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Rats, slipped a bit on the posting. I have been particularly tired over the last few weeks, I keep having these weird moments when I climb out of the car after shopping and am suddenly overcome by an all-over bodily lassitude such that I can't imagine where I'll actually find the energy to pick up the grocery bags and walk up the steps. Or I look up from reading Martha Wells on the sofa and realise my eyes aren't focusing properly and my entire person is winding down into that just-pre-sleep drowsy heaviness, and I should probably go to bed, except that it's 8pm, and going to bed that early is ridiculous.

And when I do go to bed, regardless of time or whether I set an alarm (I haven't for nearly six months now), I fall asleep immediately, and sleep deeply for exactly seven and a half hours, and then wake up, entirely unprompted. Often, given how tired I am lately and how early I go to bed, at 4.30 in the bloody morning. It is clearly not enough sleep. I wake up tired. I have always been a 9-hour sleep person, even 10 if I can get it, but my damned declining middle-agedish bod is regressing to teenage angst status and refusing to do what's good for it. It would probably help if I got some exercise, but I'm too tired. Yay circularity.

On the upside: Martha Wells. The Murderbot Diaries. Intelligent, funny, poignant sf and incidentally a beautifully-judged disquisition on the nature of identity, humanity and consciousness. And corporate greed. Highly recommended. (The link is to the Kindle page because that's what was on my desktop, because currently the Kindle is the only thing that stands between me and the pressing need to construct more walls in my house onto which to attach bookshelves).

Work is simultaneously winding down for the end of the semester/exams and winding up into the year-end exam committee process and preparations for the orientation/registration chaos of the start of next year. This may be why I am feeling tired, conflicted, and hideous kinship with those long strings of goopy smoked mozzarella you get when you lift a slice out of my characteristically over-cheesed deep-dish lasagne. I am also entertaining political despair, because, recent House gains notwithstanding, America, and also because several lovely Zim students in a row this week engaged me in impassioned discussion of the current Zimbabwean situation, which is breaking out in rapacious politicians who are, yet again, robbing their citizenry blind via financial fuckwittery, and have the whole thing teetering on the brink of yet another complete economic collapse. You wouldn't think there was enough actual structure left for it to collapse further. As I said to the young man yesterday, you think that at least Zim can't get any worse, and then it does. I don't see how our significant cohort of Zim students are going to pay their fees next year, there's no forex, which is awful for them, but is also going to deliver another blow to my Cherished Institution's slightly stretched finances.

In mitigation, I recommend reading everything David Roth writes on Deadspin in the way of ruthlessly dismembering political fuckwittery, specifically the Trumpian variety. I've just read Toward a working theory of what the fuck Donald Trump is even talking about and This is all Donald Trump has left, both of which are savage, biting, insightful dissections which leave Trump in appropriately raw and quivering lumps. Satisfying. But not, alas, assisting with the exhaustion.
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Randomly cooler last night, thank FSM, cloud cover came up and the air was very mildly icy. Possibly just in time to save both my mental health and my considerably drooping container garden.This weather, I do not like it. It is not friendly.

Other things I do not like: watching my own lecture videos to critique my lecturing style and quality, on the general grounds that since my teaching existence is this weird marginal thing which is utterly unsupported by my institution, faculty or co-workers and no-one else is going to nurture it, I have to put the work into nurturing it myself. I don't like watching myself on video. (a) My general posture and appearance beat me over the head with how physically unfit I am, even allowing for the inevitable weight-gain effect of the camera. I look terrible. (b) Following the thread of my own lecture inevitably highlights how fatigued I am currently; you can see it in the hesitation and pauses, in the way I lose the thread of what I'm saying and have to grope for coherence. (c) The above two points notwithstanding, these weren't terrible lectures, they just could have been a whole lot better. Two of them were quite good. Students asked interesting questions and seemed engaged. But as my output goes they were under par.

They probably won't get a chance to be better, because I think they may have been the last ones I'll ever offer, I cannot continue to be here, it's clearly very bad for me.

