freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's remotely possible that being a total and irredeemable geek is my Seekrit Weapon, curriculum-advice-wise. If nothing else it gives me innocent joy to assist a student with a tangled curriculum and then spend 20 minutes, as I did a month or two back, dissecting Fallout 4 and our respective experiences over multiple play-throughs. (You were quite correct, Fallout-playing-student. Survival mode, while extremely tricky at lower levels and ultimately requiring minor modding to saves to make it non-frustrating enough for sustained play, is a deeply satisfying thing, I'm so happy you persuaded me to try it. I hope you have a tiny, untraumatic curriculum problem soon so I can tell you all about it).

Today's one was a rather beautiful inner arm tattoo which made me go "oooh, is that Tengwar?!" in girlish excitement. The student got this sort of soul's-awakening look - momentary shuttered expression, you could see him gathering himself to explain the context to a tragically unhip middle-aged administrator, followed by dawning realisation as my actual comment penetrated and he identified against all likelihood a fellow geek who didn't just recognise Tolkien, but the actual script. I wish I could have taken the hat-trick by translating, but alas, my Tengwar is beyond rusty. ("The crownless again shall be king", apparently. Somewhat classic.) At least I could respond, when he said in some relief, "Oh, you're a Tolkien fan!" by pointing wordlessly to LĂșthien TinĂșviel dancing on my wall.

It's a tiny subset of geeky students to whom I can appeal, but it does help to feel that moment of actual connection. Some things do cross the generation gap.

I fear that geeky consolations are necessary at the moment, as the university landscape is a bit doom-laden. It's all quiet; once again, too quiet. Lectures are suspended for the term, but students are able to access the library and labs, and the buses are running, so technically they are all finishing the semester's work and preparing for exams, which start next week. But it's entirely likely that the protesters are imitating the action of the rake in the grass and will erupt into life as soon as we incautiously step on their tines by trying to actually congregate students for examination purposes. At which point it'll all go to hell in a handbasket. However, I should note for posterity that "tines" is a lovely word. So specific. Precision in language is a very particular pleasure.

Quick Hobbit update: he's still OKish. He didn't respond at all well to the scheduled reduction of his cortizone dose after a week, his condition took a sharp dive, so we had to up it again. This means that the time left on his personal feline clock is probably measured in weeks rather than months; the cancer must be far enough advanced to resist the low doses already. Increasing the dose is giving him a bit of an appetite, at least, although in true feline and hobbitish fashion he is milking this for all it's worth by turning his nose up at expensive kidney-improving kibble. He only becomes truly enthusiastic about food if I hand-feed him bits of cooked chicken from my plate, at which point he snatches them somewhat impolitely and bolts them. I don't feed my cats people-food under any circumstances, usually, but right now I will feed him the blood of the living if that's what it takes. Let's hope it doesn't get that far. (Also, he infallibly bites me when I pill him, so he's getting a reasonable daily dose of blood anyway).

(My subject line quotes "Beren and Luthien", because that level of poignant loss seems vaguely appropriate on a number of levels).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
One of the academics with whom I correspond about complicated credit transfer issues insists on addressing me as "Julia", which is not actually my name. For some reason this gives me fits of the giggles. My slightly insane Uncle Bill, back in his bachelor days when I was still in high school, had a particularly tremendous upper-crust English-rose girlfriend called Julia, pronounced "Juliah!". She is responsible for my lifelong habit of making mashed potato with the skins left on, which I do for reasons of health and because I like a bit of texture in my mashed potato, but which I suspect she did for reasons of sheer flakiness. The first time she met the family she swanned into our house, took a quick look around the kitchen, and announced, with that sort of tally-ho British vigour, "What a wonderful kitchen! I'm going to make bread!". Which she proceeded immediately to do, having arrived with a bag of flour for this purpose. She was, I think, quite mad, but very entertaining, and accounts almost entirely for any amused resonances I have with the name, even erroneously applied to me.

