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)
I have emerged, mostly unscathed and presumably de-polyped, from the slightly haphazard embrace of the medical establishment. (Five hours of waiting for theatre, during which the nurses utterly failed to restore the missing curtains from my cubicle, rendering changing clothes somewhat of an exposed experience, and I read four-fifths of The Name of the Wind, which is interesting, if slightly gender-unenlightened grimdark fantasy whose protagonist is something of an oblivious dick for most of it). Most noticeable side-effect of the whole procedure: two days of random bursting into tears for no apparent reason, which I'd forgotten is the usual result of anaesthetic on my hapless form. I await with alert interest to see if the polyp-removal does have any actual effect on my currently completely randomised menstrual cycle, which has not been operating as a cycle so much as a sort of wayward and slightly amnesiac wavy line.

I feel the need to share for posterity some rather soothing web-widgets which have whiled away my slightly lachrymose recovery.
  • This is beautifully random: it consists solely of a web page which reflects the time (hour/minute/second) as the colour of the hexadecimal colour code represented by the numbers. You can sit and watch it slowly, gradually shade as the seconds tick by. It's weirdly soothing.
  • This is also colour-related - you choose a colour from the palette and randomly spread it across the black screen, and it builds you galaxies. They're beautiful and ethereal.
  • This is meditative and exploratory and gently primitive, and the music is a lot of its effect, but I also like the strange, spidery creature you grow. Also, not actually two-dimensional, although you may think so at first.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am once more computer- and internet-enabled! This has taken four entirely unnecessary days, given that (as usual) the problems were very simple and I could have sorted them out myself if I'd only known.

  1. The computer problem wasn't the graphics card, it was a boot-up problem which for some bizarre reason hinged on a defunct wireless card. If you unplugged the wireless card it booted up fine. Since I connect the desktop to the router with a cable, the wireless card is entirely redundant and has in fact never been used (mostly because I could never get it to work, making more sense in retrospect than it ever did at the time) and we simply left it out.
  2. I should have been able to tell that it was a boot-up problem because of the missing beep when it tried to boot up. It transpires, however, that for some reason my computer doesn't actually beep when you boot it. Something has cruelly silenced its beep. Or it has my bronchitis, one or the other.
  3. The internet problem was because the router randomly reset itself to my old Imaginet package rather than the new one. I have no idea what caused this. I'm perfectly capable of configuring a router myself, but couldn't do so because I had no functional computer to which to attach it. Next time my computer dies I'm going to check the router first, since it apparently has these random fits of self-definition.
  4. Hmmm. I don't ever appear to have named this computer. My old one, the one who got stolen after a service career of continual revolving upgrades over approximately a decade, like a dwarven axe, was called Mnemonsyne. My netbook, before she too was nicked, was Tiamat. I need to think up an appropriate female goddess stat.
  5. Having sorted out all of the above (except the name), I couldn't access approximately half of my usual websites without incurring a security warning. Which turned out to be for https sites, which it categorically refused to load on the grounds that Unspecified Evils (possibly the usual aetheric bears) would steal my data if I did. Apparently https sites consider you to be suspect anachronisms if, for example, the technician who diagnosed your wireless card problem managed in the course of it to reset your computer clock to somewhere in 2007. Updating the calendar made all the little security warnings and red padlocks go the hell away, with the result that I have now managed to subdue my rampaging Tumblr feed.

I am please to be imagined in a triumphant pose, with my booted foot on the neck of the technojixary beast. Like a questing beast, or more accurately the exact opposite of a questing beast. Far from questing after it, you rather wish this one would go away, as it breathes down your neck and muddles your technology until you manage to work out which end of the sword is the pointy one and slay it.

In celebration, please have some deliriously funny BBC radio satire (more accurately, a radio sketch show called “Lewis Macleod is Not Himself”) on the eternal nature of the Freeman/Cumberbatch cinematic duo. The one about The Office, The one about the moose, The one with the cocktail stick. *fairy tale harp chords* [medieval choral chant] Ben-ne-dict Cum-ber-baaatch!
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I suppose I'm due for an outbreak of my techno-jinx, it's been lurking in hibernation for a while, but the emphasis is on the "lurking" - it's an undead horror that will never truly die. I have been without home internet since Wednesday morning, my existence bound by the sad contemplation of that doomful little red blinkenlight on the modem. My helpful Imaginet geek checked all the widgety connection thingummies, and the problem is apparently Telkom doing "routine maintenance" on the lines in the area, by which I assume they mean they're digging up the perfectly functional network and replacing it with something they crocheted from palm fibres while high. Techno-jinx 1, me 0, Telkom their usual 32 956, while cackling.