Things I do actually like: it's Friday, thank FSM again. My garden has drooped a bit but is still alive, and pleasingly green. The jasmine is in flower and smells delectable, and the flame lily has sprouted again. Also, this lovely article goes a fair way towards at least partially restoring one's faith in eco-recovery, human ingenuity, rational systems and engaged youth.

vision thing

Sunday, 21 October 2018 09:27 am
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Migraine auras are extremely weird. I had a random attack yesterday, which started out as strange patches in the middle of my vision, causing me to clean off my glasses umpteen times in increasing frustration before realising what was happening. The true aura came a bit later, in the form I always get, and have done since I was at school, I remember lying in the nurse's office watching the flickering with slightly stoned fascination. It's always a reverse C shape in the right hand side of my vision, occupying about the middle third of its vertical pitch, and composed of tiny interlocking needles in black and white, in weird diagonal patterns which flicker continuously.

I've had a tendency over last few years to have fits of aura without necessarily progressing to full-blown migraine, although that can also happen - I don't know if yesterday's was a true migraine or only an aura attack, because I hit it with Trepiline as soon as the true aura appeared, and it vanished within an hour, along with the incipient headache. Score, except that Trepiline in the middle of the day knocks me out, so I fell onto the bed at 12 and only woke up at 5.30, much to Jyn's delight. She likes to sleep on my bed during the day, and appreciates company. And then I slept for nearly eight hours last night, so double score.

It may have been stress triggered, now that I think about it, because I bunked the faculty curriculum symposium on Friday afternoon, which always causes me acute guilt because Lawful Good, but in retrospect I think my complete inability to contemplate the thought of a crowded lecture theatre full of politics was probably pre-migraine weirdness. It's nice to have a label for it.
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I woke up randomly at 5.30am this morning, which is fairly standard at the moment, probably because my body actually hates me and refuses to take more than 7 hours of sleep regardless of what time I go to bed, whether or not I set an alarm or how tired I am (newsflash: very, more or less perpetually). What was cruel and unusual was lying awake for ten minutes happily plotting out my Saturday and luxuriating in the feeling of not having to fight traffic to work, which lasted only too briefly before I suddenly remembered it was actually Friday and a work day. Not cricket, brain. I do not appreciate being hoodwinked and conceptually ambushed by my own cerebellum before my first cup of tea.

I am now sitting in my office having a mental wrestle with myself about whether or not I'm going to attend a faculty curriculum symposium in twenty minutes, which will subject me to (a) crowds, (b) political rhetoric, and (c) interpersonal tension, all of which give me hives. I am very, very close to mentally categorising it as "not my problem, I'm not an academic", giving this whole profoundly flawed academic edifice the finger, and buggering off home. Which would be bad, and wicked, and awful, and lovely.

On the upside, tonight I take my sister out for a birthday dinner at the local Italian joint, which is very nice, so I suppose there's that. On the further upside, for the last few days I have been re-reading the entire Drarry fanfic archive of blamebrampton, which is unduly British and frequently hysterically funny Potterslash written by someone I darkly suspect is personally located somewhere in the bowels of the British civil service, and to which I attribute any preponderance of British idiom in the above.
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Oh, dear, fatigue crash. For the last week or so I have been doing that thing where I assume the horizontal position, drained and useless, at 9pm, and wake up at 6am regardless of alarm-clock contributions, with that slightly time-warped feeling as though I'm about to fall into bed after a heavy day. Possibly one involving simultaneous marathon running, tricky technical writing and fending off an alien invasion, after which I've stayed up all night juggling ferrets.

This random and intermittent lassitude is, regrettably, a feature of chronic fatigue; sometimes I just gets tired. No particular trigger (Mondays or a glass of wine the night before are sometimes influential, but to no discernible pattern, I may have to give both up just in case), and nothing I can do except wait it out while doing not much. Symptoms include noun loss, distraction and that weird thing where I get two steps up a staircase and have to stop for a bit to contemplate the essential impossibility of continuing.

This is heartily dull, but it will pass. Normally I retreat into video gaming, but I am jonesing for first-person sword-and-sorcery rpgishness and have played the Elder Scrolls and Amalur into the ground to the point where another replay is boring even in my current state of brain-deadness. Same prob with Bioware. I need a new game, stat. Taking recommendations.

