I ATEN'T DEAD

Saturday, 15 July 2017 09:31 am
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oh, dear, apparently I haven't posted in a month? good heavens. I attribute that variously to (a) still being bloody exhausted from the bloody start to the year, (b) still being bloody exhausted by relentless student enquiries, particularly the noxious upsurge towards the end of term, (c) being overloaded with human interaction by (b), (d) being bloody exhausted by the rush to finish a bunch of stuff before going on leave, and (e) the natural and inevitable physical and mental shut-down which always happens when I go on leave, as my beleaguered bod realises that it's actually allowed to relax and promptly falls over.

Of course, all the frantic rush to finish a bunch of stuff before I went on leave was utterly futile, I didn't finish everything, which meant I spent a day or so of my leave writing budgets and hand-holding my staff writing their own budgets, and another day of my leave finishing the thrice-dratted report I should have written a month ago and forgot about, because exhaustion riddles my brain with holes like a Swiss cheese someone shot up with a shotgun. I was, shall we say, somewhat narked by this necessity. Those were my leave days, dammit.

But I'm on leave! and my mother is out from the UK, calloo callay! and is currently sitting in the living room cruising the internet and permitting Jyn to climb on her head. I am clearly my mother's daughter in more ways than one.

Also, I am catching up on sleep, and thus dreams. Last night I dreamed that I had authorised the wholesale and epic renovation of the house in which I was living (not my current one, something much larger and with a slightly worrying resemblance to the Red Rocket in Fallout 4). The renovation team were enthusiastic and a bit oblivious, and ended up mostly deconstructing the house, to the extent of knocking down most of the walls, squishing the entire contents of the house into one room inaccessible other than by climbing over rubble and squeezing through a narrow gap, and leaving me nowhere to sleep. I also spent a lot of the dream wandering around futilely protesting as they installed various dubious interior decorating features, mostly dreadful kitschy art-work, instead of reconstructing walls. About halfway through the process I suddenly remembered, with a horrible sinking shock, that I didn't actually own the house, and thus shouldn't actually be reconstructing it. I spent the rest of the dream increasingly frantic, trying to chivvy the renovators into fixing everything quickly before the landlady arrived and saw what I'd done.

It is slightly alarming to contemplate the extent to which the above dreamscape neatly replicates my current difficulties with mentally processing the massive life change of trying to find a new job.

My subject line is, of course, Granny Weatherwax. Possibly what I actually need is a new job as senior witch in a Pratchett coven.
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Mad storm experiences have distracted me from noting that my weekend away in the winelands was lovely, thank you! Franschoek is really pretty, in a slightly Disney-village sort of way that verges at times on the cutesy. It takes its French heritage very seriously, in a plethora of Frenchy names on farms, roads, shops, restaurants, art galleries (it has a metric buttload of art galleries) and wine. It also has Damned Fine Winefarms and Damned Fine Restaurants as well as superlatively lovely mountains, so I completely forgive it the slightly cut-price rural France effect.

We stayed in an Airbnb for two nights, which was an experience in beautiful farm setting, comfortable beds, good internet, owls hooting in the trees at night, and an otherwise almost complete abandonment of practicality in favour of dubious "designer" aesthetic. Giant wooden chandelier aesthetic. Clunky giant wooden silver-painted monstrous mirror aesthetic. Random plethoras of blocky dog sculpture aesthetic. Dirt-coloured see-through open-weave linenoid drapey chunks of fabric over the windows instead of curtains aesthetic. (Including the window with its sill at knee height right next to the toilet, looking out on the patio by the entrance). Privacy was a complete no-go - one giant room with the bathroom sectioned off, second bedroom in a loft up a dicey and precipitous ladder, with no wall or curtain. (Or light source, for that matter). It's lucky jo&stv and I are very, very good friends, is all. Also: gas stove with oven, but no oven pans. No comfortable chairs. Dodgy electrics (no hot water on the final morning). Bumps in the bathroom floor. Loft shutter didn't latch, and blew open disconcertingly right by my head in the storm as I was drifting off to sleep on Saturday night.

But a beautiful view.