They may well have sorted it out since Wednesday, but I have been unable to check, on account of how my computer monitor abruptly stopped being able to talk to the actual computer sometime on Wednesday night, right in the middle of a high-stakes Dragon Age battle. Intensive operations swapping out monitors and connection cables suggest that it's not either of them, so I somewhat amateurishly diagnose that my video card has died. Either that, or it's a more pervasive problem with either the power supply or the RAM or the hard drive itself, which is preventing the poor creature from booting properly at all. Since it can't get as far as talking to the monitor either way it can't tell me what's actually wrong, which is a horribly helpless sort of position to put me in. These days I can usefully solve a good 70% of my computer problems by the power of random semi-competent fiddle, creatively channelling the Evil Landlord and various ex-boyfriends, and Google. Not this time, clearly. Techno-jinx 2, me 0, Telkom still cackling in the background because still no internet, which means my perfectly functional IPad is useless for internet-withdrawal-placation purposes as the wireless doesn't work. Curse that cloud computing, anyway.

It's entirely possible that this dual techno-failure was a signal from the Cosmic Wossnames on high that I need to get my butt back to work after ten days of sick-leave - certainly I have been far more motivated to actually leave the house when I can neither noodle around on the internet nor play games. I am thus back in the saddle, placating the swirling black clouds of internet withdrawal by virtue of my work internet (although my Tumblr feed is pretty much out of control as reading it full-time is not compatible with student advice or doing any actual work), and plotting to take the hapless computer in to the nice Korean geekpersons at Cafe Viva this afternoon. I am also way ahead on my tv-watching and reading, which means I have finally cracked open Parade's End, of which I have been somewhat scared in my weakened state as it looked heavy and possibly tragic. In fact, it's both tragic and absorbing, and exquisitely made, and is providing a horribly addictive plethora of compelling characters and amazing set and landscape porn. Last night I also combined the high-class BBC period drama with a completely random and uncalled-for acquisition of Chinese takeout, all on my own, just because I was grumpy and could. It turns out that techno-jinxen, if not placated, can be more or less forgotten with sufficient crispy duck with pancakes and Benedict Cumberbatch being Noble in spades. Thus Techno-jinx 2, Telkom infinity, but me 1.

In the context of all of the above I record, for posterity, my delightful discovery in the course of looking up "blinkenlight" to confirm that it was in fact spelled thusly and did indeed mean what I though it meant. Namely, the Wikipedia article on same, which reproduces in its entirety that beautifully Goonish conglomeration of mock-German warning sign which is one of the most elderly of tech memes, and whose existence I had entirely forgotten about. When confronted with a rampaging techno-jinx, horned and clawed, it is as well to remember that DAS KOMPUTERMASCHINE IST NICHT FÜR DER GEFINGERPOKEN UND MITTENGRABEN! and to RELAXEN UND WATSCHEN DER BLINKENLICHTEN. If I can get them to blink. News at 11.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Because it's traditional, that's why. Also, weirdly enough, happy Alan Turing's birthday. I am very much looking forward to the new film about his life, not only because Benedict Cumberbatch.

I have horrible 'flu at the moment, which is a bit of an unkind way to finish up 10 days of leave. They were a very nice 10 days of leave, we went up to Bartholomeu's Klip again, and then I fuffled around the house for several days generally relaxing enough for my body to realise, "Right, we're run down!" and pick up lurgis. On the upside, I'm too out of it and generally disgusting to be at work, and Telkom have just left having performed mystic wossnames in my living room which have, miraculously, and in defiance of probability, resulted in a fully operational phone line (albeit with a different number to the one they first gave me), and ADSL. Apparently they dealt with the lack of ADSL ports in the area by creating me one, presumably out of cardboard and string or thin air or the tears and cusses of frustrated customers. Negotiating their helpline and mutually contradictory updates over the last month has been a deeply unpleasant experience, and I shall wait only until the end of the month before joyously cancelling my Telkom internet package and fleeing back into the welcoming geeky bosom of Imaginet. Imaginet's helplines are things of joy and relief.

I should dig up my Bart's Klip photos and blog about it. Yup. Getting right onto that, once I've stopped floating gently around the house in the 'flu-ridden state which means I don't quite connect with anything, ever. It's entirely unproductive but surprisingly pleasant.

fire and brimstone

Thursday, 11 July 2013 04:06 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Clearly it is fatal to ever name anything, truenames simply happen with cosmic inevitability. Minerva is apparently not Minerva, or is at least only Minerva for extremely formal occasions. Courtesy of her number-plate and Jo&Stv, she is now the Beast, or Beastie for affectionate. I am bowing to the inevitable, and will have to find a small demonic dangly for her rear-view-mirror rather than a wol.

I should also simply accept that classical names for creatures of mine are doomed: Fish was technically Ariadne, but was never anything but Fish. The Hobbit is technically Peregrine Took or Pippin, but it never stuck. The Biscuit Tin was also supposed to be the Boojum, but that didn't stick either. However, at least the Beast now fits neatly into the clear parameters of Names For My Blue Cars Which Have To Be The Definite Article Plus Something Beginning With B.

