is silent, gives me sidelong look*
Me: So the whole thing was a giant manipulation?
Her: is silent.
Me: registers her in equal and opposite silence, in a marked manner. I am not amused.

Despite all of above, I am pleased to report that (a) I have made a solemn resolve not to lose my temper with anyone this week, and (b) I have stuck to this resolution throughout today, often by dint of taking a deep breath and thinking soothing thoughts, and notwithstanding the manipulative little baggage above. I feel I am to be congratulated.
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Gossamer EndIt is remotely possible that my long-suffering readers were relaxing a tad, and thinking that I'd got all this Andraste's Knicker-Weasel stuff out of my system, and indeed, I have been peaceably (for which read "with the usual computer-game homicidal psychosis") playing Amalur for the last few weeks without much impulse to witter on about its narrative and identificatory processes, since they're really not complex. However, a certain sort of thematic disquisition has been sneaking up on me, with which I shall now unabashedly regale you. Fear not! I shall mention romance only in passing. Probably.

Various lifestyle choices being what they are, it's actually unlikely that I'll ever own my own home, which is possibly why computer-game home-owning is fairly high on the list in my personal Unholy Kick department. I love owning game homes. My gaming life is not complete unless I possess absolutely all and any homes available across the length, lingth and longth of the gameworld, plus those in various DLCs and mods and what have you. I'm a pack-rat accumulator in gameworld to an extent which I simply am not in real life, with minor exceptions such as books and films: somewhere to stash stuff is absolutely necessary if I'm not going to trek across the landscape followed by a small train of pantechnicons. (Poor Lydia, sworn to carry my burdens). And once I own them, I upgrade and furnish them to the max - or, in the case of ME, kit out Shepard's cabin with all the fish, model ships and other bits and pieces that I possibly can (SPACE HAMSTER!) - and in the case of Skyrim, stuff around more or less indefinitely with the console to adapt their contents and facilities to my exacting specifications.

All this being said, it's a source of continual amazement to me how badly thought-out most computer game homes are. Honestly, they seem to fling their design primarily to the art department, guided only by a sketchy, single-page function framework which has "feel free to ignore this" scribbled in the margins somewhere and is probably stored in an unlikely filing cabinet labelled "BEWARE OF THE LEOPARD". As a result, many game houses are exceptionally pretty, spacious, architecturally winsome creations, to actually live in which is productive of such irritation as to at least partially explain the usual computer-game homicidal psychosis.

Herewith, therefore, as a soul-soothing exercise, is an annotated list of What Players Really Want In A Gameworld House, by which, of course, I rather egocentrically mean What Players Who Have My Sort Of Gameplay Needs Really Want. It is remotely possible that in fact it only means What I Want In A Gameplay House, although I would wistfully hope that some of the items are logical enough to be semi-universal - feel free to disagree in the comments. At any rate, any game-designers who happen to read this, please take note. I shall cut it, on account of excessive ranty length. )

This post has ended up being accidentally thematically linked to my last one. Clearly houses are where it's at in the current State of Extemporanea. One way or another. For whatever reason, thank you for indulging me in Yet Another Knicker-Weasel Rant, and please feel free to disagree violently with my house-owning ethos.
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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.
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Another of those upsy, downsy weeks. On the downside, I've been fighting off a sinus infection, with its inevitable tandem partner of a glandular resurgence, since about Sunday. (I am now entirely unable to prevent myself from picturing Sinus and Glands on a bicycle made for two. I blame Supernatural). On the upside, this means I've been off work since Tuesday, on instructions from my nice doctor, and it's been really very nice to simply bum around at home - I've clearly needed the rest.

On the downside, the antibiotics she prescribed taste bloody 'orrible, and cause me to make that cat-encountering-weird-smell face twice daily, to the amusement of all beholders. On the upside, there haven't actually been any beholders. (I am now entirely unable to prevent myself from picturing self, lurgi-ridden, surrounded by Beholders peering over my shoulder with those giant bulbous eyes. I blame D&D).