I ATEN'T DEAD

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 09:46 am
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I may, however, have vaguely wished I was at several points over the last few weeks, on the general grounds that it might be pleasantly restful. This has been a complete hellseason for registration, I have worked a high proportion of 12-hour days for the last month, and straight through most weekends. Particular lowlights have included:
  • having to floor manage registration simultaneously with advice and orientation because the designated manager was off sick and there were no alternative arrangements or anyone else willing to take responsibility;
  • the arrival of the faculty handbooks, necessary for students for registration, with mathematical precision an hour and a half after the last registration session had ended;
  • an unceasingly flow of angry students expecting to see their degree status updated to "qualified", which it hasn't been owing to administrative meltdown in the admin office, and having to re-check and re-submit the damned things, sometimes for the third time;
  • the regular late arrival of registration forms to registration sessions because the whole responsibility has been devolved onto temps, which means my advisors twiddle their thumbs for half an hour;
  • my digestion's response to all this, which has been two weeks of nausea and a week of heartburn, including what I thought on Sunday was actual gastric 'flu but mercifully doesn't seem to be the bug which has laid low most of my staff and a swathe of students over the last two weeks, even if my version has made me feel like hell and rendered my eating minimal and pale;
  • the weird evangelical student household neighbours over my back wall intensifying their evangelical activities from "really bad singing" to include sudden outbreaks of speaking loudly in tongues with the living room windows and door wide open at 6am as well as 7pm, and I have to say, that shit - unified, continuous wordless babbling from a dozen people - is creepy at the best of times and downright terrifying when you're half asleep;
  • Jyn's new crusade, which is to climb through and utterly destroy if at all possible the front blinds, which are starting to look bent, bont and splugged, necessitating me erupting from the sofa at intervals to shout at her (she knows exactly what she's doing, she looks at me, narrows her eyes and then deliberately does it again);
  • Teen Wolf's season 3 featuring a big bad played by the voice of Dragon Age's Fenris, who is one of my favourite go-to romances and whose decontextualised appearance in the inverse moral position is giving me conniptions.
I am a piece of chewed string. Once this week's change of curriculum is over, I shall go and see my doctor, and hope like hell I can gently prod her into booking me off work for a couple of weeks on grounds of general exhaustion. And the faculty may slide gently off the mountain and into the sea in my absence, I care not.

On the upside, I have progressed to the second stage of a job application with Minerva, in that they're asking for references and what have you; while I still darkly suspect I will not ultimately be offered it, given that they have the length, lingth and longth of the oversubscribed American academic wasteland to draw from, it's obscurely cheering to feel that at least I'm vaguely competitive. 

viktwee!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018 12:48 pm
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I have not achieved a great deal over my three weeks of leave, mostly downtime and relaxation and recharging the batteries for the orientation/registration onslaught. But in addition to the usual pursuit of gaming (a Morrowind replay, I can't get the hell into the isometric perspective of Divinity) and fan fiction (still Sterek), I have done some desultory sewing, cooking, and gardening. This last started with ruthless rationalisation of my container garden to throw out things that were struggling, uninteresting, extraneous or accidental, the better to concentrate the limited water supplies on the remainder. The Cape Town water crisis is dire.

Once I had slightly over half of my previous pot-herd, I embarked on a programme of repotting, prioritised by a process not unakin to sexing kittens, i.e. you hold them up in the air and scrutinise their nethers for, variously, gender-specific bits or the tell-tale tentacular growth of roots through the drainage holes signifying that their vegetative boots are too tight. Then you find a larger pot, assemble drainage stones for the bottom, wrestle the root-bound offender out of its tight boots, scrabble the drainage stones out from the dense nest of white root-hairs, bung the plant into the new boots, top it up with compost, and water madly from the washing machine grey water, which you have carefully saved after switching to a fiercely biodegradable and probiotic washing liquid.

(Life in Cape Town is a bit complicated at the moment, and entails eco-despair, short showers and herds of assorted buckets in approximately equal quantities.)