It is somewhat of a revelation to realise how much of the Beast is clearly a nostalgic attempt to reconstruct the Biscuit Tin, who I loved with the pure and abiding love of a girl for her small blue tin boxy car.

In the Department of Fire And Brimstone, I have this week brought upon myself solely by my own stupid exertions a particularly early start to Hellweek, which is technically next week. We did early change of curriculum for five hours of yesterday and again today. It's the exact opposite of Christmas coming early, and has moreover produced the misguided young man who, at the end of a long day, attempted to invade my tea-drinking moment with an insistence that he was only adding a course so it wasn't a change of curriculum and he could thus clearly ignore the No Change Of Curriculum sign on my door. Honestly. Basic logic, do we even teach it? *channels Professor Kirke*

Hellweek next week, aka the first week of term. Please forgive me if I am unduly short and explosive in chance encounters. On the upside, my Esteemed Mother arrives from the UK on Monday evening. That should help.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Here is another entry in the Department Of The Approximately One Million Things That Make Me Cry. "Space Oddity" is a fairly emotional piece of music anyway, considered quite apart from its position in my pervy-David-Bowie-fancying lexicon: it's a particularly vivid and evocative rendition of isolation and loss layered on top of stirring human endeavour. Space is simply emotional, and humans in space hit a deeply-embedded science fictional nerve in my psyche. (Which suggests why it's taking me so long to get around to watching Moon, and also why I really ought to). I've also been following Chris Hadfield on Twitter and Tumblr, as he patiently and systematically humanises the space station project - not so much putting a human face on it, as skilfully using the immediacy and speed of social media to insert us into the experience. It's been wonderful, both exciting and moving - he's an amazing man. He also posts the odd photo of Cape Town from orbit, which makes me ridiculously happy.

He's coming back down to Earth now, and as a farewell has released a version of "Space Oddity" sung, rather well, by himself, in the space station. This is a perfect thing. It's been bouncing around my Tumblr and Twitter feeds all morning, accompanied by righteous squee. It also hits so many of my buttons simultaneously that I've just sat at my desk for ten minutes and cried like a baby.



I've had a rather madly social weekend - book club on Friday, Neil's birthday on Saturday, and a Sunday night dinner I cooked last night with Jo&Stv and Sven&Tanya featuring wine, hilarity and roast chicken with all the trimmings, not to mention a new recipe for chocolate mousse which ... seems to work. All three of these gatherings were not particularly notable in that they featured me, at some stage, babbling enthusiastically about fan fiction, as a result of which Jo was moved to suggest that I actually post some links to these stories for the general enlightenment or bewilderment of my readers. Which is a damned good idea.

As an opening shot, and in keeping with the Space Feels, have a series of really rather interesting AU fics re-imagining the Avengers in a space opera setting. I'm impressed at the creativity of this writer: the way they've managed to take the characters and relationships of the Marvel films and explore them via a rather different idiom but with a sensitive eye to emotional and political resonance. Also, bonus AI politics and Tony Stark as technomancer with nanotech, communicating with JARVIS via a neural implant. JARVIS is simply cool. icarus_chained, Space Electric.

Added bonus: I've managed to shamelessly use both "evocative" and "resonant" in the same post. I blame the Space Feels.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
lizzie bennet diariesI'm rather late on the bandwagon with this - I've seen mention of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on the web over the last year or so, but what with the urgent need to read all the Avengers fanfiction, never really got around to watching them. (Apparently internet distraction time is finite rather than infinitely expandable. Which, given the infinite expandability of the internet is something of a problem. Oops.) Today I am wandering around in a bit of a daze, bumping into things, because I was up until after midnight fascinatedly watching a modernised Lizzie Bennet deal with Darcy revelations and Wickham fallout, and am consequently somewhat short on sleep. I'm at around episode 90 out of 100 (it's just finished, making this a good time to leap on board for people prone to my need for instant narrative gratification). It was significantly difficult to drag myself away in the small hours.

The Lizzie Bennet diaries are two things: (a) a beautifully-realised and highly intelligent modernisation of Pride and Prejudice via social media, and (b) proof positive that Jane Austen still has a fan following - still speaks to people, even modern internet-savvy people whose lives revolve around phones and tweets and job opportunities rather than marriage and social class. The show consists of 100 2-5 minute weblogs from Lizzie herself, with extensions into Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr accounts and a couple of offshoot video blogs (Lydia, mostly), and a fan following who interacts with the characters as though they're real. It strips down Austen's narrative to show only central characters, while peripheral characters such as Mr and Mrs Bennet or Catherine de Bourgh are represented by quick (and often very funny) theatrical impersonations by Lizzie and various hapless assistants. It's a show about social media on several levels, not just in its own transmission formats, but in the daily life and concerns of its protagonists. At the heart of it is an intrinsically conscious equation between Austen's social awareness and social media awareness, an insistence that culture is culture regardless of its technological paradigm.

