freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Last night's fun discovery in Mass Effect: Andromeda: if you are buggering around poking things in the fancy new outpost you've just set up on a planet you've just carefully won over in the teeth of extreme resistance (Kadara, and may I add, Reyes, you bastard!) and you accidentally hang around for too long on the bit of platform you didn't realise was a landing pad for shuttles, a large, enthusiastic shuttle piloted by your own Initiative people will arrive at speed out of nowhere and land on top of you, squashing you terminally flat and causing the fateful "! MISSION FAILURE" screen to flash up over your recumbent corpse.

I find this a particularly pleasing piece of essentially random verisimilitude, it made me giggle madly. It also caused me to mentally construct micro flash fanfic depicting the probable reaction of the poor benighted shuttle pilot who thus accidentally took out their own Pathfinder, who is the colonisation trailblazer, terraforming on-switch operative and the Milky Way travellers' only hope for survival. "Embarrassed" doesn't even begin to cover it. Probably a quick header into the nearest sulphuric acid lake would be the only decent response.

We have one of South Africa's merry conglomerate public holiday clusters coming up, Thursday for Freedom Day and Monday for Workers' Day, and I have taken Friday, Tuesday and Wednesday off with a sensation of palpable relief. I have had the same bloody sinus headache for several weeks now, it drifts in and out randomly, and I am conscious of a deep-seated need to do nothing for a week or so and bond with my new kitten. Next week is the ten-day vac, so it's also even possible that not too many students will actually explode in my absence. And if they do, someone else can deal with them. At this point in the proceedings I am astonishingly unmoved at the prospect.

My subject line is Hillaire Belloc, the dreadful story of Rebecca who slams doors, and meets her Inevitably Gruesome End at the hands (shoulders?) of a bust of Abraham. The poem has been circling my cerebellum gently since the Andromeda Incident.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
In my defence, my absence from Teh Intahwebs over the last couple of weeks has only partially been because of Mass Effect: Andromeda, although quite a lot of it has, indeed, been the result of kicking happily around another galaxy making dubious romance choices and taking out nasty alien fascists with elan, vindictive efficiency and a sniper rifle. The rest has been because the current bone-deep exhaustion which is still afflicting me after the worst registration season I've ever experienced, morphed into a sinus infection which laid me low for most of last week. I'm still a bit wan and floaty, drifting around in an exhausted disconnect which leaves me feeling as though my feet are not quite touching the floor, and with neither the energy nor the brain for Being Entertaining On The Internet. Patience, I tell myself. Soon, soon, I will have sufficient ducks in a row to quit the hell out of this job and find something that doesn't require me to ritually sacrifice myself on an ongoing basis. After which I may once again be something resembling a person.

Several days at home with a sinus infection did, on the upside, allow me to play significant quantities of Andromeda, which I am apparently 57% of the way through after just under a hundred hours of play. (I'm an extremely completist player). Initial impressions as follows:
  • Hell, it's pretty. The planetary landscapes and cool spacescapes are beautiful in the extreme. The Obligatory Ancient Departed Civilisation, known as the Remnant, have left the landscape littered with incredible subterranean vaults which are all black marble and weird shapes and gravity wells and giant, shadowy spaces stretching down and away. They're breathtaking.
  • They have given us jumpjets! A significant proportion of my gaming time is spent going "sproing!" and "whee!". Also the Nomad, which is an update of the old Mako, which means you can drive around planets at insane speeds while your party bickers, and which is ridiculously enjoyable.
  • All the old familiar races have followed us to a new galaxy, which weirdly presents only two new ones, one of which is the bad guys. The others are the Angara, who are sort of cuddly, collectivist, blue-and-purple lion-lizards who are extremely endearing.
  • The combat and skill and crafting structures are a maddening combination of limited and opaquely complicated. You can do some cool stuff. Eventually. To some extent.
  • The scenario and worldbuilding are... interesting, but, as Penny Arcade noted, a bit in the arena of a young and foolish vintage. This is clearly a comparatively inexperienced writing team, which is the result of them sectioning off Mass Effect to another Bioware location and leaving the experienced writers in Edomonton with Dragon Age. It shows - the writing is generally a bit patchy, plot and characterisation largely unexciting despite some good moments. I'm rather attached to the female Ryder, who's written as a bit wry and deadpan, but a lot of that is her voice, with which I am seriously enamoured: slightly alto with a throaty catch. The NPCs are almost all a bit bland. I'm finding myself making dubious romance choices because not even my Lawful Good can stomach the oatmeal of the "nice" characters. (On the upside, one of the dubious choices is voiced by Natalie Dormer, which may or may not be implicated in the selection process).
  • The fandom is dissing the animation all over the internet, and they have a point. There is a lot of the laziness and superficial glitz which characterised DA2: the game has, for example, made all the NPCs in each non-human race the same face, with vaguely different face-paint. This is, to say the least, disconcerting, and causes brief moments of paranoid conspiracy as you try to work out non-existent connections, but it's not nearly as disconcerting as the facial animations, which manage, in a burst of rare genius, to be of regressively awful quality which puts them back somewhere before ME itself. The original ME didn't try to get fancy and thus avoided the uncanny valley issue into which MEA consistently and with pin-point accuracy tumbles. Characters in this game have some really weird lip movements.
  • I am, probably as a result of contextual imprinting over the last couple of decades, extremely uneasy about this game's colonial agenda and its ecological implications. To date they're not being thoughtfully dealt with.

Also, you have an AI, whose voice alerts you to environmental hazards and resource gathering opportunities and input requirements to an extent which swings wildly between being useful and being repetitively redundant to the point of infuriation. Hence my subject line. It is probably a tribute to the actual good parts of the game that I'm still invested and enjoying it despite hearing the above in a clipped British alto twenty or thirty times in a half-hour burst of driving madly around sand dunes.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Registration and orientation are always hellish times for me; they're two large, complicated logistical processes in which I have considerable authority and responsibility in how we put 1400 students through orientation and slightly under 5000 through reg. This year was extra-complicated because the colleague who usually runs orientation with me, and who holds its logistics, was absent, having resigned last year. On top of all of the above, in between orientation and reg frantics, I was running a selection committee to replace him. During all of the above we also had to run faculty exam committees, and I also consult to the readmissions appeal committee, which met four or five times over this period.