Today I reached the final candidate in this re-booting process, which has taken a week because I'm chronically fatigued and have to do this sort of thing in short, carefully-judged bursts, particularly since at least two thirds of the repotting candidates are in fact small trees and require heavy lifting and, in some cases, relocation via pyramid-style ramps. I clearly left it to last because it was the most difficult, being the large, exuberant and tentacular jasmine vine which is inextricably entwined with (a) its pot-planted trellis and (b) the random vertical pipe outside the courtyard door, up which it has twined like both halves of Flanders and Swann's vegetative Romeo and Juliet. I chose, because I'm basically cussed, to try and repot this without trimming it off the trellis or pipe. This already quixotic endeavour was complicated by the following factors:
  1. The fact that the pipe-entwining of the vine necessitated that all loosening activities, including tilting the pot horizontal, took place a metre above the ground (I eventually balanced the damned thing on a stepladder);
  2. The fact that I am a lone single person conducting this unaided, and the pot was slightly too heavy for the average carrying capacity of the African swallow my gammy left elbow so I couldn't actually lift it too far;
  3. The fact that the jasmine's tight boots were so tight, and the tentacular drainage-hole root emergences so exuberant, that it took half an hour of swearing, thumping and prodding with the trowel to loosen it, during which time the philosophy swung sharply from "gently coax with maximum care not to traumatise the plant" to "grab around stem and haul, wrestle and jiggle without restraint, interjecting 'come on you bitch!' at intervals";
  4. The fact that the sweet semi-retired estate agent neighbour was rootling around in his garden over the wall during the entire process and I had to curb the engine of creative swearing which might otherwise have lubricated matters;
  5. Jyn, who persists in the delusion that all gardening activities are designed solely for her entertainment, and who has exhibited a consistent genius for sticking her self and nose into precisely the spot where I'm trying to place a heavy pot. (Jyn's feline operating system is at the very least severely idiosyncratic, if not actually malformed: whoever programmed her seems to have deleted the "Jump" module in order to make space for, apparently, Klingon Eyebrow and Being In The Way).

I have just finished the process, after somewhat over an hour, sore muscles, bruising, some sunburn, being scratched savagely by the lemon tree in passing, and an entirely indecent level of triumph. This was at least a two-person job, and I did it all my own self, muttering "Man is a tool-using animal!" like a litany at intervals. I am choosing to see this as a positive omen for the year, which will present similar levels of disproportionate difficulty and which I hope to bloody-mindedly wrestle into submission in similar fashion. I go back to the work management-meltdown tomorrow, with student protest threats lowering in the offing, and my work inbox is already several hundred emails deep in plaintive student whinges, at least a third of which haven't read the instructions properly. But I vanquished the jasmine! I am mighty! I will prevail!

(My subject line is a quote from the Worms video game, which I never played but whose cutesy cartoon worm dialogue colonised my mid-90s social group somewhat wholesalely, mostly courtesy of bumpycat.)
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oh gods, there's a coup in Zimbabwe. The military, miffed at the recent Mugabe purge of ex-military politicians who might prevent that poisonous psychopath Grace from taking power, has intervened in force and is currently holding the national broadcaster and releasing far-from-reassuring statements that Mugabe and his family are all well, we promise, they're fine! There are armoured vehicles all over Harare and reports of explosions, and Mugabe himself hasn't made any sort of statement, and I am astonishing myself with the viciousness of my hope that it's because somebody put a bullet between his eyes in the first five minutes of the coup.

I haven't lived in Zim for decades, and I don't even have much family left there any more, and you'd think it would all be a bit distant and abstract by now. But when my colleague came into my office to tell me this morning and I looked at the first few reports, it became apparent that on some subliminal level I am still Zimbabwean, and that some portion of my psyche is still bruised and traumatised by everything that despotic hell-toad did to my country, because I burst into tears. I don't usually do that in front of people, I reserve it for home or the car. It was odd. But, oh gods and little fishes, I hope he's out. I hope he's out on a stretcher under a sheet. I hope Grace is out with him. It's far beyond time.

I suppose the uncontrolled crying might also be because I am already somewhat on edge because of the protest threats on campus, and had a truly appalling night - my damned leg muscles kept cramping, waking me up in agony three times. (It doesn't help that the cats sleep heavily on my feet and contort them into weird cramp-inducing positions, although I suppose I do have my revenge in that the cramps rocket me into the bolt-upright position with a convulsive plunge which usually ejects two protesting felines summarily in something of a graceful arc). Exams started today and the Great Exam Tent Experiment seems to have opened fairly smoothly, with complete lock-down of the Exam Tent in the midst of an iron ring of police, security, campus protection, access control, dogs and an ambulance, and at time of writing a complete absence of protesters. I think that they are Biding Their Time, like a rake in the grass.