I love and frequently re-read Pride and Prejudice, and I love this adaptation: it's funny and sensitive, and above all beautifully acute in its awareness of the central themes of the book, and the way in which they transcend historical context. The equivalences the show makes for Charlotte's pragmatic acceptance of Mr Collins, for Wickham's desecration of Lydia, for the whole socio-economic edifice of Pemberly and Darcy's wealth, beautifully encapsulate the spirit of the original while cheerfully updating its letter. (Their version of Mr Collins is sheer genius, both in concept and in execution. Also, obviously Darcy is a hipster. Suspenders. She says darkly.)

Where the series most blows me away, though, is in their treatment of the Wickham/Lydia plot. I was a bit dubious about how they were going to handle it given contemporary sexual freedoms, but updated, and with Lydia's greatly increased interiority, it becomes heartbreakingly cruel. It fascinates me, that the trauma and heartache displayed on video in this version are such an exact and faithful match to the trauma and heartbreak (although more restrained in expression) in Austen's original. She wrote about people, how they love and betray and survive, and above all how they agonise about their appearance in the eyes of the world. Even more so given the power of our technology, so do we.

I came, I saw, Ipad

Sunday, 10 March 2013 07:10 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
The Great New Year's Eve robbery relieved me of Winona, my netbook, whose petite Goth self I sincerely mourn. In a bizarre and unprecedented move straight out of left field, however, the insurance has actually paid out for more than the replacement cost of a low-end netbook, as a result of which the whole "resistance is futile, you will be assimilated" thing has kicked in, and this morning I toddled forth (with Jo&Stv for moral support and hand-holding) and acquired myself an Ipad entirely within the bounds of the insurance proceeds. While I still regard the whole Apple cult-edifice with a fair amount of distrust, I also feel that I badly need to acquire tablet and touch-screen skills, on account of how my tech cred is slipping and I'm becoming obsolete. So far I have resisted Itunes, which I loathe with a passion born from actual experience, but I have ordered the cute keyboard-case thingy that Claire had, which looks as though it'll make actual typing actually possible.

It's all very exciting, and I am not significantly deterred from my geeky "new tech!" dance of joy by the inevitable intervention of my personal techno-jinx, which promptly stalled the setup of the new Ipad by two hours while it meditatively downloaded and installed an OS upgrade. This is, alas, simply par for the course. It's all working now, and is offering me a friendly and intuitive interface with which I am becoming rapidly acquainted. I'm taking suggestions for a name for the new creature, though - I'm reverting to "Cupcake" in moments of stress, which is simply silly. (As in, "Please don't do this to me, cupcake!" in tones of plaintive despair).

I forgot to do month-end quotes again! I am a bad academic. Herewith the intellectual debts for February, which is fortunately a short month in which I haven't blogged much owing to thing, and have descended to actual originality in subject lines more than once.

  • 4th February: I quote a newspaper headline from E. Nesbit's fairy tale "The Deliverers of their Country", which features alarming plagues of dragons infesting Victorian Britain strictly according to the dictates both of Darwinian evolution and of the St. George narrative. Also notable for beautiful Victorian magical tech in the form of the Tap-Room, which controls the weather. One of my favourites, and I really must buckle down and write that damned Nesbit paper.
  • 12th February: a line from Thomas Moore's "The Fire Worshippers", which is one of the four poems in his Oriental romance Lalla Rookh, a marvellous concatenation of swooning emotion and sultry, exotic atmosphere. Also the poem which features the famous bit about dear gazelles gladding maidens with their soft black eyes, and thus a source from which I am frequently driven to quote more or less ironically in the context of students.
  • 14th February: a quote from Nimona early in the web-comic, while she's fangirling all over Sir Ballister Blackheart's villainy and trying to persuade him to take her on as a sidekick. Nimona rocks.
  • 23rd February: Tony Stark in the Avengers movie, as any fule kno, trying to dodge a call from Coulson. I'm madly amused by the Life Model Decoy reference, as it's one of the recurring elements in the comics which they use to retcon character deaths and behavioural weirdnesses - LMDs are S.H.I.E.L.D. robots programmed and constructed to replace and be controlled by actual people, and thus to serve as a plausible decoy for attacks. A beautiful narrative kludge, in other words. We like those.