It's been slightly over a month of seven-day weeks, with weekdays starting at about 6.45 am and finishing, if I'm lucky, at about 6pm, after which on some days I went home and worked until 10. I was putting in a minimum of five or six hours per day over the weekends. I have not seen any of my much-valued friends over this period; life has been wake up, go to work, work, home, work, eat, shower, collapse, rinse repeat the next day. To say I am a piece of chewed string is to gravely overestimate my current levels of energy, functionality and aesthetic appeal.

But, you know, the logistics were horrible, but they weren't the problem. The missing colleague was challenging, but not at all impossible, I've held this dual duty before. The problem, horribly because they've always been the consolation in the past, was the students. Registration has been a complete shambles, with not quite enough advisors and very long queues; reg sessions on some days finished at 6 instead of the scheduled 4pm. The reason for all of this boils down to a horrible equation, which is that millenial individuality + student protests = the breakdown of systems.

I don't want to broadly generalise about "millenials" or pander to howling stereotypes, but the reality is that students now are raised with a much stronger sense of their own individuality than they were even ten years ago. It's in many ways a lovely generation, with very high values in connectedness, empathy and social awareness, but they also tend strongly to the sheltered and fragile. Above all, you present them with a rule or a system which says that they should do something one way, and they immediately feel that their own personal reason for doing it differently is more compelling. Eighteen months of student protests in which student demands have not only been lengthily entertained, but frequently capitulated to, has exacerbated this tendency beyond all reason: students are now conditioned to demand things, and expect those demands to be met.

Thus, given a carefully-planned registration timetable which splits them into manageable groups on different days, they don't see any problem with shrugging and arriving three days later because that suits them better. If you insist that they leave because they are making legitimately-present students wait for hours, they get angry and write to the Vice-Chancellor. If you tell them that curriculum rules forbid them to sign up for courses in the same timetable slot, they immediately want permission to do that anyway, despite missing half the lectures for both courses. Our pile of concessions to break various rules is about three times larger than it usually is. The result of this has been registration advisors overwhelmed late in the process by tardy students, who clog up the system for students trying to register on their legitimate days; and enormously long, argumentative curriculum consultations in which students expect you to juggle their courses around a blockage instead of accepting that the rules prevent them from taking particular combinations. It's been its own particular circle of Hell.

It's also what is making me realise that I cannot carry on in this job. Part of the current horror of my work life is because the faculty itself is becoming dysfunctional, my boss is terrible, the staff are alienated and on go-slow, and we have a high staff turnover because everyone's miserable so more than half of them are new and untrained. But more imporantly, my duties are doable only if I can wrangle the system, and the student component of the system is now resisting wrangling to the point where it's no longer tenable. I also, what with millenial individualist snowflakes and/or student protesters, cannot make students happy, regardless of what I do: they want things which the system is not set up to supply. This role needs someone who is not actually quite as fond of the snowflakes or invested in their success and happiness. It's too damned depressing otherwise.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Gawsh, but midsummer has a terrible effect on me. It's been stinking hot for the last few weeks; today's random gentle rain had me leaping out of the house with glad cries, stoked for the day in a way I haven't been in months. (Tracy sent me an email this morning with a tongue-in-cheek closing instruction to "have a sparkly day!", which made me giggle but is possibly more relevant than it's been in weeks). I am useless in the hot weather; my brain shuts down, my energy drops, I pull in my horns and set myself to endure rather than actually living. I don't go anywhere or do anything, and find myself shying away from social engagements of almost any sort.

Part of the Reverse SAD Effect is also, I think, because of the shape of the academic year and the fact that my horrible confluence of orientation and registration duties hits me just after the year begins. It's a bit later than usual this year because of our disrupted academic schedule after protests, but in a way that's simply drawing out the horrible anticipation. Part of the reason I tend to curl up hedgehoggily and pretend I don't exist when a social invitation comes my way at this time of year is because I am internally braced for a four-week period in which demands will be made on me more or less continuously by several thousand people, and some sort of unconscious personal barrier is springing up protectively to husband my energy. It doesn't help that the demands slowly ramp up from the moment I get back, so I've been registering more or less wall-to-wall rugby players since Monday last week. (Rugby players make a really solid wall. And also, for some reason, almost uniformly attempt to register without bringing writing implements of any sort. I assume it has something to do with the size of their hands).

I suppose what all this is saying is a sort of lateral apology to my friends, and to many missed social opportunities lately: I promise I don't hate you. I'm just hoarding spoons.

(Subject line is New Model Army, "Green and the grey", which was playing in my car, but coincidentally also describes today's weather.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Good lord, I am overcome with nostalgia. The student who just wandered into my office for a change of curriculum signature was in full-on Goth performance dress: dead white face, black hair, black lipstick, heavy eye-liner, docs, tights, the whole nine yards, circa approximately mid-80s. I haven't seen that in years. Judging by the name, voice register and painful politeness, somewhere under all that was a rather sweet and well-brung-up Indian lad. For all its self-conscious angst and gloom, Goth as a counter-culture is so inward-turned as to be basically harmless. Rather endearingly so. I am now all flashing back to my own undergrad Goth days and pining for Egyptian eye make-up and the Sisters of Mercy. If stv ever makes good on his threat regarding a non-cheesy 80s dance party, I will have to acquire some eye-liner and roll back the "DECADES WITHOUT MAKE-UP" sign to 0.