My subject line is, of course, Buffy. More accurately, the drunken pretentious Pol student in "Beer Bad". In tangentially related news, my flame lily is flowering again, at least the half of it that wasn't summarily eaten to the ground by snails as soon as it sprouted. I shall attempt to see this as a Good Omen for coups and protests and other such exuberances.
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Ow. Apparently the concatenation of a lecture-invasion (stressful), a slightly poisonous and anxiety-inducing faculty staff meeting (lots of people passively-aggressively documenting unhappiness, which always brings my shoulders up around my ears) and weird weather (warm berg wind day followed by sudden cold snap and rain) was sufficient to constitute a migraine trigger, because I lost most of yesterday to ow and ick. Tension and pressure changes, yup, that'll do it. Fortunately taking the small high-tech wafer migraine med (the one with the space-age plastic purple box) and sleeping for five hours yesterday morning more or less settled its hash, and I was basically functional by the evening.

This was good because the Dreaded Thak is in town for a flying visit and spent the evening with me, meeting the cats and showing me kid pics and catching up on gossip in both directions. The kind of friends who live on different continents and intersect only at multiple-year intervals but with whom one picks up exactly as though one saw them yesterday, are beyond price. The cats also approve of this random importation of house-guests for the sole purpose of supplying the feline overlords the requisite additional petting, adoration and warm laps.

In completely unrelated news, I badly need a scientific explanation for my current ear-worm, which is Mika's "Grace Kelly", which has colonised my unsuspecting cerebellum for slightly under a week, including surviving a migraine. Like a cockroach. I know and really like this song, it's catchy and boppable and familiar. I don't recognise the title, I have no conscious recollection of ever actually hearing it in the wild, it appears to have arrived in my brain by some sort of osmosis or teleport. Nor do I in any way recognise the name or existence of the singer, who seems to have been generated in a lab with equal quantities of physical and vocal DNA from Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger and David Bowie under a project description which simply reads "GANGLING", "ENDEARING" and "(POP)". I do not know why this wretched song is so familiar. Maybe it's the Mozart Rossini. (He's stuffing around with Barber of Seville in the lyric line).

Anyway, because the only possible response to an earworm is to pass the damned thing on, like a cold, please do click play.



Aargh. I have edited this to correct my shameful misidentification of opera. Apparently I mentally conflate the Barber of Seville with the Marriage of Figaro when under stress.

how the other half

Thursday, 17 August 2017 10:25 am
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Oh, dear, I appear to have disappeared off the face of the blogging earth again. I blame career change angst and the start of term. I am in the middle of negotiating a severely crisis-ridden change of curriculum week, characterised by advisor flakiness, administrator fail and fascinatingly political double-bookings in my curriculum change venue. (Had to close down the advice process for an afternoon to accommodate an awards ceremony featuring four consuls-general, which was somewhat surreal). I am, shall we say, a little frayed.

By way of a slightly retroactive upside, my mother was in town for the last month; she left on Saturday, alas, but it was a lovey visit, during which she made me clothes, niece-wrangled, did the washing up a lot and was otherwise her usual comfortable and comforting presence. The washing up was necessary because my weird body is at it again, I grew an extra mutant knuckle on the middle finger of my right hand and had to have it surgically removed before it achieved sufficient mass and pressure to fracture the bone. (If you have déjà vu, it's because this happened about a year ago, same finger, different spot. This one was more complicated because the cartilage tumour was partially under the tendon and the surgeon had to detach and reattach the tendon to get at it. Apparently that's a thing you can do. It necessitates two weeks in a splint, and ouch).

While Mother was here we (i.e. me and jo&stv, who are at this point pretty much her surrogate offspring) took her randomly to Riebeek Casteel, which was a lovely weekend in which Airbnb delivered spectacularly on the Some People Have Too Much Money end of the scale, something of an antidote to the weirdness of the Franschoek one. Seriously palatial: a huge, open, beautifully built house with approximately quadruple vertical volume, comfy sofas, a superb kitchen and three ensuite bedrooms. Good food and wine and company. Spectacular views. Generally good for the soul.