Today I celebrated the new bookshelves by relocating a swathe of my sf collection and opening up shelves to store my DVDs, which have outgrown their cabinet by a factor of two, which is coincidentally the factor by which, it turns out, my collection of superhero films outnumbers the fairy tale ones. This possibly suggests the need for a change in my academic focus. I'm down with this.
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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
What is it with Arcade Fire? There's something about the two-punch of "Crown of Love" followed by "Wake Up" which makes me cycle them on endless repeat. I think it might be the beat, that repetitive pulse, or perhaps the repeated note, like a ground bass. Something about a strong, driving bass line really works for me, gives a song an underlying thrust and coherence which is quite separate from the actual tune. See also "Strangers When We Meet", "White Winter Hymnal" (when the beat gets going, with added bonus in the crescendo, which Arcade Fire also does in spades), "Love is a Stranger", "Tusk", "All Tomorrow's Parties", "Love Will Tear Us Apart", "Why So Sad", "We Will Become Silhouettes", Big Wreck's "Head in the Girl", "Where the Streets Have No Name" (serious build-up points), "Colours" and "Lucretia", She Wants Revenge's "These Things". I don't have the necessary musical wossname to actually describe the shared quality, but it's a visceral effect, my whole body responds.

I have been playing Arcade Fire on repeat as a means of escape from a continual string of desperate students, who are in their first week of exams and are tending to flail wildly as they work out how many of them they're actually going to fail. I respond to this with my usual calm professionalism, i.e. by situating on my desk a large jar of mini chocolate bars, which I hand out to anyone who looks stressed. It's quite effective. Especially when I'm the one looking stressed, which happens several times a day. Damn.

Now I shall twiddle my thumbs until the nice ITS person arrives to migrate my email to Outlook. I shall endeavour not to simulate retching in the corner, but it'll be difficult. I loathe Outlook. Gruesome little beast.

waiting for the man

Saturday, 27 October 2012 06:19 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I have discovered Chrome! It pains me to abandon Firefox, which has served me well for many years and whose cute logo and continued ability to not be IE I shall miss, but it was rapidly succumbing to the more noxious kind of bloat. Chrome is a new, fresh country in which clicking on a browser icon causes this useful contraption to load instantly instead of several minutes later in lead boots. I am, however, known proclivities notwithstanding, deeply suspicious of this "cloud" thing. It ain't natural.

Today I have done two loads of washing, written LARPs for two hours in the company of Jo (we have a mutual reinforcement pact in a desperate effort to actually finish something), diligently filed away the giant wodge of official-looking paper which has resided in the in-tray on my desk at home for upwards of a year, and submitted two tax returns. The dual tax return was necessary because, upon logging into the online filing site (which is madly efficient for a government bureaucracy and has my vote) I discovered that I never actually filed a return for 2011. Mature reflection suggests that this could be legitimately attributable to an ill-fated Australia trip, a life-threatening hospitalisation and several months of serious fatigue, but I don't know if that will hold any water with the jackbooted minions of SARS. I have no idea what actually happens to the evil defaulters who blithely file a tax return a year late: the Lawful Good part of me is subconsciously braced for the SWAT team to burst through the ceiling, waving paperwork. If I'm never heard of again, that's what happened.

The mad productivity and general organisation levels of the day would be terribly worthy, except that I have a dark suspicion I actually only did all of the above as a skilled avoidance of the marking pile. Essays marked today: 0. We're out at Overture for lunch tomorrow, so I suspect its score will be similar. Darn.

In only vaguely related news, apparently the result of spending two weeks reading Avengers slash is that I suddenly have a mad desire to ship Tony Stark with Kaylee Fry. The logic is both terrible and beautiful.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I've just trotted over to the Arts block to make some photocopies for my class, and have returned in giggles because of encountering a small, rather well-behaved herd of data cable rolls, trundling down the avenue under the guidance and motive power of a couple of cabling-guy herdsmen. Three rolls to a guy, and a process of judicious, well-timed kicks to keep the herd on track. The whole effect was curiously adorable.

I was an hour late for work today, on account of getting caught up in the Curiosity landing, which I am still kicking myself I missed in real time. I thought it was much later this morning. Phooey. Nontheless wonderful - textbook touchdown, photo of shadow, jubilant geeks. I'm still all weepy. But, as my mother commented, it's a weird sort of index of the fundamental brokenness of the human race that we can put a ton of survey equipment with the utmost accuracy and delicacy on a spot 563 million kilometres away, and still can't get it together to give people on the actual Earth oh, I dunno, food, or housing, or education, or an economy built on anything other than blinkered self-interest. However, my favourite tweets of the morning:

@tomscott: "Humanity just dropped a NUCLEAR-POWERED CAR, intact, onto ANOTHER PLANET with a SKY CRANE and it’s SENDING US STUFF. BRING IT ON UNIVERSE."

@bdolman: "Gold medal for NASA in the 563 billion meters."

Once again, I confidently predict that there's absolutely no-one else in this building who shares my science-geeky joy. Sigh. I'm a lonely little petunia in a very arty onion patch.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Goodness, April. I cannot condone the helter-skelter promiscuity with which the months leap headlong into each other's recently-vacated beds. In particular, I cannot but feel peeved at the fact that April this year seems to have heralded a full-on glandular resurgence, which means I'm dragging myself around the show in a dazed and non-functional state, wibbling. However, five-day break over Easter. (I took Thursday off to spend it with my Mama, who arrives from points British on Wednesday night, hurrah!)