'Tis graduation, and the Avenue has blossomed with kids in gowns and proud parents, all more or less dressed to the nines. I have to avoid it: it makes me cry, mostly because sublimated maternal wossnames, and also investment: I see so many of these kids in distress in my office, it's warmly poignant to see them finally pull it together. Today they are proudly graduating in the pouring rain, because Cape Town and winter. I am enjoying this, too. Likewise the way that the angst and imperative of the semester has choked off suddenly, and I'm sitting in my office twiddling my thumbs with not much to do. I am very tired, see semester, angst and imperative of, above. I am also on leave from Friday next week, for almost two weeks. I am going to enjoy this very much indeed. If you're in Cape Town, let's do coffee. General exhaustion levels have meant that I haven't seen anyone much for ages, and this shall not stand.

cold tired fingers

Monday, 4 April 2016 03:11 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Gawsh, this blog thing, I'd forgotten. It has been a Somewhat Medical couple of weeks, with the minor op for the Weird Finger Bump followed by a lurgi and a doozy of a glandular resurgence, which means I've been flattened and faintly choked for about ten days. Seriously, minor sinus/throat infection thingy and it feels as though a horde of inept vampires have been chewing on my neck, enthusiastically but without much actual skill. They are too fumbling to break the skin, but my current levels of flattenedness suggest they're draining blood by some sort of vampiric osmosis. I'm still somewhat exhausted, despite two full weeks featuring exactly two days of work. It really hasn't been an easy six months on campus, I think we're all feeling the tension.

On the upside, the Weird Finger Bump turns out to be a cartilage tumour, which is a benign/non-invasive thingy known technically as an enchondroma, which is a lovely word that bears repetition just for the monk-like chanting effect. Also, I'm associating it vaguely with camels, or possibly the inner wibbly bits of plant cells. I have a neat 3cm slash in my finger, which meekly dissolved its four stitches in a week and is otherwise inoffensive, although it was bloody and rather painful for the first week and large tracts of it were blue and yellow from bruising from the local. The hand, it transpires, is unduly full of nerve endings. On the upside this kind of tumour has a very low chance of recurrence. It has also been headed off at the pass from its purportedly characteristic party trick, which is to grow gently into the bone until it's exerting enough pressure to fracture it. Foiled! Foiled, I say!

I have, regrettably, been a complete and total hermit for the last two weeks, because exhaustion, and my apologies to all the lovely people I haven't seen much of. On the upside, I have played entirely through Knights of the Old Republic and about two thirds of the way through the sequel, which has contented the Star Wars jonesing more than somewhat, and has incidentally revealed the following:
  1. Narrative clearly trumps graphics any day, these are really old games with really clunky visuals, and I'm still absorbed. I have also recently played Bioshock 3 and Dishonoured, both of which are really pretty, and neither of which I have finished because bored and railroaded. Or, in the case of Dishonoured, undue up-front fridging.
  2. I am at a level of expertise with these games where I recognise the actors' voices (because Bioware really has recurring favourites they keep using from game to game) within about half a sentence. Since they have cunningly seeded the love interests with the voices of, respectively, Kaidan and Cullen, my two go-to romances from ME and DA, I'm basically doomed, romancing anyone else feels like infidelity. On the upside: Carth.
  3. Dear sweet whistling Chadra-Fan, but the plot of KOTOR2 is a hot mess. It really has too much plot, insufficiently controlled, and its quest structures bugged way beyond hell and gone. Not a quality construction, although productive of a certain player curiosity which propels one through the high levels of wtf in sheer curiosity as to how this whole insane edifice is ultimately going to shamble, clanking and groaning, to a conclusion. My prediction: bits will fall off.
  4. Lightsabers. LIGHTSABERS!!
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I finally found the brainspace and emotional energy to watch the Sherlock special, and... wow. That was an appalling script. Seriously, what were they thinking? Incoherent and self-indulgent and pervaded throughout with an enormous, self-congratulatory sense of its own cleverness, which really wasn't as clever as it thought it was. And I'm not even going to take the lid off the gender politics can, on account of how it's too early in the morning to wrestle caricatures of giant writhing worms and besides, I have to go to the dentist and don't have time. Overall, a sad waste of an interesting concept. Lovely visuals, though.

I am on leave for ten days, in a desperate attempt to try and reconstruct myself, post-registration, as something other than a sad, limp piece of chewed string. Not ideally timed in terms of the fact that the faculty is still full of desperate students trying to register late, but needs must, and I have thoroughly briefed my team to deal with it. I think overall a brief recuperatory absence now is probably better than a month off work with a full-on glandular resurgence, which I can feel building up if I don't rest. As a bonus side-effect, protesting students have taken to be-dewing the university buildings liberally with cans of sewerage of a morning, the first expression of which I managed to miss on Tuesday owing to Evil Traffic, and I'd like to maintain that distance. It seems a good time to coincidentally be away.

Now off to dentist. I think may have taken to grinding my teeth over the last month, bits are chipping off. My subject line is Bowie's "Time", which I have always adored for its jazzy piano, but I'm amused by how far the quote applies both to Sherlock episodes and sewerage-flinging students. What's really in my mind, though, with respect to "Abominable Bride" is the line about falling wanking to the floor.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Trying to survive the second-last day of registration with what seems to be a migraine building, and a turned ankle from randomly falling over in the tearoom. I am doing everything very slowly and painfully, and at a distance of several miles, mostly while gently wishing for death. Not usually a good sign in my personal psyche when my hands don't actually belong to me. Students are looking at me sideways, as I dredge up responses for them in a monotone, and are very gentle in their questions before skittering off, showing the whites of their eyes. Possibly this is a new self-preservation technique I should consider: imitate the action of the zombie. Huh.