(That last one is the view through the front window, which is across from the stairs and above the huge, high living space. The window is amazing, the view even more so. I darkly suspect that church steeple of being Deliberately Picturesque.)
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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.
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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.
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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.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I had to dig back through blog posts to write the Hobbit elegy, and it's both weird and strangely satisfying, to re-visit my own life like that. Words, I get high on them, and that's some good shit at times. Also, given that my personal neuroses tend towards the aargh-I-do-not-exist-or-if-I-do-I'm-not-important end of the scale, it's even salutary and probably good for the soul, to be reminded that my own experiences and feelings and insights do exist, and may be valid. Sometimes I find that hard to believe.

What did leap to the eye, though, was the association of the annual board schedule rant with flanking posts bemoaning my state of health. Because, yes, apparently I do mark the year-end process annually by picking up some sort of lurgi, which then rampages over my hapless form for anything up to weeks. I did three days of board schedule checking over the weekend and Monday with a weird intermittent sore throat, which turned on Monday and Tuesday into a full-blown viral thing that knocked me flat for most of Wednesday, fortunately neatly sandwiched between the unavoidable meetings I had to attend on Tuesday and Thursday. The whole horrible season culminated in a five-hour meeting yesterday, after which I staggered home at 6pm, ate something random, prodded the cat and collapsed into bed. I feel considerably better this morning after, ooh, count them, eleven hours of sleep. I have one final meeting on Monday, after which I go on leave for three weeks, and damn the torpedoes. Anything vital in the way of orientation and registration prep can damned well wait until January. Dammit.

Cape Town is hideously hot, I have stress eczema all over my throat, and the attendant braai smoke from today's public holiday is inflaming my sinuses. But! I have three days in which to do nothing. The garden is burgeoning, my flame lilies are in flower again, the cat is asleep on the sofa making cute meeping noises in her sleep, I have a large iced coffee on my desk, and I have randomly acquired the wherewithal to make cherry chocolate trifle for supper tonight, just because I've bloody well earned it after the last week. It's not all bad. I'll take it.

(My subject line is from the Magnetic Fields, "Chicken with its head cut off", the title of which is the only part of the song which is actually in any way relevant to this post.)

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)
Occasionally I wonder if I actually, you know, have a brain, because possibly going in for an MRI (very minor, there's a weird bumpy thing on my finger that the specialist couldn't figure out) was not an intelligent thing to do only a week after discovering, courtesy of sports traffic, the exact parameters of my problem with being hemmed in. I'd thought it was crowds. Enclosed spaces have never really been an issue; I rather like caves. But when they put me on my face on the table with my hand strapped into a complicated box thing, and roll me into the MRI tube with strict instructions not to move, it turns out I have a small, perfectly formed panic attack. Weirdest feeling, lying there hyperventilating with my heart rate climbing and sweat breaking out all over my body, and my whole being consumed with the desperate, flailing urge to MOVE! at any cost, preferably to thrash and plunge and make a break for it. Flight or fight. It's very odd, knowing it's completely irrational and being completely unable to switch it off.

Fortunately, I am addicted beyond redemption to random link-following on Teh Internets, and a couple of weeks back it was something-or-other that mentioned, in passing, that flight-or-fight responses can be short-circuited if you focus on a breathing pattern where you breathe in for a shorter count than you breathe out. Which I read at the time with a certain degree of scepticism, thought "Huh. Probably woo." and promptly forgot about, until it was recalled by the desperate realisation that a quick sedation was in the offing unless I did something. And, huh. Turns out it's perfectly accurate. Breathe in for count of two, hold for count of one, breathe out for four. It was enough to manage the panic and gradually, over about fifteen minutes, bring it down to something perilously close to trance state, which was fortunate, because they kept me in that bloody thing for over an hour. Apparently fingers are merry hell to scan, small and fiddly and difficult to hold still; they ended up having to pump me full of dye to see what was going on. When I finally emerged I was slowed down and pleasantly calm to slightly stoner levels - in sharp contradistinction to all my muscles, which were in spasm from being motionless for so long.