It being a new month, I am obliged to follow my New Year's Resolution, namely to acknowledge the sources of my involuted subject line references. March shakes down as follows:

1st: English proverb. Have you ever noticed how many English proverbs are concerned with the weather? Poor things.
6th: David Bowie, lyrics of "Teenage Wildlife", appropriately enough given the subject of the post.
8th: beautifully apposite quote from Avengers trailer.
11th: quote from Rango.
16th: Quote from one of Gollum's riddles.
20th: quote from one of my favourite T-shirts, although not, confusingly, the anti-Twilight T-shirt featured in the post. We rejoice in a plethora of anti-Twilight t-shirts, suggesting that there's hope for today's youth.
24th: Logan quote from Veronica Mars. Logan is eminently quotable. Also, Logan/Veronica 4 EVAH!
27th: an infusion of my usual "< Weekday > Wol is..." formula with a mutated LOLcat slogan.
29th: Quote from "Teach Your Children Well", which is a catchy but saccharine Crosby Stills & Nash song I learned in guitar club at school.
21st. Self-conscious invocation of the traditional diss of a clichéd fantasy novel or D&D game, and simultaneously a deliberate subtextual referral to the slash fan fiction I teach in the course whose web pages the hacker is routinely hacking.

In other news, if you haven't yet seen The Guild's new musical number + video, do so. It's a marvellous geeky revenge fantasy, but it's also an incredibly clever piece of film which plays lovely games with visual matches and with pretentious rock-band tropes.

hack, slash

Saturday, 31 March 2012 11:00 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
There's this unruly bugger somewhere in Russia or the Ukraine or whatever who routinely hacks my website, specifically the one in my actual name where I keep my teaching pages - it's a WordPress site, which is apparently tantamount to sticking a huge banner reading "HACKERS WELCOME!" over its front page. Since one of the things I teach is a section on vampires and the internet in a History of Eroticism course, it's clearly being targeted by a sort of "hur hur hur" juvenile whose so-called "thought processes" are rendered even less functional than usual by the mere mention of the word "sex". He (and I say advisedly, it feels very maladjusted-juvenile-male to me) habitually overwrites the index.php, to replace every page in the site with a GeoCities-style black page featuring some scantily clad female, often of the vampiric persuasion, in a vacuously available pose, while scrolling inscriptions in various languages crow pointlessly about his own cleverness in hacking me. It's the virtual and textual equivalent of some awkwardly skinny and acne-ridden dude in a too-tight speedo flexing his nonexistent muscles in the vain and delusional belief that it renders him the cynosure of feminine admiration. Sad, really. And bloody annoying, because it's my professional page in my own identity, and doesn't really create a very good impression if a colleague looks me up, which they actually may do given that I have three conference papers accepted for this year.

Stv used to exterminate these little cockroaches for me, but I've just moved my sites out of his hosting ambit, which means I can no longer meep at him about it, but conversely in the last few days have become involuntarily far more proficient with basic WordPress functions. I am now perfectly capable of rewriting the index.php when necessary, it's very simple, and caused me a certain amount of vindictive satisfaction to reverse things in moments when the bastard hacked me for the inaugural time on the new servers yesterday. It won't, of course, sort out any nasty backdoors or other bits of code the Juvenile Hacktwit has left lying around on the site, so a large chunk of this weekend is going to be spent working painstakingly through various sites which detail how to protect oneself from this sort of attack, and fiddling accordingly while desperately hoping I don't break anything.

It occurs to me, however, that the high concentration of computer proficiency among the witterers may be useful in providing an answer which I couldn't actually find on Teh Internets. The stat counter thingy on my site identifies robots.txt as one of the most frequently-hit resources, which is interesting as diligent search suggests that, unless it's tucked away somewhere really counter-intuitive, I don't have a robots.txt file on the site. (Which is apparently quite fine, since malign bots ignore it and hackers use it as a pointer to the stuff you don't want them to see which they therefore really want to see, so it all seems a bit pointless). The statcounter insists that the hits are all real people rather than bots. My question is, what are these people looking for? Are they simply checking for the aforementioned "private" bits of the site, or is there some other nefarious purpose? Enquiring minds want to know.
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I've just run an ongoing orientation workshop, which entailed being in the venue early to set up data projectors and what have you. (We insert the usual ritual cursing aimed at my Cherished Institution's classroom "facilities" unit, which mostly facilitates frustration and despair). While I was waiting for the start of the session students were doing the usual student thing, which is to trickle in gradually (this process takes place from about ten minutes before the start of the lecture until about ten minutes after it's under way). I was struck, though, by the ongoing silence in the venue even as the numbers built. Surely students should be chatting to each other while they wait? They certainly have no problem chatting during the lecture itself.