On the downside, the pile of plaintive student complaints has been gently accumulating all week, which means that Monday will be a bit torrid. However, on the extremely upside, I may even forgive my Cherished Institution the work it throws at me, as it has also decided to throw me Money for purposes of maddened conference travel. The dual-fairy-tale-conference Great Belgium/England Trek for August/September is a go! I am very happy: if they hadn't funded me I would have had to withdraw my accepted papers and cancel the whole shindig, which would have been sad.

Also on the extremely upside, I have been applying balm to my wounded post-Mass-Effect-3-lousy-ending sorrows by playing Kingdoms of Amalur all week. Amalur combines the quest/crafting/happy wandering ethos of Skyrim with a combat interface straight out of Dragon Age 2 (lots of leaping around and fancy moves, with kick-butt spells), except that it's single-character. The visual aesthetic, with a rather attractive, slightly cartoon feel and a serious tendency to cute (the little warbles and gurgles made by brownies as they innocently poddle about, just before they snarl viciously and attack you, are utterly adorable) and shiny (lots of glowy stuff, bright, clear colours and pretty flowers) is straight out of Zelda, circa Windwaker or so. The combination is making me very happy, although I am perfectly willing to admit that I am easily charmed at the moment owing to shortage of brain. And, no, I still haven't forgiven ME3. Bastards.

Final, utter upside: two days of weekend still to go. I may yet survive this.

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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Gah. One of those days. It started with another specimen of the current reluctant wake syndrome (despite nine hours of sleep), causing me to feel zombified until at least mid-morning. Then it progressed to a guilt-ridden and caterwauling-infested delivery of Golux to the vet - she's been lying in the sun again and her pink nose is developing proto-cancers, necessitating weekly visits for three or four weeks to have them frozen off. During this time she gets to seriously practice both her death-glare, which I think has been modelled on the laser version patented by the late, lamented Fish, and her yowling, which has a sort of smoky, deep-chested jazz contralto quality I can only regard with awe. (Vet to me, when I picked her up and he accidentally crossed gazes with her: "That's one angry cat.") I get to practice my Resist Guilt Trip, which I suck at, and my cunning psychological ploys for grabbing her without thinking about it so that she doesn't read my mind and do a vanishing act. It is, to say the least, a challenging process.

Then I arrived at work to discover that the 9am meeting I'd vaguely thought was on Thursday and which was chaired by the Dean, was today and twenty minutes ago, causing a delayed and precipitate arrival which allowed the Dean to practice her death-glare. (In which I malign her, actually, she was very sweet about it). And when I got back to the office the campus internet had lost its international connection, which means my tabbed Firefox load hung up the computer for thirty minutes while it discovered, in detail, on every single tab and with an attitude of naive discovery every single time, that it couldn't find the relevant server. That'll teach me to leave twenty-three tabs open when I close the programme. Also, clearly interdimensional squid are gnawing on the SEACOM cables again. The bastards. I was trying to put together lecture outlines involving internet culture. You can't do that without an actual connection to, you know, the internet.

Finally, after a two-hour meeting this afternoon and a reverse rehearsal of the Golux-to-vet routine, I arrived home to discover the delayed dentist's bill for the implant and crown I've just had done, which has delivered a R10 000 punch to the solar plexus of my credit card. Given that I'm trying to juggle paying for overseas trips with the nefariously convoluted processes of the university's conference grant system, this isn't helping.

On the other hand, it was a lovely long weekend, which is possibly why today has been particularly villainous by comparison. I finished playing Mass Effect, which was entertaining and absorbing and means there is probably at least one more Andraste's Knicker-Weasel's post in my near future. I annotated a Masters thesis draft on vampires, which was fun - it's a bright student and it's a subject I can really get my teeth into. So to speak. And we did the traditional Easter waffle-consumption session with the Usual Suspects, which was a merry and unhealthily carbo-loaded experience, with champagne and more or less evil-minded conversation. (We have also discovered that Jo, while not being a waffle-eating lifeform, likes flapjacks, so I get to produce two sets of fun-to-cook carbs for the price of one, rendering me a Happy Cook). Plus, my mother's here. Bonus!