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We did Colmant for champagne on Friday afternoon (we ended up very sloshed, the charmingly persuasive tasting dude had a rather heavy pouring elbow), supper at Foliage (excellent but not superlative, fascinating use of foraged ingredients), wine tasting at Topiary in the morning (Topiary has actual topiary as well as excellent shiraz, viz.:

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).. followed by wine tasting at Glenwood in the late morning. The excitingly chunky Tuesday wol artwork at the head of this post is in the Glenwood foyer, it's blurry because I was, again, sloshed and was waving the camera around a bit randomly. Score at Glenwood, the wine tasting lady was a Known Associate of Jo's from AfrikaBurn, and gave us free wine as well as a virtuoso tour. Then we had lunch at Bread and Wine, which was, as always, superlative (goat's cheese and hazlenut risotto, and red curry soup with prawns, and roast duck breast, and incredible bread). Then we collapsed for the afternoon, and ate, small cautious amounts of supper at Dutch East, who gave us quite the best gnocci I've had in years, with artichoke and chilli, must try at home. We didn't have room for the deep fried milk tart, but I wanted to.

It was a lovely weekend. I approve of this full weekend in the winelands thing, it allows a quite indecent and sybaritic concentration of food, wine and landscape which is exceptionally good for the soul, if somewhat catastrophic to the bank balance. 10/10, would definitely indulge again.

Cape of Storms

Friday, 9 June 2017 08:36 am
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Well, that was the Y2K of Cape storms, that was. I can't work out if it was not as horrible as anticipated because the whole city over-reacted up front, or precisely because we pre-empted it so well and bunkered down for it - schools and universities closed, minimal people on the roads, everyone had laid in stocks of water and food and kept their heads down for thirty-six hours while the weather rampaged. It was very windy and more than somewhat damp, and very dramatic, and there are trees down all over and some people lost roofs or power, but as far as I can tell the tiny death toll (9 to date) was almost half from a single lightning strike and most of the other half from the horrible Knysna fires. I don't want to minimise those deaths, which are awful, or the undoubted damage and loss and suffering in the vulnerable informal settlements, but given our huge numbers of people in shantytowns, it really could have been a lot worse and I'm really glad it wasn't.

I also have to say that the CT city utilities people seem to have been amazing - trees were cleared and power restored very quickly, from the tenor of a lot of social media responses. I was without power for 24 hours, it went out at 3pm on Wednesday and they only got it back at about that time yesterday (they apparently sent a confused team out on Wed afternoon when we reported it, and they bumbled off to the wrong road and stood scratching their heads at being unable to find the problem - they took chainsaws to the tree on the line yesterday and sorted it out), so Wednesday night was all me and the cats huddled in front of gas heaters and candles heating cocoa and soup on the gas stove.

It also made me realise how dramatically my habitual leisure activities rely on civilisation. Can't game. Can't read or knit, light not good enough. Can't watch movies. Can't read fanfic or cruise Tumblr on the Ipad, which has a light enough screen for it, because can't internet. I went to bed very early, under slightly freaked out cats - the noise of the wind banging the mad hippy neighbour's fancy wireless aerial was rather extreme. I was supposed to take Jyn in for spaying on Tuesday night, but postponed, and I'm glad I did. Apart from worrying about power cuts in the middle of veterinary operations, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get through to pick her up on Wednesday, and in the event she was worried enough by the storm noise that it was good she was at home with me for comforting. Her doom will come next week, alas.

I am also pleased to report that, other than the power outage, no damage seems to have resulted to the house - the landlord's roof repairs last year held well, no leaks, and the big potted ficus didn't blow over (it did when I first moved in, twice, under less dramatic winds, but I'd subsequently moved it into a more sheltered spot and taken it off its drainage bricks, so score). And really, a container garden is the best possible scenario for Massive Gale Force Winds, I'd moved the large fruit trees into sheltered corners and anything fragile into the laundry or house, and it was all fine. Is it awful that I rather enjoyed it? I do like a full-body storm experience, all elemental and grrr and exciting.