Apart from randomised giggling, my day has also been lightened by the student who has just hugged me enthusiastically, after I wrote her a letter asking Financial Aid to pay for a course on the grounds that its late addition wasn't her fault. (Which it partially was, she should have checked her registration, but it's a lot of money and these kids get desperate, and she asked very nicely.) She was very grateful, and I am feeling the warm glow of Being Useful And Appreciated, which this job is actually quite good for, at least in fits and starts.

I cannot lie, I am also deriving ongoing amusement from Windows 10's desperate, transparent and utterly doomed attempt to rebrand Internet Explorer. It would be endearing if Explorer wasn't the hissing and byword it is, and if its true form weren't evident so horribly through the glitzy design surface of Edge. It's not even a nice try.

for daws to peck at

Wednesday, 15 January 2014 01:47 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Occasionally my life is surreal. This morning I madly registered 23 rugby players for their year's courses, an early taste of reg hell occasioned by some giant manly rugby tournament they're all dashing off to and for which they are not eligible unless they officially exist on our systems. I would not have survived the morning had I not incautiously consumed a giant slice of mocha cheesecake for breakfast, which cushioned things nicely. (The boingboing recipe. I totally recommend this recipe, it's the only baked cheesecake I've ever made that I felt actually worked, and it's a totally delectable dose of sugar and caffeine, both of which are essential to my registration-surviving strategies.)The rugby players are sweet lads, but two-thirds of the first-years evinced a desire to study Law. What is it with rugby players and Law? It does not compute.

On the subject of people who do lots of exercise, I'm still madly into my brisk evening (or, occasionally, morning) walk around the Common, and feeling much the better thereby. It's a lovely walk, and I'm weirdly even enjoying the happy community feel of all the walkers/ runners/ cyclists/ kids on scooters/ floppy dogs/ nice ladies' walking clubs having chats. But I'm also a bit of an outsider to that crowd, on account of how none of the above tend to represent my essential tribe, viz. geeks. I see this mainly in the t-shirts. Exercisers tend to wear t-shirts indicative of Serious Sports, in the form of rugby shirts, American football shirts (I have no idea), shirts commemorating particular runs or white water rafting trips or hikes other manly/sportly activities, sports commodity brand shirts, or Serious Exercise Shirts With Exciting Support Bits And Radical Cuts. I wear whatever t-shirt happens to be at the top of my two-foot-high pile of random t-shirts I bought on Teh Internets because I like the design and/or sentiment, which means that over the last few walks I have treated the Common to "AND THEN BUFFY STAKED EDWARD, THE END", "KLAATU BERADA NICTO", "Ask Me About My Ray Gun", "OH R'LYEH?", a facsimile of the original edition cover for Orwell's 1984, that Scary-Go-Round cute robot one inscribed "IT IS OK TO BE YOU", the Knights of Good, and Captain Marvel. They are, shall we say, somewhat exotically out of place. The Common's exercise community can be under no illusions that a geek is in their midst. They don't seem to mind - a lot of them smile at me, in fact - but I feel as though I'm rather visibly advertising Difference.

And I was thinking, during one of these excursions, that in fact t-shirts are the modern way that we wear our hearts on our sleeves, very much in the sense of the medieval knight tying his lady's sleeve around his arm before hieing him forth into battle. I wear t-shirts which attest to the things that I particularly love, and for which I wish to be recognised - on some level, because there's a subliminal hope that fellow humans will admit to a love of the same thing, thus short-cutting social interaction. Which is not, in the final analysis, very different to the mad exercisers wearing trophies of races or excursions. But sf geekery is clearly cooler than brand names, even outside its natural habitat. And, on the evidence, considerably more entertaining.

The subject line is the second half of the Shakespeare quote about wearing your heart on your sleeve, which I had totally forgotten was Iago speaking. I loathe Othello with every fibre of my being, it's one of those slow-motion train-smash plays where you simply have to sit and helplessly watch people being obliviously self-destructive idiots, but I have a sneaking fondness for Iago. Efficient villains are worthy of respect.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Things you do not expect to see on a respectable campus while trotting off to the library for your important pile of Girly Swot books (subset: crash course in African cinema): live horses. Six of them. Tethered in the shade against the columns of the old Student's Union, peaceably chomping. There's something fairly major filming on campus at the moment, the place has been a madhouse: the stairs have sprouted fake extra columns and exotic greenery and weird screens positioned with arcane precision. I parked my car next to and partially under a giant cherry-picker boom sort of thing this morning, and there are approximately three million acres of random, presumably desperately important cabling snaking down the avenue, tended by skinny grip types in Bauhaus t-shirts. Actual African film, in fact. Curiously appropriate.