MRIs sound incredibly Millenium-Falcon for the high-tech things they are - there's a great deal of banging and thumping and ticking and weird "whum-m-m" noises, and that bit where it mutters "muh-muh-muh-muh-muh" to itself very rapidly. They stick you in earplugs before shoving you into the innards, which is somewhat merciful, it's very loud. It's also very varied; an image seems to be built up as a composite, which entails scanning at varying degrees of current through the electromagnet, and it responds with a fair repertoire of noises. Possibly the most frustrating part was not being able to identify what exactly the machine was doing with each different noise it made. Generally I enjoy high-tech medical equipment, and will demand explanations of what's happening with a shameless mongoose interest, but you can't ask questions if you have to lie motionless and focus on your breathing so as not to freak out completely. "For Science!", I kept telling myself, but I'd prefer to know what Science.

It also makes very cool pictures with way better resolution than an x-ray, and reveals that I have a weird body which won't do things in any standard way. I have a lump, slowly growing larger, just above the middle knuckle joint on my middle right-hand finger. It's been there for years; it's briefly agonizing if I bump it, even lightly, and has started to ache randomly even when I don't. The MRI doctor was Baffled, Watson, Baffled! - he said it might be a "very complicated ganglion", which is a nerve cluster lumpy thing. Or a cyst, because it takes dye, which suggests there's fluid there, although it's also too hard for a cyst. The orthopaedic surgeon is concerned because it's grown large enough to start pressing into the bone, which will eventually weaken the bone and invite random breakages and things. He's hauling said Mysterious Lump out on Tuesday just to be safe, probably with an element of frustrated curiosity with which I completely empathise. Apparently I am scheduled for One Minor Op Per Year until further notice, and this is mine for 2016. At least it's interesting.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Well, that was... salutary. Things I never realised about myself, courtesy of not being a sports fan. Which I didn't need to realise, I know I'm not a sports fan, but a by-product of my sublime indifference to organised or team sport of any stamp is that I'm blissfully oblivious to major sports fixtures happening in Cape Town. Which is a problem when Newlands stadium lies directly between campus and home and the South African cricket team is playing Australia.

It took me exactly two hours to get home yesterday, a trip that should take ten minutes and even in rush hour seldom takes longer than 20. I left campus at 4.30pm, and finally pulled up outside my house, wrung, exhausted and hysterical, shortly after 6.30. During that time I had circled repeatedly between Observatory and Wynberg in a desperate, unavailing and increasingly surreal attempt to cross the railway line. Every single route over the line was blocked by congested traffic for a minimum of three blocks, moving a car at a time and generally sitting without moving at all for anything up to five or ten minutes. Not quite a gridlock, but almost, its ground-to-a-halt effect exacerbated materially by the single-minded selfishness of Cape Town drivers, who will fill up an intersection even if they're not able to move out of it, thus blocking it to cross traffic when the light changes.

Normally this sort of traffic congestion is a matter of biting the bullet and inching forward; you'll get there eventually, painfully slowly, and probably having given your road-rage vocabulary a brisk evening constitutional. What this is not apparently compatible with, however, is my borderline crowd phobia which, it transpires, is mostly a desperate terror of being hemmed in. I've always hated rush hour: sitting in traffic is one of my fairly reliable fatigue triggers, and it appears that the exhaustion is actually the result of subliminally suppressing panic attacks if I can't move, can't leave, can't see a way out. (This in retrospect also explains that overly dramatic episode in undergrad when I passed out in the middle of the Zimbabwe border post, which is always heaving crowds).

Yesterday the non-moving traffic endured long enough, repeatedly, that I could no longer suppress the panic response. I kept trying to turn away from build-ups, feeling my control slipping, my hands shaking, my hysteria mounting, and only ended up spiralling myself tighter and tighter into congested roads, with my options narrowing inexorably. At one point I ended up stuck in a byroad in Claremont near the station, hemmed in by taxis, shaking and crying hysterically, with concerned passers-by offering me water and otherwise mostly exacerbating the problem by looming at me. When I finally wriggled free I'd circle round to find another route, only to run into further rows and rows of bumper-to-bumper cars. It was like one of those repetitive nightmares where you can't get out, you keep coming back to the same spot, you're trapped. After a while the repetition becomes a sort of hellish hallucination. You feel as though you'll be doing this forever, over and over, trying to get through, always blocked, home and tranquillity and a door to exclude the world a sort of faint, mirage-like image which clearly doesn't exist in any real way.