I also spent a windy Tuesday night watching Arrival, about which I shall blog separately because I Have Notes, and the first couple of episodes of the new Supergirl series, which is another entry in the Fluffy Clockwork Kittens of Superheroes stakes. As a series Supergirl seems to be cute and amiable, but its fluffy clockwork kitten is constructed a bit ineptly so that, while it doesn't actually bounce off walls, it also doesn't quite achieve the lifelike - everything is done slightly too fast with a mechanical gait. But it's rather endearing, on the whole.

baby got back

Thursday, 1 June 2017 12:22 pm
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A Dear Little Student just delivered the perfect backhanded compliment: "I've always found my interactions with you perfectly smooth and easy," he says, "you're nothing like the nightmare everyone says you are." Um, thanks. I think. In fact, the vast majority of interactions I have with students are smooth and easy, it's a tiny minority who transgress my boundaries and get snarled at, or who run their heads against an unyielding rule and blame the messenger. It is an index to the extent to which this year's reg process broke something in me that I'm not even particularly hurt by the idea that everyone thinks I'm a nightmare. (a) Actually it's not true, I know I'm rather kind to the vast majority of them, and (b) frankly, who cares what they think.

I have compounded my last post's Coming Out As A Soon To Be Ex Academic by telling a colleague, in strict confidence, that I am Soon To Be An Ex Academic and thus can't teach in his course next semester, so the whole thing is reifying at speed. (Dreamwidth wots not "reify", illiterate little thing. It should, it's a good word). This is causing me a small but perfectly formed identity crisis, manifesting as anxiety, avoidance, self-loathing and a well-formed tendency to play a fuckload of Dishonored with bloody-minded pacifism (I finished the main game last night with a perfect no-kill run) while rejoicing in the excessive and Victorianesque politico-Gothic gloom of its setting. So my apologies to anyone who has kindly sent me career suggestions to which I have not responded because I am wibbling like a jelly. I'll get there when I've talked myself into slightly more solidity. I really am very grateful.

I feel that the jelly-like identity crisis will be materially assisted by the fact that I am buggering off into the winelands with the Dread jo&stv this weekend for purposes of staying in an Airbnb for two nights, the better to concentratedly wineroute and dine out at Franschoek's many fine dining establishments, which we tend not to have experienced in our culinary meanderings because no-one wants to drive back to Cape Town drunk and overfed. This will be extremely restoring to the soul, and I can only hope that Jyn will not unleash her usual high-velocity sprint for the traffic flow when the cat-sitter opens the front door on Saturday. I'm getting really good at grabbing her one-handed as she goes past, but I've had a lot of practice.
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Right. *deep breath*. So. It cannot have escaped the attention of alert witterers that I have been, shall we say, less than satisfied with my career and work life of late. Even before the upheavals caused by eighteen months of student protests, campus closures and the concomitant conditions of resource-shrinkage, my job was always a compromise: I do it well, and it has elements I enjoy and find rewarding, but they're small patches within a landscape with more than its fair share of admin swamps, uphill battles and the active orientation/registration volcano into which I am annually and ritually flung. The student protests have been the earthquake which, once the aftershocks have settled, has rearranged that landscape into one where the enjoyable patches are becoming actually difficult to locate.

I need, in short, a new job. More than that, a new career. The niche I have filled is so highly specialised that nothing else like it exists within my Cherished Institution; I have no desire to exchange my current post-student-protest difficulties for the identical or worse ones at any other institution in this country, and given that it's taken me six months and various lovely friends prodding me consistently and affectionately with sticks to get my change-averse hang-ups suppressed to the point of wanting a new job at all, I'm really not up to complicating "new job" with "new country" simultaneously. So new career it is. I am, in short, planning to shake the dust of academic from my booted feet, preferably within the next six months so I don't have to endure the bloody start-of-year volcano again.

This not unnaturally raises the difficult question of what the hell I can do instead. I have been a university teacher, researcher and administrator for my entire adult life. I have a raft of actually fairly highly honed and useful skills that go beyond the standard research/writing and teaching/counselling areas (and I'm actually damned good at those) into process management, logistics, administration, organisational insight and a variety of other potentially marketable abilities and experiences. What I lack is a sense of what the hell is out there, job-wise, that would make use of them. My experience of the non-university working landscape is so minimal that I don't even know what sort of job titles or keywords to search for.