However, my day has been (in a cautious, slow-motion sort of fashion) made by the demonstrated ability of our Dean to deliver a deeply satisfying smackdown in the case of (8) in my previous post's litany of complaint. Student concession request righteously refused, with a nicely trenchant two-sentence rebuke about (a) previous illegal registrations which were (b) not actually authorised as the student claimed they had been, while noting that (c) this current refusal did not in fact represent victimisation by staff members who were simply applying the rules as they were meant to, not to mention (d) the overall illegitimacy of getting Dear Daddy to complain to the Dean on your behalf. It was comprehensively annihilating. Sometimes I love our Dean. He has a compactly and good-humouredly ferocious aspect that's slightly like the better class of bull terrier.

The exigencies of the day, and of attempting to post, were rudely interrupted at "annihilating", above, by a random and unheralded power cut; the lights have only just come on, having flung registration into chaos for two hours. It transpires, in the interim, that my current state of incipient-something-nasty leads to complete melt-down when faced with the usual doe-eyed student who fixes me with an accusing gaze and says "You said you'd email me back yesterday, it was about a transfer", and simply repeats "But I emailed you!" like a refrain when I try to extract further details. Because I have dealt with fifty transfer cases in the last few days, and no, I don't remember her, and no, I can't access my email to check, because no lights, and yes, I probably failed to answer yesterday because I finished signing reg forms at 6.30pm and shambled home in a state of incapacity. I have a large bite mark in the back of my arm, because it was that or thump the wretched child.

My subject line is "Five years", which is approximately how long this registration period appears to have taken; it was either my brain hurting, or the line about "went off her head, hit some tiny children", and it's not quite that bad yet.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I have just done two weeks of, on average, ten hour days; this week I've been arriving at 7am and leaving at 6pm, once registration has finally wound down. Since I worked through the weekend with emergency marks checking, eight hours a day, this is adding to an existing base of exhaustion. I am reaching new, hitherto unsuspected depths of tired. Also, headachy. Also, ridiculously hopped on Earl Grey as it's the only way I cope.

Concomitantly, the urge to throttle people is rising. People who need throttling:
  1. Advisors who don't arrive.
  2. Advisors who arrive in the wrong session despite being explicitly told to check they have the right one.
  3. Advisors who ask me questions or egregiously commit advisor errors which are covered in great detail and LARGE! CAPITALS! in the handouts I give them. And the briefings. And the reminder emails. And the hotsheets. And the special sheet labelled COMMON ADVISOR ERRORS, PLEASE DON'T DO THIS!
  4. Students who stop me to ask questions when I'm rushing between venues.
  5. Students who stop me to ask questions and, when told "I'm sorry, I don't have time for that now", say "This will be really quick!" and ask it anyway. Usually at length.
  6. Students who stop me to be disgruntled because they are discovering that the rules do, in fact, apply to them and are not susceptible to "But I really, really want to!" as an argument.
  7. Students who are disgruntled because the rules apply to them and who demand I spend half an hour at a time inventing labyrinthine, complex and unlikely curriculum solutions to the problem, in the teeth of my warnings that their school subjects under-prepare them for these courses and there is a high chance that they will messily self-destruct.
  8. Students who are disgruntled enough about the rules applying to them that they escalate it all the way up to the Dean despite being told "No!" at every step.
  9. The inventor of the infernal combustion engine, and hence global warming, and hence the level of heat through which I have been trekking to the registration venue, which is four flights of stairs away in the sun. My knees hurt.

Fortunately, there's always Ursula Vernon. I have adopted her fat beaver forthwith. I need it on a button, stat.



And then, of course, at the moment of Maximum Homicidal Misanthropy, the desperate excluded student sits in my office for ten minutes of curriculum advice, and I sketch her a curriculum which more or less rescues her, and she looks at me starry-eyed, and says "You know, I always leave this office with my faith restored," and the lump in my throat throttles me rather than her and I drive home singing along to "Blue Jean" and feeling that maybe all is not lost.

(My subject line is not "Blue Jean", it's "Scary Monsters", because I absolutely was one until I wasn't.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Orientation/registration difficulties over the last week have, courtesy of cosmic wossnames who apparently have it in for me, included the following:
  1. The complete non-arrival of the faculty handbooks. That means I was giving curriculum briefings to first-years and advisors, and running registration, entirely on a cardboard-and-string combination of last year's handbook with the various handouts, supplementary booklets, hotsheets and frantic updates which I produce annually more or less as a nervous twitch just in case this exact thing happens.
  2. A new, fascinating computer error which blanked out the screen of the lectern computer in my orientation venue so I couldn't see anything I was projecting to the data projector screen behind me. (It was projecting fine. I just couldn't see it on the computer). Manipulating powerpoints and swapping between documents was challenging, and involved a lot of craning my neck as the mouse cord wasn't long enough for me to go round the other side of the lectern. In addition, we were filming all my lectures. I haven't dared look at the result. I hope the students can make sense of curriculum briefings which issue from the back of my head. This was a particularly annoying problem because it recurred: Day 1, no screen, logged call, they sorted it out, Day 2 fine, Day 3 spontaneously regenerated the problem. Alas, my techno-jinx.
  3. The orientation leaders, in a fit of excess enthusiasm, blowing the speakers we'd hired for their opening number by cranking the sound up too high, to the tune of several thousand rand for which we are now liable. We've had budget cuts this year.
  4. The coexistence of all of the above orientation/registration hassle with the unique circumstance of the extra marks checking exercise we've had to run this year as a result of last year's exam delays and all the extra deferred exams. I've just worked a seven-day week. I took a board schedule home at 6.30 on Friday, and spent that night and Saturday morning checking it before a three-hour Saturday meeting. I spent four hours yesterday in a marks review meeting and the rest of the day allocating advisors to registration sessions. I am a very particular level of complete shambling zombie.
  5. I've lost 10 out of my advisor squad in the last week, either academics not pitching up to training, or sudden family emergencies or what have you. I am trying to allocate not enough advisors to too many sessions. I mean, I more or less always have to do that, but this year it's an extra-huge deficit.
  6. The continual, subliminal, nebulous fear that we may have protests and disruptions of orientation or reg this week so that a large proportion of all this preparation may be ultimately in vain. Hopefully not, because our VC is sneaky and intelligently political, and has rustled up extra money to address the fees exclusion issues Fees Must Fall are now agitating about, but it may not be enough.
  7. Heatwaves. Last night had an added side order of a mosquito plague, during which both cats joined me under the mosquito net in sheer self-defence. I could hear them twitching and occasionally trying to bite mosquitoes out of the air as they were being eaten alive.
  8. PMT. Apparently the anti-depressants were keeping this down, because oh lord.