Hooray, I've blogged myself into a better mood. Don't let anyone tell you that blogging is dead. I'm going to go and install Mass Effect 2 now. See you in a couple of weeks.
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Oh, dear, it's that time of year again: the time when a giant fun-run of some sort comes pounding past my bedroom window at 6am on a Sunday, causing really quite transcendent quantities of sleepy swearing, and a wistful longing for caltrops. They never bloody warn us about it, possibly in perfectly rational fear of the caltrop response. The road outside is all festooned with cheery, inspirational billboards inciting runners to greater heights in the name of health and charity, which as far as I'm concerned they absolutely don't need, being ridiculously cheery as it is. Nothing like wakening from a sound slumber to the strains of pounding feet, panting, and loud, jolly interchanges of exhortation and mutual support. Bastards. On the other hand, about half of the posters opposite our gate appear to have been ripped from their backing, which suggests that some of the runners find the slogans the precise opposite of inspirational. Heh.

It was all doubly ironic this year, as I'd just hung a new curtain in one half of my bedroom window, its darker fabric a deliberate attempt to cut out more light so I can sleep later in the mornings. Doomed. Sod's law for you.

Right, annual mini-rant over. I shall now return to the bosom of Dragon Age II, which I have rediscovered under the twin spurs of not enough sleep/concomitant lack of brain, and vague political interest. I'm playing a male Hawke, as I'm interested in seeing how it changes companion and NPC interactions. Today's fascinating geo-political ramification: apparently I'm much happier with playing non-Lawful-Good if the avatar is male. This is undoubtedly about reduced levels of identification, I caught myself thinking "Gosh, this guy looks like a bit of a bastard, let's go with the smugglers this time round." Hmmm. I suspect Anders gets knifed, too, if I last that long. Fascinating.

In other news, the house smells deliciously of gammon simmering in cider, in preparation for ham rolls to have with popcorn movies this evening. Rude awakenings notwithstanding, I am having a Good Day.
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I appear to be living in something that resembles, in odd moments, an episode of The A-Team. This was vouchsafed to me at 3 this morning, at which time I was startled out of a sound slumber and Interesting Celebrity Dream by a full-scale police car chase charging past my bedroom window, sirens wailing and engines gunning; it ricocheted off into the suburbs on a sort of descending howl. No actual shooting, but I suspect it was a matter of time. I am consequently frayed and tending to take offence at minor issues, such as gravity and the existence of students. It's also been an annoying couple of days work-wise, which doesn't help. Hence, a rant list! Rant lists always make me feel better.

Things Which Are Narking Me Off Right Now:

  • Committees. Committees expressly designed, in a friendly, woolly and vague sort of way, to take out of my control the orientation info booklets I produce with ruthless efficiency every year, and turn them into a single, committee-designed, giant info booklet to which the entire faculty cheerfully contributes, in a jolly, happy spirit of let's-be-nice-to-students-in-horribly-inefficient-ways. Ongoing attempts to (a) determine exactly who is going to do the actual work in all of this, and (b) stop grinding my teeth audibly, have failed. My inner jack-booted fascist is stomping around with a ginormous scowl, moodily kicking at my cerebellum.

  • Meetings generally. Meetings are created to fill up space so that you can't actually complete any of the work the meeting was created to discuss. There are 11 meetings in my diary this week, some of them in happy clumps where I have three, one after the other, with no break in between. I am consequently horribly behind in orientation planning, marks processing, curriculum advice, marking and, most importantly, Earl Grey consumption.

  • My eyelids. They're doing that scaly, itchy thing that suggests part of my levels of narkitude may be attributable to the fact that I'm turning into a dragon. Again. I hate this time of year, it's all pollen and eczema and sneezing. My body hates me. It's the Circle of Hate! *holds up baby dragon on giant rock while admiring gazelles look on*.

  • Evil Landlords. The Evil Landlord has overnight become a model of washing-up-doing, but is apparently still Cross with me for Mentioning Ze Washing Up, and is being monosyllabic and refusing to eat anything I cook. The atmosphere in the house is somewhat thunderous. It's all made worse by the fact that I'm assuming all of the above: it might be nothing whatsoever to do with Ze Washing Up, but since he refuses to discuss it, it's difficult to tell. I'm stomping around moodily kicking my own cerebellum in default of what I should actually be doing, which is kicking his.