So, when in doubt, crowd-source. A lot of you who read my blog are not in academia, or have partners or contacts or experiences outside the Ivory Tower even if you are academics. Knowing me, and the kinds of things I've been doing for decades, are there any particular roles you can think of in the non-academic world that I would be suited to? Industries, skill areas, job titles, corners where you know academic training is an advantage? Something to point me in the right direction? If it helps, I've updated my LinkedIn profile with fairly detailed job descriptions that give some idea of the individual skills my work life has developed.

I would be deeply grateful for any suggestions that would help me identify a direction for a search, because right now, frankly, the compass is simply spinning gently. Along, in fact, with my head.

My subject line is, of course, from David Bowie's "Changes", because where else?
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Well, that was a weekend. Sort of. I'm not sure it actually counts as "life" without basic human life-support such as hot water for personal ablutionary purposes. On Thursday evening I switched on the kettle (an interestingly space-agey glass one with inherently dodgy electrics, it blew its reheat function about 24 hours after I bought it), which promptly tripped all the plugs and, for some reason, the geyser. I switched on all the tripped switches, no problem, but on Friday night it transpired that, in fact, something more permanent had blown, because my attempt at a hot shower was tragically undermined by the total lack of hot water.

So Saturday entailed informing the house agent about the problem - she is a lovely lady who, incidentally, owned the house I rented during my Honours year. (She lived in the back half of the property, and it's a source of continual amazement to me that she sanctioned my current tenancy given that my Honours year was characterised by excessive financial precariousness, no furniture, a screaming break-up followed by a screaming break-down, and the frequent use of my empty living room for loud, long-haired Goth parties. She's either very forgiving or has a very bad memory, is all I can say.) She tut-tutted sympathetically and imported Plumbers.

The Plumbers proved, in the event, to be of rather less use than a chocolate tea-pot, i.e. no damned good for their intended function and inclined to do no more than dribble equal quantities of ruined chocolate and ruined tea on your shoe when called upon to perform it. They banged around in the roof for three hours on Saturday, eventually departing having achieved a new geyser element, a complete mess in the roof, a leak in the ceiling, a bill for R2000, and no actual hot water. (Amazon plumbers, people. Not a good experience. Would not permit to plumb again anywhere near me). They returned yesterday and fixed the overflow which was dripping through the ceiling, but still no hot water. My actual landlord achieved the hot water at 7 last night by removing the geyser timer completely. I reckon there's a more than sporting chance that the new element was completely unnecessary, see chocolate teapot, above.

The thing is, this means that the weekend was composed in very large parts of strangers in my house. They made a noise, they turned off the lights at intervals so I couldn't play Skyrim, they required (in the case of the agent) to be treated courteously and fed tea and conversation while waiting. They also represented a response to an issue I reported, which means I spent the whole time poised in horrible anticipation that they'd gently point out I hadn't done Really Obvious And Basic Action B to turn everything on again, and the whole expensive shebang was thus My Fault. (This is a deep-seated hang-up of mine, as evinced by those recurring dreams in which the whole mechanism is going kablooey because I didn't do the Vital Tiny Thing when I was five). I am beyond exhausted; I haven't been able to use the weekend for its gods-given function, which is to retreat into splendid isolation and decompress. I am a shambling thing this morning, and my head is pounding.

On the upside, I had a hot shower last night, so there is perhaps a sliver of hope. Also, I am pleased to report that Pandora and Jyn are spending a lot of their time chasing each other through the house in an essentially friendly and playful way, and can be caught giving each other affectionate chin-rubs if I turn around suddenly. Also, Jyn continues aesthetically pleasing, if evincing a slightly worrying tendency to head straight for the road at mach speeds if I leave the front door open for more than a microsecond. (The black spot on her nose is shrinking, either it was a minor injury or her previous Small Child owner had at her with a black koki). Herewith, for posterity, a composition I entitle Small Cat Big Bed. The light was interesting.