Despite all of the above, I am surprisingly cheerful. Completely bloody exhausted, but there's a sort of vindictive relish in making it all work in the teeth of the odds. Also, as a gesture of defiant self-indulgence I have just ordered myself the complete boxed set of the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series, which for some reason is currently at about half price on Blu-Ray on Takealot. Because fuck it, I have earned some entertaining fluff.

(Subject line is David Bowie, "Ashes to Ashes". It seemed appropriate. If only because my current work life is enough to make me wistfully wish I actually did drugs.)

arrrrrrrrrrrrgh

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 09:30 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Today is one of South Africa's myriad public holidays, which is fortuitous, as this year-end process has been extra special sparkly hell because of the exam delays from the student protests, and that, in combination with having dropped the anti-depressants, means that I am exhausted beyond belief. I shuffled into the undergrad admin office yesterday to wave a form at someone, provoking an announcement of "Jessica's a zombie today!" by another member of the office staff whose existence simply hadn't registered on account of my only possessing the energy for singular focus. I am doing that annoying thing where I'm waking up after eight hours of sleep feeling as though I've just staggered into bed after a hard day's ferret-juggling while simultaneously doing Irish dance. In lead-weighted boots. Through knee-high treacle.

So while today's public holiday is fortuitous, it has not been a morning characterised by unrelieved serenity and peace. The cats woke me up at 6.30 via Hobbit's patented "stick both front paws and all his considerable weight into the tender area just above my hip, in a marked manner because he wants breakfast", causing me to erupt upright in bed, swearing. This flung my left calf muscle into a particularly vicious cramp, necessitating screaming, writhing and strange contortions, during which the cats left the bed in disgust. For additional Feline Overlord points, one of them had thrown up next to my bed overnight. Having subdued the recalcitrant calf muscle, I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and, given that I wasn't yet wearing my glasses, placed my right foot firmly into the catsick. We draw a tactful veil over the expressive commentary of the next few minutes. The cats came out of hiding only about half an hour later, when the blue haze to the air had subsided and I'd filled their food bowls and promised faithfully not to kill anyone.

It is, however, probably a good thing that I was awake already, as that circumvented further homicidal rage when various neighbours simultaneously decided to take advantage of the public holiday with a spot of home and garden improvement. At 8 sharp they started variously (a) sawing down trees in their front garden (outside in the road, to the right, with added negative points because I don't hold with cutting down trees), (b) trimming the hedge with something petrol-driven (over the back wall, accompanied by domestic argument as to who should be cutting what where) and (c) embarking on major DIY projects with electric saws, drills and cheerful whistling (over the back wall to the right). At eight am on a public holiday, mark you. The whole thing is forming a sort of modern contrapuntal soundscape, question and answer, the snarling mechanical equivalent of a spirited debate. As one dies down, another starts up. (The tree-fellers are winning, mostly out of an almost internet-troll level of sheer vocal persistence). The noise is simply indescribable, and so far above outrageous that all I can do is giggle helplessly as yet another bit of heavy machinery cuts in with "and another thing...!" in tenor or baritone whirring.

I shall turn the sound up high and play Fallout 3 at them. It's been the kind of morning where pinpoint accuracy in shooting the heads off evil mutants with a sniper rifle is beyond cathartic. Also, two more days of work and then I'm on leave for two and a half weeks, and there is neither sufficient calloo nor callay in the world to adequately respond to that.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Completely bizarre faculty board meeting yesterday, in which a senior professor attempted to railroad an item through the agenda proposing that the faculty remove all meat products from all its official functions, on the grounds of cruelty to animals. I cannot get my head around how he could possibly think that an article of personal/moral belief was at all appropriate to the faculty's official academic forum. As far as I'm concerned, it's the approximate equivalent of standing up in a faculty meeting and insisting that everyone embrace Jesus because it's the right thing to do. I am more than somewhat miffed that (a) he should force me to become a captive audience to his personal crusade, and (b) that he should demand consideration of something that affects the personal freedom of everyone in the faculty via a forum in which I have no vote. Dirty pool. And egregious grandstanding, to boot: he can have had no hope whatsoever that his horrible little proposal would have been accepted by faculty. He was making a point, possibly against the current dean with whom he butts heads regularly, but he was so out of line as to be in the next army entirely. (Kudos to our dean, though, for standing his ground with remarkable good humour in the face of rampant idiocy).

I admit, I spent most of the half-hour argument (the entirely faculty, who tend to the vociferously opinionated, leaped on board with vigour) alternately cringing in my seat and suppressing a desperate desire to stand up and suggest that the proposer was occupying exactly the same conceptual position as that horrible little court official in America who's just been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences on the grounds of gay marriage being Wrong. But unfortunately I have to work with the man, and he's already obstructive enough.

At any rate, there was enough tension in the room that it put the whammy seriously on my tension-sensitive frondy antennae, and I spent a horrible insomniac night with my stomach in knots, unable to get to sleep until something around the order of 2.30am. Then Hobbit, bless his little white socks, chose 5.30am to start a half-hour of thumping and mad dashes through the house, which I'd somnambulistically attributed to sheer joie de vivre until the sudden, terminal, agonised squeaking made me realise he was actually dispatching, somewhat lingeringly, a large rat. (He left the corpse on the floor next to my bed, neatly laid out at an exact right angle in precisely the spot where my bare feet touch the floor as I stagger into the upright position. I am equally touched and horrified by the tribute). I was just drifting back to sleep after that when Pandora, as is her occasional wont, decided that 6.30am was the perfect time for the exercise in purring, kneading and climbing on top of me repeatedly which she is occasionally prone to. Sleep, apparently, is for the weak.