It's too bloody hot for serious thought (what's with February heatwaves before Christmas? Not Cricket), so have a random linkery round-up, I need to clear these tabs.
  • If you go to the UK Vogue page and type the Konami code, extremely entertaining things happen when you keep on hitting A. Random internet easter eggs ftw.
  • For some demented reason this ridiculous Boba Fett love story really amuses me, possibly because of the way the sarlacc is drawn. The rancor BFF one is also cute.
  • Sherlock fandom is in a tizzy because of the Caitlin Moran faux pas (I never liked the wretched woman, her book is actively irritating) - she had the inexpressibly tone-deaf bad taste to pressure/trick the lead actors into reading erotic fanfic aloud at a screening. Daily Dot has a good summary. It really isn't safe these days to try and taunt subcultures you perceive as geeky and pitiable, they end up having way more power and self-awareness than you expect. I cannot help but be amused, though, at the cosmic inevitability of Moran attempting to sabotage Sherlock and failing dismally. It is, after all, simply an enactment of the Doyle plot. (Sebastian Moran is Moriarty's sniper sidekick in canon, if your Sherlock geekery is a bit rusty).
  • Random fanfic recc! I am currently actually re-reading The Least of All Possible Mistakes, which is a rather well-written and often laugh-out-loud funny Sherlock fic featuring a Sherlock given to entertaining tantrums and a Mycroft/gender-swapped-Lestrade relationship which is both amusing and real. The fandom fascination with Mycroft fascinates me. I blame Mark Gatiss entirely.

I finally sent out the Boxing Day braai email last night, after more than average levels of procrastination and forgettory. If you weren't on the list but usually are it's probably because of my cheese-brain, please drop me a reproachful line.

The subject line is the Konami Code, which as a concept and a catch-phrase as well as a random bit of esoterica has always amused the hell out of me.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I do love the essential randomness of the internet. It functions like a physical manifestation of the unconscious of an entire civilisation: all our bizarre subconscious impulses, individual obsessions, odd jokes, inappropriate thoughts, whims, daydreams, nightmares, flung into the public view in bewildering multiplicity and connected with strange, wayward, serendipitous linkages. I have no idea whatsoever how I stumbled across Des Hommes et Des Chatons, but somehow it's ended up in my tabs alongside the Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter collection (dear gods the beautiful lines) and the finalists in this year's Bad Sex Awards (dear gods the horrible language). "Des Hommes et Des Chatons" has caused me to giggle for the last ten minutes, so I wave it at you in the hopes that it brightens your Friday. Dishy men in poses echoes by cute kitties. How can you go wrong? Also, that's the internet for you right there. Not the least of its charms is the way in which, unlike older and more conventional media, it's been colonised in vast tracts by an essentially female voice.

Subject line from Terry Pratchett, Interesting Times: the answer you receive if you ask Hex (the Discworld's mad computer-analogue) "Why Anything?". More specifically, "Because Everything. ????? Eternal Domain Error. +++++ Redo From Start +++++."
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Today I appear to have bullied my therapist, been excessively nice to a string of students, and taken a flamethrower to my Intray Of Doom, which was starting to achieve sentience via the compaction heating of its organic layers. This appears to be guilt in operation, not least because I am now badly overdue on one paper submission and slightly overdue on the other, but spent the last few days playing Morrowind nonetheless. In mitigation, Monday afternoon through to the Wednesday public holiday (yay workers!) was rendered more than usually null and void by a lovely gastric bug, which means I'm still pale and nauseous and inclined to dry crackers and staring moodily into my tea. However, the weasel-like cunning of my Cunning Plan is now revealed: having a monthly Acknowledgement of Intellectual Debts post is a free and ready-made theme about which I don't have to think very hard, so hooray!