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My subject line is Flanders and Swann, of course; the song doesn't do plumbers, but damned well should..
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Pandora is clearly all threatened by the kitten and is in need of cuddles and reassurance, she is currently sleeping on my desk in front of me, cuddled up to my front, her head on my wrist. She's purring happily while I apply skritches and validation. Jyn is fossicking around the house, excavating the living room rug, chasing cat toys in brief, attention-deficit snatches and generally spreading small-scale kitten mayhem. Every time she meeps, chirrups or trills, Pandora's tail lashes, three times exactly, then stops. It's like a push-button response. It's very funny.

They are, however, generally getting on OK, despite the fact that they appear mutually determined to only eat each other's food; there only occasional growling, as Pandy ruthlessly suppresses kitten rudeness. I have to admit that it can't be pleasant to have one's lashing tail perpetually jumped on, because apparently Jyn has a death-wish. Memo to self, geeky naming conventions have narrative implications, oops.

This was quite a nice momentary still life:

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... which is going to go very bad in about three seconds.

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Yup.

I am very happy to be on leave for a week. I am even happier because yesterday Cape Town broke out into an actual, verifiable thunderstorm, almost highveld quality: it pissed down with rain, and there was a continuous thunder and lightning session for the better part of half an hour. I spent about ten minutes standing on the portico at our building entrance just drinking in the noise and light, becoming marginally damp but with an enormous enough grin on my face that various students were clearly laughing at me. Which is fine. Purveyor of innocent enjoyment to the post-adolescent masses, that's me. I love thunderstorms quite in defiance of any semblance of suavity. It's still pleasantly cooler today, and my plants are all happily damp. A good start to my break.

My subject line is, of course, Alice Through the Looking-glass. Although I very much fear that the reverse is true.
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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.

welcome home

Sunday, 16 April 2017 10:28 am
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There has been a void in the house since losing Hobbit: apart from the way I miss him, Pandora has become more needy and demanding as an Only Cat. So the plan was always to acquire a second cat, and in the inscrutable way of the Cosmic Wossnames, that void has been filled. In ginger and white, even. Danielle has been feeding three feral cats at her workplace, and while she was doing that the other evening, a complete stranger stopped and asked her if she wanted a kitten. Apparently a friend had brought the kitten as a gift for the stranger's grand-daughter, who was staying with them and had subsequently gone back to Joburg and left the kitten behind. I leave as an exercise to the reader the necessary Homicidal Rant about people who give animals as gifts to children, as though they were stuffed toys without associated needs or responsibilities.

Anyway, apparently the Cosmic Wossnames manufactured me a kitten. Given that she's skittish, feisty and was clearly abandoned by people who should damned well have known better, this is Jyn.

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She's been in the house for a couple of days, and is a sweet and affectionate creature despite the slight skitishness; she has an adorable line in chirrups, trills and Harley Davidson purring, and a well-defined tendency to climb on my desk and bite my chin while standing on the keyboard, causing some serious outbreaks of tactical disaster in Andromeda. She has incredibly soft fur, and a particularly heavy arrangement of fur over her eyes which gives her a slight and endearing frown.

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Pandora is in what can only be described as an Epic Snit. She's furious. She divides her time between trying to slaughter the kitten by sticking her paws under the study door; staring, growling and actively going for her if I put them in the same room; and sitting in the back garden with her back to me, sulking. I am spending my otherwise restful long weekend in something of a war zone. If I'm never heard of again, it's because Pandora has eaten the kitten and buried my body in the back garden.
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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.

this is just to say...

Thursday, 23 March 2017 08:02 am
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... that it has taken every ounce of willpower, Calvinist work ethic guilt and basic Lawful Good that I possess to be actually present at work today, instead of calling in sick in order to stay at home playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which has been peaceably downloading for the last three days and which unlocked at 1am this morning, and towards the playing of which I have just dedicated, with remarkable absence of aforesaid Calvinist guilt, a stonkload of money in order to upgrade my system to the optimal spec.

This is possibly also just to say, by way of public service announcement, that the last six weeks of being basically antisocial because of work exhaustion will probably give way to at least a couple of weeks being antisocial because I am playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is, all things considered, a far better (or at least more enjoyable) reason to be antisocial.