And, of course, the answer is because almost every student is sitting in their seat in the modern attitude of techno-prayer, hands folded, head bowed, thumbs working busily as they send SMSes or read their email or whatever. It's visually quite a striking trend, looking up at the raked seats. Also, almost every student walks into the venue with their phone in their hand, presumably because they've been texting as they walk. Cellphones and their ilk have become communication and identity prosthetics, an integral part of both daily function and of self-construction. I am, because I text. Existence is only proven and affirmed in virtual space. And they say cyberspace isn't real. Hah.

I seem to have missed the cellphone thing, it's an occasionally handy tool rather than an integral part of my functioning, but I think the internet is absolutely a prosthetic self to me. I suspect I've never acquired the cellphone habit because both my work and my home paradigms are fairly sedentary - if I had the kind of job where I was more than ten metres away from my computer at any given time, I'd probably be giving my thumbs repetitive strain injury with the best of them. I become very, very twitchy if internet-deprived for more than a few hours.

But I mourn what we've lost, which is time. Time in the sense of extended focus, communication in anything other than bite-sized chunks. My students write increasingly terrible essays as the years go by, because you don't learn the skills of sustained argument and marshalling the logical flow of a large chunk of text by reading instant messages. And this is why they argue that blogging is dying, and maybe it is. No time, no attention to spare. TL;DR. All those words.

I like words, and I think they're happier in stupendous, horizon-filling herds.
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I could swear the Daily Voice billboard this morning read "MY SHEEP LOVES COFFEE." If I didn't misread it, which is entirely possible before my first cup of tea, then it's a beautiful example of the perfect tabloid balance between inconsequential and surreal.

Having survived more or less unscathed the hideous first half of the week (the run-up to the print deadlines), I am now embroiled in counting student sign-ups to our orientation programmes. This process, over the last few years, has been a surprising insight into shifting internet trends. Four years ago student personal emails were all Hotmail and Yahoo. These days there's a lone Yahoo every now and then, but Hotmail appears to be dead. Everyone's using Gmail. Literally, probably half the cohort. If this is a worldwide trend, then I actually hate to think of the number of personal lives that are being conducted through a single site. If it Goes Evil it could paralyse half the world. (There's also a weird thing that looks like @ymail.com, which I tend to read as poor student writing for @gmail.com, but in fact it's a sneaky iteration of Yahoo, setting out to ride Gmail's coat-tails and deliberately confuse everyone).

Of course, it's also a not so lovely insight into what I like to categorise affectionately as the Student Dingbat Problem. They have an option, this year, of signing up for a programme online, or sending us a slip. The slip has written across it, in big capitals, "PLEASE ONLY FILL THIS IN IF YOU DO NOT HAVE INTERNET ACCESS!" They are also cautioned, on the slip and in the online signup instructions, NOT to do both. I've only weeded out, oh, twenty or thirty duplications out of a cohort of 1400, so I suppose we can congratulate ourselves that only about 2% of the cream of our youth are unable to follow instructions. It's more than that, though, because my programme sizes shrink dramatically once I weed out the duplications in online signup. Which also warns them, in giant block capitals, not to sign up more than once. The Prime Dingbat for the afternoon is the one who signed up three times online, and also faxed us his slip, blown up to giant size, twice. He was clearly rather insecure about his orientation place. Sigh.

You would also not believe how many of them mis-type their own email address into the online sign-up. Gah.

The subject line is, of course, from Goats. Goats is well known to reconcile readers to a deterministic universe. (Its currently completely indeterminate ending I have to forgive because the labyrinthine complexity of the plot at its end point is so extreme that I suspect the authors have retired, exhausted and defeated by the need for conclusion).

SOPA

Thursday, 19 January 2012 11:20 am
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It is a strange and disturbing thing, to live in an age where corporate lobbyists in another country have the power to potentially restrict net freedoms across the world. You can't say that SOPA won't affect us on the tip of Africa if it's passed. The blogs I read, the information sources I use, even the hosting of some of my own sites, is in the US. Globalisation means we're all interconnected. The activists and net-heads and ordinary people who are doing protest blackouts and phoning their representatives and trying to stop this, are striking a blow for me. I just wish I could do more than simply watch helplessly, and hope.

AROOGA-THUMP!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011 01:39 pm
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It's been a horribly busy week, full of stress and angst. (Exam results came out yesterday. Can you tell?). Saturday was another bloody migraine, fortunately prevented by Judicious Drugs from reaching the throwing-up stage, but rife with nausea and aura and the need to lie flat for several hours instead of attending bakercourt's wedding, an omission about which I am still gnashing my teeth. I'm still all pale and headachey and migraine-hungover, and even without that still tire incredibly easily, which means I'm boot-strapping my way through running today's multiple year-end progression checking training sessions via judicious application of chocolate, Earl Grey and energy drinks, and snarling at the last-minutenesses of students. (Couldn't find V, am desolated to report that Spike tastes worse than Red Bull, and has left a thin film of metallic ick over my teeth, as though I've been slugging mercury).