  • Being at work, which means I don't have my DR & Quinch collection to hand, which means I can't find a nicely homicidal subject line. Bleah.

  • Parcelforce. I am contractually obliged to include this in any rant list under the terms of my agreement with Scroob. They've undoubtedly done something evil recently and deserve rantage.
I feel marginally better now. Before dashing off to lecture perpetrating undergrads on the evils of plagiarism, I'm going to fortify myself with chocolate, disdaining all health issues, which will undoubtedly make me feel better still. Also, I love the mental picture of my inner jack-booted fascist being all placated by chocolate. Grumpy thing that she is.
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Right, bored now. Technology hates me and is out to get me. My car's in with the panelbeaters being welded and sealed against the damp which habitually infests it, causing the insides of the windows to fog up unpredictably so I have to drive using sonar. Which I don't have. Memo to self, become part-bat. Unless it's dolphins which use sonar? Or boats. Maybe I should become part-boat. Anyway, so I rounded off an incredibly long day exerting utmost self-discipline to be serially nice to a continuous string of students, with moderate success (only growled at one, and she deserved it), by walking home. My knees hurt. Then I opened the front door and the house alarm, which has recently developed a hissy fit about the connectivity of the front door sensor, celebrated my return by going off loudly before I could get to the keypad to neutralise it. My nerves are still jangling.

Now I'm sitting at my computer swearing at the speakers, which have recently acquired a random and horrible distort at higher registers, like violin music and Regina Spektor. No amount of fiddling with the settings seems to help this, I'm going demented, and it's doing positively disgusting things to the Section Quartet, who otherwise make me incredibly happy by doing string quartet covers of Iron Maiden, Radiohead and Cream. Honestly, you wouldn't believe how much fun "Sunshine of your Love" is as classical chamber music. And Radiohead is just lyrically beautiful. But my speakers distort. Someone out there who's both a muso and technogeek, please make useful suggestions? At this stage my options seem to be (a) watch enough STNG to persuade Wesley Crusher to come and solve the problem by unleashing the technobabble, or (b) bury the speakers in the garden for the moles to chew on, and serve them right.

On the upside: new Guild today. Although Fawkes is being horrible. Predictably horrible, but I'm still all depressed.
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Oh, dear. My Imaginet geeks have failed me. Even arm-wrestling their tame Telkom guy, the one who apparently knows what he's doing, was insufficient. All he could do was to instruct me to return to start, do not collect re-wiring, please phone the original order helpline (and he gave me the wrong number) with the original description of the problem, the one that didn't work first time round, and start the weary round again.

So I did this yesterday. With my Seekrit Weapon. I have now tried logic, calm rationality, searching questions, patiently pointing out the imbecility of the system, irritation, rage, abuse, accusations and slamming the phone down. This time, dealing a crippling blow to a hundred years of feminism while suffragettes sobbed, I waited until the first stupid objection ("this is a fault, not an order, this is the order line, phone the fault line"1), and burst into tears. The slightly hysterical sobbing, interspersed with hiccuping attempts to explain exactly how many hours I've spent on these bloody helplines trying to log a call, eventually backed the poor operative into a corner, where he eventually overrode stuff, circumvented the bit where I'm supposed to be the account holder, and finally gave me a reference number and a date when the technician will come round to do a complete rewire, all while rather helplessly enumerating how many rules he was breaking to do so. I feel dirty. But triumphant. To such depths does the monstrosity of Telkom bring us. It remains to be seen whether the technician actually arrives next Thursday, but I'll prep a supply of tissues and a fainting couch just in case.

Nonetheless, despite the need to once more mud-wrestle the Telkom pig, I've actually had a lovely couple of days. I was abducted for drinks and supper on the Camps Bay beachfront by Michelle and Stef last night, which was pleasingly drunken and attended by a magnificent pink and gold sunset and rather wayward conversation. (They may or may not have got me onto the subject of fan fiction, which is always dangerous, because I start using words like "demographic" and "paradigm" and "narrative wish-fulfilment", and have to be sternly suppressed with more booze). The whole seems to have been sufficient to give me, once I staggered home and fell into bed, an extremely vivid and detailed series of dreams which were, I suspect, actually an episode of Supernatural or something. Small town in the American woods is invaded by the weird shape-shifting hicks from a hidden farm somewhere, who wake up and tramp into town, where they proceed to grow giant arms and knock down whole buildings, or slime up buildings as amorphous sheets so they can stalk small girl children and eat them. The Big Daddy of the family was a sort of giant muscular lizardy thing. I think by the time I woke up the entire town was either dead or assimilated. No Sam or Dean to intervene. Clearly where the scriptwriter went wrong, but I have to say, my subconscious has a superb cinematographer.