Things Wot I Have Referenced In April:

  • 4th April: "how do you like your blueeyed boy / Mister Death?". This is, of course, e e cummings, the poem without a formal title, but usually referenced as "Buffalo Bill's". I have an unremitting adoration for e e cummings, I love the jerky, fragmented life and colour and convoluted wit of his poems. This one talks about heroism with a wry, partially deflating tone which makes that last line, the one I quote, amazingly complex. The post was talking about the Iain Banks cancer news; like Buffalo Bill, Banks seems to me to be inherently associated with death, and with a dark and deconstructive sense of heroism.
  • 5th April: "worlds collide and days are dark". I'm quoting the lyrics to Adele's "Skyfall", in the post reviewing the movie. I remain unimpressed by the movie, but I still love that song, and the quote covers both the clash of genres and the descent into Gothic which I found in the film.
  • 11th April: "one day in spring I'll take him down to the road". Belle & Sebastian lyrics, to "Dog on Wheels". Beautifully appropriate to a post about those little ambulatory robots in the park.
  • 19th April: "a truth universally acknowledged". The post was being madly enthused about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries; anyone who didn't recognise the quote from the opening sentence of Austen's Pride and Prejudice should jolly well be ashamed.
  • 22nd April: "I'm getting too old for this sort of thing". Star Wars, Obi-Wan. Of course. Slightly lateral given that the clip in the post was Harrison Ford, but he's really getting old.
  • 28th April: "Drive-in Saturday". Title of the David Bowie song, not entirely thematically appropriate. In retrospect, "Science Fiction Double Feature" would have conveyed more of the movie club multiple-film sense without the resonances of weird post-apocalyptic desexualisation, but on the other hand I was talking about Iron Sky...

Today's subject line, incidentally, a quote from Wil Wheaton, from this lovely meditation on geekery or nerdery and what it actually means. He's right: it's about the intensity of the connection: that the actual object of all that affection is purely secondary, which is why geeks can flock together even if they variously represent DC and Marvel, or Star Wars and Star Trek. Given that this subject-line roundup has referenced a good proportion of my nerdy loves (poetry, Gothic, Belle & Sebastian, Austen, online narrative, Star Wars, David Bowie), it felt appropriate.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

I know there are several nonsense fiends who read this blog, logically enough given my known proclivities, so - Scroob and Co - alert! If you haven't already seen this on BoingBoing, you need to go and have a look. It's a student short-film production of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark, which they're trying to finance on Kickstarter. $20 gets you the DVD. It looks marvellous, visually: I love the slightly deadpan Gothic gloom they've achieved. And Christopher Lee is narrating, which is one of those perfect confluences of voice and content. They don't have a lot of support, currently, although I think it'll climb with the BoingBoing mention, and I think all right-thinking nonsense fiends ought to be encouraging this sort of thing. It's a Snark! Unless it's a Boojum, but what are the odds?
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Teh Internets have recently been all agog about yet another in the long line of tragically misogynistic assaults on female fans by men from within the fantasy/sf/comics world. There's this utterly weird thing that goes on at cons, with certain male geeky types getting their Superman boxers in a twist because attractive female geeks in costume cannot possibly be "real" geeks and are, as far as I can make out in their somewhat incoherent argument, simply doing it for the attention. Or being deliberately and callously unattainable. Or something. Not a lot of logic here, and rather a lot of evidence that a very specific subset of the male geeky type is hopelessly defensive and bristly about "their" fandom, and moreover has absolutely no idea how to deal with the mere fact of attractive women within their "safe" space. Or the idea of anyone seeing "their" fandom in different terms - you see further outbreaks of this kind of thing in the assaults on female fanfic writers who have the temerity to slash comic-book characters, which are now "ruined" for the "real" fans. Or something. I can't even. (See here for specific examples and commentary, as well as a surgically accurate attack on the objectification of women in comic-book art).

At any rate, while there's a beautiful deconstruction of the Tony Harris misogyny here, my favourite response is, as often seems to be the case, Scalzi's: the gut-boy analogy is exquisitely withering and certain turns of phrase made me choke, as is traditional, on my Earl Grey. It's just fortunate that for every certain kind of male geeky type there is an equal and opposite male geeky type, probably because physics. Thank FSM.