As I was leaving for work the feline tribe had cornered a second rat under the passage curtain, and were sitting around said curtain in attitudes of homicidal alertness. I was running too damned late (see 3.5 hours of sleep, above) to institute a search-and-rescue mission, and besides, I don't get too protective of rats. Two in one night suggests a plague ship may have docked nearby. If the cats wish to leap protectively into the breach, who am I to judge? Particularly given my slightly up-in-arms state of bristle at the mere concept of denying them the right to their carnivore natures. Because the Cosmic Wossnames have their own weird sense of humour, and arrange events in amusing thematic juxtapositions just because they can.

I am going to opera tonight - Merry Widow, Africanised production, should be fun and interesting and good for my sleep-deprived soul. My subject line is not Lehar. My subject line is, of course, Flanders and Swann.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Gosh, guess I should blow the traditional dust and cobwebs off the ol' LJ, then? There's a slight problem with coming off three weeks of leave in which I can say "I did absolutely nothing". I did, in fact, absolutely nothing. I went on an almost complete social strike, barely saw anyone, didn't do the sewing or gardening or house-furnishing I planned to, entirely failed to write the paper that's due at the end of this month, utterly neglected (as you may have noticed) to do any blogging, and mostly played inordinate quantities of Inquisition. (Which is, incidentally, not only pleasingly distracting but a very nicely written game, all things considered, and has my vote.)

The slight problem is that, while the above looks like a pleasant menu of relaxation and a necessary withdrawal given the people-heavy nature of my working life, actually I think I was simply depressed. Again. One of those merry trough things. Another slough of despond, if you like. Not as bad as the last, in that things weren't actually grey and miserable from moment to moment, but they certainly didn't seem to have much point. My holiday can be summed up as an extended session of "why bother?". Marking time. Meh. That's not a natural state for me, and causes me to look sideways at my brain chemistry.

It's been exacerbated by coming back to work, because I am not only tired and heat-stressed, I am cringing despairingly at the looming threat of orientation and registration, which are going to leave me wrung and quivering, and which will require energy which I quite simply don't have right now. It'll be weirdly better once the actual students arrive since I'll be too damned busy to even think about being depressed and traditionally appear to be able to mine the necessary energy from some alternate dimension, but right now I hate this job.

My subject line is Madness, because the Great Alphabetical Music Trek appears to have hit a fortuitous run of Brit alt-rockishness, giving me Franz Ferdinand, Fratellis, Kaiser Chiefs and Madness in quick succession, for a level of rockingness which is not at all consonant with my mood. Under the circumstances it's probably a good thing that it's not all Wistful Indie up in here.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This house smells of cake. Lots of cake. Really rather a lot of different cake, because I am (finally!) having a housewarming tomorrow, and the exigencies of space being what they are, have advertised myself as being At Home to visitors from 2 to 7pm, drop by when convenient, tea and cake if afternoon, booze if evening. This morning was very full of cake. I think I entered a sort of cake-baking fugue state, actually. I got into a rhythm. I looked up after a blurred and indeterminate amount of time and there was cake on every surface in the kitchen. There is blackcurrant jam in my hair, butter adorning my front, and a rather delectable Guinness/chocolate batter mix down what for want of a better word we'll call my cleavage. I am more than somewhat vanilla-scented and feeling astonishingly happy.

The laser-focus baking spree was partially motivated by fear, because in addition to the usual concerns (will anyone come? will there be enough food? enough glasses? enough things for them to sit on? will they all fit?) we currently face the merry South African challenge of whether or not Eskom, in its infinite inefficiency, will suddenly hit us with load shedding. They say not, but I don't trust them an inch. It would be just my luck to have something delicate in the oven when the lights die. The inscrutable gods of power are mostly quite good at pulling the plug punctually within their stipulated times, but only mostly.

You can also deduce from context that I'm on leave, calloo callay, and contemplate with joy three and a half weeks in which students can't get at me in person. Tomorrow is also one of those mad random South African public holidays, which is why I can plonk a housewarming onto it. Fittingly, my car system launched into Franz Ferdinand (inevitably, having gone from Eurythmics to Fleet Foxes) on my way home from work on Friday, my last day for the year. "It's always better on holiday!", it warbled. Hence my subject line. I hear you, Cosmic Wossnames.

Randomly, my At Home card for tomorrow. Because I had fun making it, and there's an offchance I left someone vital off the To: list, because it's the end of the year and I'm exhausted, so what little brain I have at the best of times has trickled sadly out of my ears. If you didn't receive this and are a Cape Town realspace friend who wishes to assist in celebrating my state of domicile, please email me!



Art evilly nicked from Brian Kesinger, whose Otto and Victoria are a whimsical steampunky delight. I hope he doesn't mind.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Oh, dear, board schedule season. I spent large chunks of the last four days going through a 2-cm thick wodge of student records, 700-odd students, all Social Science second-years, which is a technical term meaning they're not first-years and not about to graduate, so in practice could be in year 2, 3 or 4 of their studies. Purpose: to count up their courses and, indexing same against number of years of study according to a complicated table of my own devising based on the faculty rules, decide if they're allowed to continue their studies or not. This is a vital process which is carried out in multiple redundancy by a team of three academics and an admin person for each board schedule, and we compare notes and make a final decision.