Fortunately today was a public holiday, so once I'd cleared the dream-fogs I trundled off to see How to Train Your Dragon in 3D this morning. What a sweet little film - really an object lesson in how to take a hopeless cliché (boy makes friends with Wild Creature, is redeemed, saves day) and infuse it with life and charm. The kid's personality and dialogue are lovely; the 3D is magical without being intrusive, the dragon-flight bits, particularly the end battle, are dizzying and beautiful and bloody marvellous, but overall the strength is in the dragons themselves. Toothless, the main dragon, is a completely endearing mix of puppy, kitten and wild creature, and the incredible variety of other dragons is wildly inventive. (And frequently hilarious: I cracked up completely when I realised how neatly they'd pegged the dragon types to the howling stereotypes of the kid gang - small fat kid to small fat dragon, skinny twins to the two-headed serpentine one, spiky-haired punk dragon with attitude for the girl sidekick. Also, the fat kid's D&D geekery with reference to dragon abilities caused me unholy in-joke glee, to the complete bewilderment of the nice family sitting next to me). It was a lovely way to spend a morning - absolutely no surprises, but considerable pleasures. One for the DVD collection.

This week I have to fight Home Affairs to renew my passport. I console myself with the thought that they can't possibly be as incompetent as Telkom.



1 If you phone the fault line they say it's an order and please phone the order line. I tell you, Kafka has nothing on these guys.
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Incandescent rage is such a bracing start to the weekend. I'm still trying to get the phone cabling in the house rewired, in a vague stab at preventing it from looking quite so much like a cyberpunk spider's web. So, after two months of fighting the hellish circularity of the Telkom helplines, including five separate calls, two separate fault logs, three emails, at least one non-existent reference number and, finally, this morning, a visit to the nearest branch in person (25 mins in queues), it transpires that I shouldn't be logging this call, because our ADSL isn't leased from Telkom. Imaginet should be logging it. In fact, they shouldn't, but their cheerfully geeky helpline guys managed to get an awful lot of "there, there" across when I phoned them up, and have logged a fault on my behalf even though it's not really their problem. (Nice Imaginet helpline guy: "Hi, Jonathan speaking, how may I help you?" Me, pathetically: "You can help by not being Telkom." Him, laughing: "That part we can generally do, ma'am.")

I cannot believe how psychotically angry it makes me to confront Telkom's giant bureaucracy, fat and complacent after years of monopoly, and clearly without the faintest interest in providing anything like customer service. They have refined passing the buck to the rarefied levels of a dadaist art form. I lose it with these people regularly, and end up shouting at them about how absolutely crap their company is, usually accompanied by wistful visions of breaking them into pieces and crunching them between my teeth. They look a bit wild around the eyes and pass me on to someone else as quickly as they can.

On the upside, I love dealing with Imaginet because I know that the geeks on the other end will completely understand when I sign off my official back-up email asking them to log the fault, with "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope!"
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Remember the giant cable spiderweb left behind by the Army of Reconstruction? Bits of it visible here? It still exists, as the last major thing we need sorted out post the Renovations of Doom. So two weeks ago I phoned Telkom and told them we needed a complete internal telephone rewire on account of all the free-floating cables with the bare wires showing, and they said "Oh all right then" and gave me a reference number.