Because at this point? I have damned well earned it.
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Between Friday and today three different students have given me, variously, four varieties of chocolate bar and a small tin of Mauritian vanilla tea. This has been a response to Friday afternoon, which was the site of the last straw: a whole bunch of students arriving five minutes before the end of the last advisor session on the last possible day, demanding everything from a quick change of curriculum to an actual, very late, registration via a form on which they had filled in absolutely nothing. I left campus at a quarter past five after an actual breakdown into hysterical tears, which I was unable to stave off any longer after the failure of my usual containment mechanisms (as a last resort, biting my own arm. Because pain does distract very nicely from hysteria. I am somewhat bruised). Apparently the downside to a chronic fatigue condition which I manage by apportioning my energy very carefully, is that there are simply no spoons left when heedless student selfishness demands that I stay an hour and a quarter after the last dribble of energy has been scheduled to be spent.

I suppose the upside of millenials is that they are sweet kids, by and large, and feel terrible when they realise that they are damaging someone else. And that the instrument of the large, faceless organisation which they are attempting to bend to their particular needs is, in fact, one very real and very overloaded human person who has reached the end of their tether with an audible "spang". I count it a victory that I simply sobbed at students rather than yelling or swearing at them. Far better for student relations, and in itself an extremely effective, if largely unintentional, guilt trip.

By way of "thanks" for the last torrid month, I, along with similar orientation/reg personnel from other faculties, have been invited to an official VC's breakfast thingy tomorrow, during which presumably platitudes will be presented re all our hard work. This is such an empty and beside-the-point response to the unmitigated dementor-infested volcanic hell-mouth of the last month that it is making me homicidally angry, and I am Not Going in a Marked Manner. I think my incipient sinus infection needs the extra hour in bed far more than it needs to be patted on the head by management droids who basically Don't Get It. The chocolate was far more acceptable and at least appropriate to the actual dementors.

My subject line is Belle & Sebastian, a song which is a particularly satisfying Up Yours, in gentle Scottish tenor, to the ingratitude of employers.
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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.
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I am in the orientation/registration run-up phase, which is horrible and exhausting, already requiring 12-hour workdays, and uncomfortably like being nibbled to death by very small annoying things, possibly miniature vampire ducks (petty and draining and stupid). The preparation part is not materially assisted by the fact that we've been running an online registration pilot throughout, so what with rugby players and online forms I have been registering students intermittently from the 7th January, and will be doing so until the 10th March. No wonder I'm a bit frayed.

The registration process, the orientation prep and the various other admin tasks have been exhibiting an unusually high level of people doing exactly what my strategic, careful, detailed, widely disseminated notices and announcements have told them not to do, often half an hour earlier. Submitting forms without class numbers. Trying to register when they have deferred exam results outstanding. Arriving in my office for curriculum advice for which I am explicitly unavailable at this time of year. Trying to schedule classes which haven't been approved by the relevant committee. (This was a gosh-darned professor and head of department who clearly did not read the detailed email to which she was replying). Trying to schedule my exam checking meeting on top of the orientation talk-giving commitments during which I'd blocked out my time as unavailable. It feels like trying to herd mutant toddlers in earplugs.

On the upside, Robynn randomly sent me a knitted teacup-warmer in the shape of an owl (or, more specifically, in the shape of an owl cosplaying as my journal icon, although without the umbrella, unless the "#STRESSMUSTFALL" tag counts, which it definitely does, thank you Robynn!), and this morning the mountain was wearing two hats under a moon, because it could.

20170214_123506

20170214_063814

I will try very hard not to attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by reading failure, and will take what consolations I can get.
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Whoa. Seriously narrative dream, cinematically so. I was the middle-aged schlubby white guy who was selected to be an astronaut, with a particularly large group of fellow selectees who were rife with weird rivalries and social undercurrents. I was poddling innocently around collecting the stuff I absolutely had to take into space with me (e.g. my leatherman) when I happened to look up and see the rocket launch against the sky, taking everyone else into space, because apparently I'd taken too long collecting things and had missed it. So everyone went into space without me, including, for some reason, my lover who was supposed to be accompanying me, although the rest of the team didn't believe we were really together and were nasty to him. (In retrospect, I think he may have been played by Riz Ahmed, so score there, although conversely, not a good tactical move to send him into space without me). Back on Earth, I found that every place I usually went had been rigged with explosives, including the home of my allies, who all died horribly. I have no idea who did it or why. It was a very bewildered dream.