Long-time readers of this blog will be sighing and thinking, oh gods, is it that time of year again? Because my annual rant on the subject of board schedule checking, how inelegant the system is, how bad academics are at it despite my best efforts to train them, how the WHOLE DAMNED THING SHOULD BE DONE BY A PROPERLY-PROGRAMMED COMPUTER, DAMMIT!, is something of a tradition. And all of the above still applies, please take the rant as read, or, for added verisimilitude, dig back through the blog for examples. (last year and 2010 are fairly entertaining.)

But something has shifted this year, possibly as a result of all this therapy. I'd estimate that about 10 hours of my life went into this year's schedule, and I'm very tired and not very well, but the truth is I didn't actually hate it while I was doing it. There's an analytic interest to it, seeing how these student did, spotting trends, conceptualising individual lives from the spread of marks over the years. Student records are surprisingly revealing, not just in their course choices and overall degree strategies, but in the way one can pinpoint turning points - here someone discovered a new major they loved and their results took off, here something awful happened and they fell off the map, this trailing degeneration is probably depression. And there's a certain pleasure in feeling my own command of the system, my ability to use it elegantly and with precision. Possibly I am becoming reconciled to this job, more willing to adopt it as an identity rather than as a thing I do reluctantly and solely to keep Hobbit in the style to which he is accustomed.

The this-wasn't-terrible was in spite of the fact that I'm also still bloody sick, sigh, suggesting that the weekend before last was a precursor - Wednesday last week was a dead loss, some sort of viral thingy which flattened me with nausea and one of those damned headaches which simply won't quite regardless of how many painkillers you throw at it. I'm still very tired and very glandular and drifting into nausea and headache at add intervals, which suggests that whatever virus it was has prodded the glandular fever with a stick and it's up and prowling. (The ten minutes I spent reading through my board schedule rants for the last few years has also revealed that I seem to be headachy and unwell with suspicious predictability at this time of year. It's the end of the year, I'm tired, I'm stressed, I suppose it's inevitable.)

Fortunately there's Inquisition with which to while away my evenings while all of the above enacts itself upon my hapless form. Inquisition is HUGE! Andraste's knickers, there's a lot of it. That initial 15 hours of so of play are really the introductory first act, things really get going in the second act. It's still beautiful, and varied, and lovingly detailed, and the not-quite-open-world only drives me demented occasionally. I don't seem to respond too well to being told, via unclimbable cliffs or sulphur swamps, that You Shall Not Pass. But the character interactions have stepped up, and I'm finding these people interesting, likeable and frequently poignant - I don't think it's just my generally lowered state which is responsible for the fact that the companion interactions occasionally make me cry. And the sexual politics so far has managed to be surprisingly enlightened and sensitive. They can be taught, apparently.

(Still ambling through Eurythmics in the car. "Love Is A Stranger" is probably my favourite track of theirs for all time.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Well, that was lateral. Apparently last week's continual student demands + a three-hour session training curriculum advisors had a sneak build-up exhaustion effect, because I was completely wiped out this weekend. Saturday morning was fine, pottered around, talked to the cat, played some Inquisition, went out to do some shopping, hit Saturday crowds, and the wheels fell off. I can't handle crowds when I'm tired. I get shaky, and wibbly, and headachy, and want to crawl under my bed and never come out. I ended up cancelling both social engagements this weekend (sorry, nice people, I'm feeble) and actually napping on the sofa for a couple of hours on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, much to the delight of Hobbit. (Recumbent human forms are clearly designed expressly as Hobbit-cushions, and induce sprawling and purring to excessive levels. Also biting, although somewhat lovingly). I never sleep in the afternoons unless I'm ill, but actually I think I'm a bit ill. Apparently this is a glandular resurgence, judging by the state of my neck (the Blunt-Toothed Vampire Nibbling effect). Phooey.

I also played much less Inquisition than I would otherwise have, because it's new and quite demanding and requires concentration which I don't really have right now. However, sufficient Inquisition was played that I can report the following:
  1. Inquisition still pretty. Ye gods, it's beautiful. The texturing and detail and the vividness of the different settings are quite something, I'm becoming wonderfully lost in these lovely landscapes. And it's huge. The whisper flies across social media somewhat repetitively - a lot of players are slightly intimidated by the scale. The sections sprawl in beautiful open-world profusion, although with possibly excessive levels of mini-quest grinding.
  2. Inquisition varied. The designers have apparently taken to heart the consistent player crit of Dragon Age II, which was the insultingly repetitive nature of the settings: rather than being all the same dungeon/bit of shoreline/house, they are all madly different and individual. And pretty. I approve. (Played bits of the Deep Roads yesterday - exquisite).
  3. The open-worldness is coupled with a completely marvellous and happy-making innovation, which is that structures and caves are not separate areas, you wander from one into the other without a loading screen, in one giant, open world. I cannot sufficiently express how wonderful this is. It suddenly and weirdly ups the realness factor in spades. (Which is just as well, as generally the wretched thing takes ages to load).
  4. Inquisition has ripped off its initial theme music wholesalely and unabashedly from that Billy Boyd song he sings to Denethor in Two Towers. Honestly: the first two and a half bars are pretty much identical. This seems to be a theme in video games - Skyrim steals theirs from Pirates of the Caribbean. I suspect this is a deliberate ploy to bolster recognition and identification.
  5. Inquisition all bloody wonderful, but not entirely Dragon Age: currently it feels like a rather more politically detailed and better voice-acted version of Skyrim. (And not just because the crafting is interesting). Companions feel a bit perfunctory, with to date no detailed mini-quests through which they join the party - they're just kinda there as a fait accompli. I haven't met any new ones yet, either. And so far they don't have huge amounts of personality. Reserving judgement a bit on this one, maybe it's just a slow start, but I right now it feels as if they've put even less effort into the companions than they did in DAII. Which is sad.