Today I embarked on the painful, futile, self-flagellatory process of finding out why I've heard nothing further. This necessitates Phoning Telkom Helplines, an activity widely held to be popular in the Ninth Circle of Hell, and involving 45 minutes of the same thirty seconds of syrupy hold music, four different operatives in a Möbius strip of "I am not the one, phone the other helpline", and the eventual revelation that my initial call went to the wrong place, was logged by the wrong person, given an invalid reference number, I'm the wrong person to be doing this, and will I please start from scratch, in hard copy, having first metamorphosed myself into the account holder. At which point I lost it badly, informed the final consultant, at considerable volume, that Telkom's services suck, their company sucks, their customer service ethos blows goats, and they're basically incompetent as a commercial entity, and slammed the phone down. (Note, even in psychotic rage I managed to avoid a personal attack on the hapless operator, whose only fault is her choice of employer).

I am no longer quivering solely because I've just eaten an entire bar of cranberry and macadamia nougat, which I bought for my sister last night (she's a nougat fiend) and had to take away again because they've put her on Warfarin and apparently it interacts with cranberries. (Change in diagnosis: not, in fact, Bell's Palsy, but actually a tiny lesion in an artery at the base of her skull, eventually revealed via a second MRI, three radiologists and a techy dweeb who's really enthusiastic about manipulating MRI images to reveal miniscule events. She's still getting better in leaps and bounds, and prognosis is just as good). I am also retaining mental health by the fixed contemplation of a four-day weekend coming up, Salty Cracker at Yindee's tonight, and a grim determination to bunk work at 3.30 sharp recking not the Dean's outraged stare.

Rant list update: (1) Telkom. (2) Parcelforce. That pretty much does it.
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So, Avatar. The current Big Thing. The guilty pleasure that everyone is raving about because, yes, well, script not up to much, but gosh is it pretty and also groundbreaking 3-D and motion-capture technology yadda yadda. I went into this expecting a lousy script but a lot of pretty - I was perfectly open to being seduced, hell, I swallowed the shiny blue roofies all starry-eyed and waited for the inevitable from the nice man with the big gun whispering all the sweet nothings about the size of his budget. Except... Here's the thing. It didn't work. )
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Right, well, that was the second weekend in a row I haven't had internet, and frankly I'm surprised I'm as sane as I am. Two and a half hours on various helplines over two days, half of it with Telkom, ritual ptooey. Imaginet opines that there is nothing wrong with my ADSL setup, the line itself must be faulty. Telkom denies this and attempts to fob me off by insisting I report a technical fault to Imaginet, not them. The Imaginet tech guy has become my absolute hero by admitting that he quite enjoys shouting at Telkom technicians and will be delighted to do so on my behalf. I wonder if he's married?

The ginger tomcat seems to have moved in, taking full advantage of the deep psychological trauma it's caused me to cause Ounce deep psychological trauma by initially shouting at him a lot when he tried to move in. The Evil Landlord is of the opinion that Ginger is actually a hobbit, which I have to admit makes perfect sense: he seems unduly fixated on food, besides the obligatory hairiness, large feet and what appears to be an unhealthy fondness for weed. If he sticks around he's going to have to be Pippin, if only so I can shout "Fool of a Took!" irascibly every time I fall over him for the nine millionth time because he's entwined affectionately around my ankles in the hopes I'm about to offer him second breakfast. In an attempt to forestall this apparently inevitable fate I must still undertake a quick trot around the neighbourhood, possibly with Ginger in a cat box, to see if any nearby household is bewilderedly mourning his loss. Do You Recognise This Cat?:



He's actually very beautiful, and uncommonly teddy-bearish.

The internet debacle was, of course, mitigated somewhat by the usual retreat into The Middleman, panacea to all ills. Goofy Middleman Exclamations Du Jour include "What the monkey?!" "Holy jumping bananas!" "Mutual of Omaha!" "Sweet mother of Preston Tucker!" and "Hot flaming pork buns!". Dagnabbit Count, tragically, at 0 for Episode 3. Interesting time-zone unlikelinesses: Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time, Foxtrot Time, Heure Normale Du Yukon, Coordinated Universal Time, Charlie Time, Zulu Time. Bonus points for unusually delirious silliness: the Hruck Bugbear, the Wu-Han Thumb of Death, O2STK, the Clan of the Pointed Stick, gratuitous quantities of evil Lucha Libre wrestlers and the Dread Pyramid of Itzilichlitlichlitzl. I love this show.