It turns out that one of the triggers to me remembering my dreams is going to bed slightly earlier; if I turn out the light by 10.30 there's a massively increased chance I'll remember my dreams. Must be something to do with sleep cycles.

Entertaining, if bewildering, dreams are a necessary consolation, because work, aka the build-up to orientation and full reg and exam committees, is a series of exhausting micro-crises caused by factors outside my control, each of which I negotiate successfully, but the cumulative effect is horrible. (Examples: university residence opening date stuff-up suddenly landed us with a R400 000 bill. Argued management into paying it. Old link on orientation sign-up page registered droves of students for last year's dates. Hunted it down, emailed students. Several students arrived for orientation a month early. Sent them home. Potential orientation leader narked at not being selected, threatened formal complaint on grounds of discrimination. Talked him down. Etc etc etc. That was just in the last week; each instance requires negotiation and discussion and multiple emails. I'm dead).

Tonight, however, I spend a couple of hours discussing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for the BBC, which should be fun. Supposing I can find enough energy for coherence. Wish me luck.

(subject line is Talking Heads, because it's been playing in my car.)
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Tumblr is doing a meme where you list the household in-jokes and catchphrases which would make absolutely no sense to an outsider. I have a bunch of family ones for those (my subject line is one, along with more Goon Show quotes than you could shake a sausage at), but actually a really huge bunch which echo around my social circle and which variously date from old CLAW days, the SCA, particular digs experiences, and my own irredeemable tendency to spangle my immediate surrounds with catchy quotes from things I love. If my usual readership has followed me over from LJ, there should be at least one person out there who recognises each of these...

"That grooves my ploons."
"Back, you leechies!"
"Well, you can write that down and stick it to the wall!"
"That's you, that is. That's your girlfriend."
"Magic carpet ride!" (or in fact any decontextualised quote from the Aladdin song).
"I dugged an hole!"
"That's no cat!"
collecting the laundry

My tendency to tell myself "This is not the droid you are looking for" out loud at intervals when fumbling around hopelessly is both far more individual, and far more instantly recognisable.
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Last night I dreamed I looked out the glass door into the back courtyard, and there was a man (twentysomething, coloured, nearly shaved head) lying motionless on the astroturf in approximately the recovery position. And I was wondering if he was dead, or injured, but he apparently felt me watching and moved, so he was just sleeping. In the dream I was vaguely assuming he'd had a drunken rather than a criminal night, but was nonetheless a bit alarmed about finding him in my garden, and asked him to leave on the grounds of being somewhat scary, and he laughed at me a bit and obligingly did so. Possibly by evaporating, I didn't see him climbing any walls. It was all very odd, but as anxiety-related people-are-getting-into-the-house dreams go, relatively unthreatening. I think all the horrible insults to black bodies coming out of the current American fuckwittery are getting to me, there's a sort of subliminal protectiveness that kicks in.

I take back everything I said about Trump being lost and overwhelmed, incidentally. Trump is having the time of his life implementing fascist autocracy and wholesalely castrating any governmental bodies that could potentially restrain him. Even if his inner circle of batshit insane fascist jerks is leading him around by the piglike snout, the current fuckwittery has his big greasy pawprints all over it. Pundits are reading this as a trial run at an actual coup. We are all so fucked.

On the "fiddling while Rome burns" principle, possibly, jo&stv had a dance party on Saturday. This is a thing they do every couple of months, known as the Minimum Viable Party; they choose a day, send out invites, and if a minimum threshold of people is reached, they clear out the living room and hold it. Dancing starts at 8pm and finishes at 10pm sharp, because we're all old. (Even with the strict 2-hour limit I'm unfit enough that I'm usually achy for days afterwards). There's a theme to the playlist, which stv djs with great deliberation and not a little fiendishness. Saturday's was 80s cheese, unabashedly. He borrowed a chunk of my music collection to assemble it. I have a lot of cheesy compilations.