The Great Car Music Trek has catapulted me with alphabetical insouciance from early Eurythmics (Be Yourself Tonight) to late (Peace), which is entertaining because the first song on Peace is "17 Again", which is a direct engagement by an older, wiser and more cynical Eurythmics with their brash early days. I have completely ear-wormed myself with "I Saved The World Today", which is ridiculous catchy and causes outbreaks of singing in the corridors. Subject line accordingly. I'm a bit dead this morning.

whups, fellover

Tuesday, 16 September 2014 10:49 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I'm trying to work out why this is so funny.



Possibly because Giles, who is quite one of my favourite Buffy characters, and it's beautifully edited, but mostly I suspect that there's just something inherently funny about Chumbawamba.

I am Still Sick, although much, much better - now at the pale/shaky/weedy end of it, with occasional coughing and a throaty contralto, instead of the hacking-consumptive-bring-me-a-place-to-die bit. Doc has put me off work until Thursday. On mature reflection, this was sensible and necessary, because doing anything much makes me fall over, or at least want to.

(You can attribute the Cassie Claire weed-smoking Gandalf subject line to the fact that I rewatched the second Hobbit film last night, which only served to reinforce my convictions that (a) Martin Freeman is a tiny hobbitoid acting god, and (b) BC was born to voice the more intelligent sort of dragon.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I have just put my mother onto the plane back to the UK, and my house is curiously empty. Save for elevated levels of both Earl Grey and Bombay Sapphire, because she knows me well and had laid in both for when I visited her at her house-sit. In retaliation I sent her back to the UK with the jar of Milo, of which she is fond, and which otherwise will sit in its jar and solidify until she's back next year, necessitating her chipping it out in chunks with a butter knife. I note for posterity and with considerable pleasure that my mother is of the ilk with whom I can cheerfully participate in a restrained and genteel fangirl session about Benedict Cumberbatch. She also during her visit made a new loose cover for my sofa and re-upholstered six dining room chairs. I like my mother. She can stay any time. Is it ridiculous that at my advanced stage of adulthood, or at least "adulthood", I still miss her when she's gone?

I have been navigating an extended session of post-'flu exhaustion, which caused my doctor to put me off work for all of last week, which was rather pleasant. It's usually a good indicator that I need the rest when she gives me that stern look and an injunction to book myself off regardless of my work commitments, and my desperate sense of "oh god yes please" completely outweighs the randomised guilt. She also gave me an antibiotic to hit the sinus infection, which was less successful: (a) I still have the bloody sinus headache, I wake up with it every morning and have done now for about ten days, and (b) the antibiotic gave me the most ungodly side effects, namely nausea, sleepiness and the general affect of one who lives on another planet entirely and is only reluctantly visiting this one in partially-manifested physical form. Has anyone else had a run-in with Moxibay, or am I entirely idiosyncratic in my response?

I am, however, definitely on an upward trajectory in terms of energy and the ability to, you know, actually achieve anything useful, which means, calloo callay, the depression cloud is lifting. And next week is the mid-term vac and I'm off work for two days of it, so yay! I propose to celebrate the leave by buying a Welsh dresser and planting tomatoes. (Not in the Welsh dresser).

(The nice psychologist on campus, incidentally, has confirmed that my spirit-possessed student is indeed psychotic. It's probably fortuitous, under the circumstances, that he spent the trip down to the health centre lying peaceably on my back seat mumbling to himself rather than giving vent to any violent directions from the voices in his head.)

Pantone 292

Thursday, 14 August 2014 10:34 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This is a public service announcement: please not to take it personally if I haven't returned any of your emails or made any effort to see you in the last couple of weeks. The equation goes something like start of term = inevitable lurgi = inevitable post-lurgi fatigue = inevitable depression. I am a small, hedgehoggy ball of misery and self-loathing and am not summoning much energy to do anything, much, unless it's arranged for me and presented to me inescapably on a plate. Normal communications will be resumed when I have hauled myself out of it via my bootstraps and, possibly, gin. I have to say, having my Very Own House in which to hedgehog is definitely a plus.

The subject line is, of course, the Magnetic Fields, who are the official sound-track of depression. They've cycled round to being my driving music again. They're surprisingly consoling.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I wish to report the following, in mitigation of a really long post hiatus:

  • The complete inability of the campus network to load an LJ post page, suggesting I have to flee this sinking LJ ship sometime soon, this is ridiculous.
  • A return to work after two days at home battling the sinusitis/glandular fever/chronic fatigue Trifecta Of Doom, which finally caught up with me after the reg/orientation hellperiod.
  • Three separate students in tears in my office today over my inability to wave a magic wand and cause the rules to cease to apply to them. This is a representative sample of the last few weeks.
  • An addiction to chocolate digestives. (The Woolies ones have lovely crumbly biscuits with substandard limp pale chocolate coating. The McVities biscuits are chewier and not quite as good, but they have a dark chocolate version which is my current favourite. The weather is still hot enough that chocolate digestives are somewhat messy and can only be eaten in pairs, sandwiched together. This is my story and I’m sticking to it. Further dispatches from the Chocolate Digestive Addiction Front to follow.)
  • A retreat into a Skyrim replay, or to be more accurate a re-re-re-replay. This is a traditional summer escape from (a) orientation/registration woes and (b) the heat. All that snow is very soothing, although I still can’t tactically outface frost mages worth a damn and end up filled full of ice spikes and immobilised shortly before being dead. Then again, on a re-re-re-replay I’m playing on Expert level, so there’s that.
  • The conviction, over the last week of car music, that the Fratellis exhibit possibly unhealthy fixations with (a) romancing slightly demented and dysfunctional ladies, (b) romancing older women and (c) sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, or at the very least sex, booze and rock’n’roll. Figures. Also, memo to self, must acquire their new album.
  • A fast-developing fear of the house-hunting process.
  • Exhaustion.

The subject line is from the Fratellis, "Whistle for the Choir", one of my favourites of theirs - they actually write lovely ballady things. In honour of the two-hour load shedding power cut this afternoon, which was a slightly demented mix of frustrating beyond belief, and curiously restful.

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