viciously circular

Saturday, 29 August 2009 06:08 pm
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Rant list time! Today's rant list is a marvel of elegance and simplicity.
  1. Windows. Windows XP. Windows XP which, despite being installed perfectly legally from a legit copy with the right million-digit code and all, has effectively locked me out of my dad's computer by requiring to be activated before it will let me into Windows. Activation requires an internet connection. I can only connect to the internet once I'm in Windows, which I can't do because Windows isn't activated. Because it needs the internet. Which it can't have. See this head banging against a brick wall? that's me, that is. That's my girlfriend.
  2. Parcelforce. No idea what they've done lately, but I promised Scroob.
Things not on my rant list:
  1. my mother;
  2. my friends.
Y'all are wonderful and are keeping me sane.
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Interesting facts about Telkom:

  1. Arranging a phone line for your invalid father is apparently a deeply suspect and illegitimate project. You will have to phone the helpline multiple times, and will be given conflicting information from each different person you speak to.
  2. Their phone operatives do, in fact, seem inclined to put unnecessary obstacles in your way, in this case police intervention.
  3. In defiance of probability the Claremont Telkom store contains one actual sales assistant who is cheerful, friendly, knowledgeable, efficient and empathetic, but you need to go in in person to access him.
  4. This morning's take on the Telkom helpline required me to phone the bloody thing five times in a row, since their number-press system kept cutting me off when I pressed 2 for a "Progress report". This is clearly because Telkom doesn't care about making progress and certainly doesn't want you to find out about the lack of it.
  5. When you eventually press to order a new service, in desperation, the operative will inform you that there is no point in updating the record with your dad's cellphone number, since the technicians have already left for the day's rounds and can't access the system.
  6. Telkom's technicians are not, it appears, in any form of telephonic or data contact with the mother ship while out on a job.
  7. My faint, wondering surprise at my Evil Landlord's loathing of Telkom and all its works is, in fact, an illegitimate reaction based on the fact that I've never really had to deal with them. He was right all along.
  8. Their Evil Empire status is not sufficient to prevent me from feeling obscurely guilty all morning at having told the helpline woman "Thank you very much for your complete absence of help".
I seem to have lulled the lurking bug, and Sid the Sinus headache, into something like acquiescence by going home at 1pm yesterday and spending the entire afternoon crashed on the sofa watching the new Indiana Jones, which I somehow missed on circuit when it was actually new. On the upside, it's very like the first three films, as in it's lots of fun but not actually very good - I'd say the level of cheesy plot hole is about constant. Nonetheless, truly wonderful Cate Blanchett in a seriously slumming-it role; bonus aliens, which always float my boat; and a surprisingly entertaining take on the James Dean rebel by Shia Laboeuf. On the down side, it's very like the first three films in that it's not actually very good, and poor old Harrison Ford really is getting a bit creaky - they played on it as a motif quite well, but it somehow feels all undignified for him.

Also watched Hellboy: The Golden Army, which, despite being a Guillermo del Toro and therefore incapable of doing wrong, was really a Tolkien rip-off which would have benefited materially from a Legolas. (Didn't find the elves at all hot, which simply feels wrong). Loved the deltoroid faerie folk, though, truly creepy at times, and the animation of some of them (the tooth fairies, particularly) was beautifully done. Also, was it just me, or did they somehow stuff up Hellboy's face-mask? looked all wrong. Del Toro is, however, very gratifyingly able not to clutter up his plots with unnecessary bits. Enjoyable movie, although not quite as enjoyable as I'd expected, somehow.
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Things that have recently made me happy:
  • A warm, fresh, squishy chocolate doughnut for breakfast. I feel entitled, because I came in to work later than usual and the traffic made me grumpy. Grumping burns calories. Fact.
  • Dave McKean - not just the beautiful, incredible images here, but his somewhat irreligious views on religion:
    ... a place called Heaven is only ever going to exist as an overpriced nightclub, so I guess I would hope to hear God say, “this margarita’s on me.”
  • Watchmen. Gawsh. Spoilery, so considerately cut. )
Things that have recently made me cross: traffic. Also, my bloody glands are all sore again, which means the total exhaustion of the last couple of days, and concomitant desire to murder my alarm clock, are probably glandular fever doing its happy thing again. Bollocks.

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