There's something about 80s pop music that's essentially, I think, innocent, possibly because people of my vintage were young when it hardwired our brains. It's also an iconic enough musical identity that it has familiarity value even to younger people, the ones who weren't in their teens or twenties when the cheese was prevalent, and familiarity with the music is a basic tenet of good dance parties. It was the largest MVP turnout we've ever seen, probably 30 people or so, and it had a lovely, joyous, uninhibited vibe which said we were all regressing like mad and completely unashamed about it. I spent a lot of it bouncing around the dance floor in a fit of giggles, because, honestly, Tiffany, "I think we're alone now". Or "Walk like an Egyptian". And my late 80s experience swung heavily Goth, but stv threw sops to the Gothy remnant of us with "Tainted Love" and "Love will tear us apart", and besides, I was also into Eurythmics and Depeche Mode. And it closed with "Wake me up before you go-go", because it had to, and alas George Michael. It was a lovely evening, I had a blast. In the current state of geo-political ramification one has to take one's pleasures where one can.
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I love that Tumblr took a sort of unspoken pact to basically ignore the Trump inauguration; I saw very little in the way of commentary or detail. The day after, everyone blossomed into gifsets and reblogs about the women's march instead, which was lovely. Also, comparisons of crowd turnout, and CakeGate, and a neo-Nazi being repeatedly punched with increasingly baroque soundtrack. (Punching Nazis is a meme I can get seriously behind. My favourite bit: "It wasn't a punch, it was an alt-highfive". Take that, disgusting alt-right.)

And the Nazi-punching has been fascinating, because it seems to go against the very politics which generates it - if you're against Nazis then really violence shouldn't be the answer, because it closes down dialogue. But, you know, if someone is ranting about Nazi beliefs and the How rather than the Whether of racial genocide, then really you're way past the point where dialogue is possible, and perhaps a punch is the only appropriate response.

It strikes me that the world in general has this sort of condescending assumption that liberals are Nice. That because we espouse notions of equality and empathy and dialogue, and are against privilege and discrimination and oppression, that we can be condescendingly ignored as ineffective. And it's true, all of these things put us at a disadvantage when up against the sort of grasping, narcissistic bigotry which can create Nazis or capitalism or Trump; we have socialised ourselves into accommodation because empathy and compromise are core liberal values, and it's a serious disadvantage in political conflict.

But anyone who thinks that liberal politics are Nice has clearly never seen a Tumblr callout feeding frenzy, which can identify, surround and isolate an unfortunate transgressor and skeletonise them in seconds without turning a self-righteous hair. That shit gets nasty, and is about as narcissistic as anything Trump ever pulled. But it demonstrates that liberal values are not incompatible with concerted, violent, self-reinforcing rage; and if ever there was time for righteous anger of biblical proportions, it's now.

Liberal empathy being what it is, I've spend some time over the last couple of days wondering what it actually feels like right now to be Trump. To have lied, bombasted and manipulated your way into the ultimate accolade of power for American identity; to be sitting at the pinnacle of political success, and to know with a cold, sinking, inescapable certainty that it's something you never actually wanted, didn't expect to win, and for which you are completely, desperately, catastrophically unqualified and unprepared. And that everyone hates you and finds you ridiculous. Your ascension has been immediately protested by the largest march in history. Your administration is going to be a long succession of destructive disasters, but it's also going to be a continuous, ongoing, inescapable humiliation. You have the lowest approval rating of all time, the most under-attended inauguration; the media, social media, public both national and international, your own internal departments, will continue to gleefully point out your screw-ups in solo and chorus until you scuttle, shamefaced, from the role. Hell, even your cake is a lie.

Right now, Trump's stratospheric levels of oblivious narcissism are frankly the only thing that is preventing him from retiring to the privacy of his gold taps and quietly putting a bullet in his own head.

And, you know, in his place I'd not just be humiliated and inadequate: I would look at the concerted efforts of crowds in pink pussy hats and the tenor of their witty, punchy, unafraid signage, and I would be afraid.

My subject line is Jabba the Hutt dialogue, translating as "You weak-minded fool!"
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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.)

a suffusion of yellow

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

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

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

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


My subject line is a random Dirk Gently quote for no reason other than a vague association with multiplicity, and the fact that Tumblr has a current sideline in gifs from the new Dirk Gently tv series. It sounds completely off the wall, has anyone seen it?

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