However! Let us die or be upbeat! By way of retaining such remnants of sanity and positive thought as are left to me, I record for posterity the various random validations which have been vouchsafed to me over the last couple of days.
  1. In the Department of Self-Indulgent Piano Noodling, spent a happy half hour on Sunday haxOring the correct chords to Paul McCartney's "No More Lonely Nights", which I don't think I've actually heard since the 8Os, but which is, once you've listened to it four times on YouTube and uttered little shrieks of enlightenment at the chord changes, actually a rather lovely tune. That man wrote ridiculously catchy music, which I generally can't hear without thinking about the Hitch-Hiker's Guide bit about happy, lilting, tuneful songs, and Paul McCartney, if he'd written them, wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking probably Essex. Also, power ballads on piano are indecent amounts of florid, sumptuous fun to play.
  2. Skyrim, while absorbing and beautiful and addictive, is also ridiculously crashy. When I tried, this morning, to get in my designated half-hour of play before rushing off to work, it had developed, overnight, a perfectly new and spontaneous bug which crashed it instantly the moment I tried to load a saved game. Any saved game. Aargh. This caused much chewing of the furniture and a small, doomladen cloud of blue curse words, followed by ten minutes on Google. The gathered wisdom of the ancients (i.e. geeky types in the last two weeks) prompted me to updated my DirectX (was unnecessary, have the up-to-date version), update my graphics card drivers (needed new version, but didn't fix problem), and then reboot, whereupon the crash problem was no more. I love doing that. However minor a victory it is, it fills me with feelings of instrumentality and competence and geeky joy.
  3. After this morning's training jaunt, in which I was probably lucid and coherent until the last fifteen minutes, the Deputy Dean sent me a joyously unprompted little email congratulating me on an excellent session and my "gift for presenting complex material in a lucid and succinct fashion". He cced it to the Dean. I feel like a smug kitty who's just been scratched on precisely the right spot behind the ears. *purrs*. Also, if they only knew how much of my "gift for presenting complex material in a lucid and succinct fashion" is the direct result of DMing complicated rpg systems like Rolemaster and briefing DMs for tournament modules, they'd ... well, probably be very confused. And surprised. And oddly less approving.
Gosh, that was a good exercise, I have validated myself into a much better mood. To round it off, have a gratuitous and wonderful chunk of Middleman fanfic, written with absolute authenticity and deliriously Middlesque language by the unpronounceable Javier Grillo-Marxuach himself, and notable for its ability to solve one of the most perplexing issues of our day, namely how to phonetically render the noise made by the TARDIS taking off. Fudgety-Bow-Wow, Dubbie!
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You know, it's not just the gentle weekly suggestions of my therapist which are starting to make me realise I don't have enough faith in myself. Remember the sad death of Winona, my netbook? She refused to switch on at any price, and eventually by determined trial and error I worked out that her on switch was defunct. I resolved to take her around to her supplier sometime and demand medical attention, and there the matter languished.

Then last night we were role-playing, and the conversation rambled around to matters technogeeknical, as it does, and I had myself a brief, ritual "dead Winona" lament. Whereupon Andrew H-S agreed that yes, it did sound like the on switch was buggered, and why didn't I just open it up and fiddle around a bit, he's seen me fix stuff he can't fix? (On mature reflection I think he must mean that one weekend away in Wilderness with the gang, over a decade ago, when I fixed the broken toilet flushing system with a brass brazing rod and the jeweller's pliers I carry in my handbag, and we spent the rest of the weekend rather drunkenly deciding who we'd like with us come the apocalypse, on grounds of random skills. I made it because of my ability to fix flush toilets. We decided, if I remember correctly, that we were pretty much screwed in genetic terms, we're all bespectacled geek types and our offspring would probably be blind within two generations. We also, for no adequately defined reason, ended up deploying Thakky's husband in a string bikini with a Bowie knife as a boundary patrol, and keeping David in a cage for breeding purposes as he's one of the few of us with 20/20 vision. It was a fairly drunken weekend).

Anyway, fired by this passing testament to my abilities, I just disassembled selected portions of Winona with the Philips screwdriver I keep on my desk, jiggled the switchy bits, blew carefully into the whole thing to remove dust and accreted pocket universes, and screwed it back together, whereupon it booted first go. She is now sitting on my desk meditatively downloading Windows upgrades. I feel smug, and also maddened beyond belief that I didn't trust my own instincts and bloody well do that first off when the problem manifested. Honestly. Two minutes of fiddling and a Philips screwdriver. Think of all the ritual Winona laments I would have saved.

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