Halfway through this process I gave up and tried to go back to campus to sit in my office for a bit (trial and error having established that sitting by the side of the road in the car didn't help at all). This wasn't the best move, because (a) going back to campus after you've left for the day is a nasty déjà vu feeling that itself feels like a nightmare entrapment, and (b) there was some sort of student activity - protest, demonstration, march, flash mob, who the fuck knows - filling up the roads, inevitably triggering further phobic reactions. I turned round and re-entered the hellscape. I finally wriggled through via Kenilworth, it now being late enough that the booms were up, took a tranquilliser, ate something, I forget what, it didn't seem to object so probably wasn't one of the cats, and fell into bed by 9, more or less shattered. It was, all in all, a horrible experience - made worse, I think, because heavy traffic is also a prime example of non-working, irrational, eco-unfriendly civilisation and we should damned well do better than this.

I am enlightened, however. I have identified a trigger. My tendency to arrange my work life to avoid rush hour, which I've always treated like a preference, becomes an imperative. I shall espouse the religion of the long way round if it looks for a microsecond as though build-up is happening. I shall also become au fait with major sports fixtures and arrange, preferably, to leave the country for them. For a nice, open desert full of absolutely nothing, but especially not people or cars.
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.

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)
Blarg. Apparently the inevitable upshot of the Interesting Times on campus is that Lurgi Strikes Britain. Not surprisingly - I am carrying a buttload of transferred student anxiety, given the number of queries I'm dealing with, and while I haven't been conscious of extreme amounts of stress, clearly it's nibbling away subliminally. I've been at home since Monday with the usual merry trifecta, head cold becoming sinus infection becoming full-on glandular resurgence, so I'm somewhat dead on my feet. Also, Sid the Sinus Headache is having his merry way with my hapless form to a quite unfriendly extent. Cue a lot of sneezing followed by clutching my head with cries of agony. The bugger with sinus headaches is that they're bloody pressure-sensitive, which means ixnay on coughing, or getting up suddenly, or bending over, or sneezing. Particularly sneezing.

Campus has pretty much calmed down: exams are in mid-session, and have run smoothly apart from one aborted attempt at disruption earlier this week. It was a small group of protesters who, I think, are a lunatic fringe who've refused to accept the (considerable) concessions made by university management in response to the protests. They were Suppressed, and the disrupted exam resumed. Score one for Order. Although we've seen a second crop of panic from students who were just keeping it together, and whose fragile hold on sanity was somewhat shattered by the threat, however averted, of a new round of shutdowns. I have been dispensing lots of reason, calm, procedural nitpickering assistance and virtual "there, there"s and patting. This whole thing has brought out my latent vaguely maternal wossnames like you wouldn't believe.

Mostly the discernible effect of student anxiety has been a sharp drop in their ability to actually read properly, which I have to say does not bode well for their exams. The university has issued a blanket option of deferring exams until January, no questions asked, "aargh protest freakout" accepted as valid motivation; and a couple of ways of achieving this, one of them online and clearly kludged together as an on-the-fly response, which means it only works within certain narrow parameters. I have been disseminating info and FAQs regarding all this via email, mostly because the Registrar's office issues their fiats gnomically and with a fine, detached disregard for their real-world ramifications, putting me more or less in the position of a Talmudic scholar continuously interpreting Scripture. Any announcement I make to our faculty's undergrad students is a clarification or update very carefully written to fill in the gaps. It will infallibly generate at least five emails almost immediately, from students asking me to give them exactly the information I have just given them in the announcement. This clearly isn't about information, it's about panic and the need for reassurance, which means the Maternal Wossnames do not permit me to yell at them for not reading properly: instead, I patiently re-explain. Usually via the medium of cunningly-personalised cut and paste, as there are limits even to my pseudo-maternalistic patience.

I am doing Good Work, apparently; there is a happy little clutch of tearfully grateful emails in my inbox, variously from students and their parents, but all that nice validation notwithstanding, ye gods I'm tired. And headachy. And snuffly. And contemplating with a certain lowering dread the upcoming end-of-exam season we are now having to do three weeks later than normal in a hurry, thereby compressing my orientation prep into a significantly tiny nutshell. What does not kill me makes me stronger. Let's hope.

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