I also can't help wondering if the whole thing is exacerbated by the fact that con fandoms tend to be around fantastic texts, which trend heavily to the symbolic and thus the idealised and reductionist, so that in the faint scrabblings of the demented fan-brain the concept of "fan" has the same inviolably perfect status as "Batman". Or, in other words, as I spent a happy half-hour explaining to my nice therapist the other day, because superheroes are actually about the idealisation of both identity and agency, and to a greater or lesser degree of dysfunction, being a hopeless fan is about as close as any of us are ever going to get.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I went in to the framing place in Claremont this morning, to drop off a complicated framing job. They're lovely people, and have done good work for me in the past, but they always look at me a bit funny owing to the fact that it's a slightly classic, pedestrian sort of shop, filled with fine art reproductions and local paintings, and I usually want to frame something-or-other I've acquired off the internet. (My art tastes run decidedly pop). So it was a bit weird when the nice man recognised the Star Wars characters; he didn't know Firefly, but when I said "space western" he rather shamefacedly confessed to a love for Star Trek. (He's a Voyager enthusiast. Someone lend me Voyager.) So, in the midst of pedestrian fine art reproductions we had an animated ten-minute discussion which ranged all over Star Trek, Ridley Scott, Prometheus, Blade Runner and all the Aliens movies, of which he is a fan. It was beautifully incongruous. Our tribe, apparently is everywhere. Lurking. Where you least expect them.

I spent the rest of today grading job applications from psychologists and counsellors and social workers, oh my. The occasional pained yells were at the grammatical and stylistic solecisms in the cover letters. If I had to do this sort of thing more often (and had more authority in the process) no-one would ever get hired. Twenty years teaching university English will give you a lot of deal-breakers.

(The Firefly posters in question are these ones by Secret Alice. I love them. Have a random Captain Tightpants.)
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Today is the first time I've ever wished I was in a different faculty. Various flavours of science department must be all bouncy and gleeful today about the Higgs boson confirmation, but Humanities trundles on obliviously. I keep having to restrain myself from babbling about it enthusiastically to confused History professors. Sigh. Also, I am a sad geek. This photo of Professor Higgs all vindicated and overcome with emotion made me weepy.

I seem to have allowed the start of the month to slide past without acknowledging my intellectual debts. Horrors! (Although not as much of the month as I thought, given that I've resolutely and erroneously dated all the forms I've signed today for the 6th July). Nonetheless, herewith.

  • 1st June. Goon Show, The Moon Show, which is magnificently silly and which I did, for once, actually mention in the post.
  • 4th June. Not actually a quote. Apparently I am too capable of originality.
  • 8th June. Ernest Bramah, The Wallet of Kai Lung, via, as a commenter perspicaciously pointed out, Dorothy Sayers. (Lord Peter was another very early girlhood crush. But did lead me to Kai Lung, who I likewise adore on the Master Li principle).
  • 13th June. Mordin Solus from Mass Effect 2. The beautiful and inevitable logic of making Salarians sing Gilbert and Sullivan patter-song makes me extremely happy. Also, the rhymes in the filk are clever.
  • 15th June. I am quoting Toto. In a post linking to Toto covers and confessing an enjoyment of "Africa". So sue me.
  • 16th June. Isaac Watts, although I am still heartily kicking myself that I didn't construct the post more intelligently and use the Lewis Carroll crocodile instead.
  • 22nd June. I am rectifying the Lewis Carroll omission by quoting the White Knight's Song, quite one of my favourite pieces of dreamy nonsense poetry.
  • 23rd June. Only a quote if you consider me to be quoting myself on previous birthdays. I think I may adopt this as an official birthday tradition.
  • 26th June. Oh, dear. I am guilty of using as a subject line the title of one of the Call of Cthulhu modules I wrote with Bumpycat. This is possibly unduly narcissistic. Sorry.
  • 27th June. Title of a work I've always liked by a French artist, and thus linked to the post on umpteen levels, including using the actual work as an illustration.
  • 28th June. Egregious and unnecessary pun on a proverbial phrase.
Alas, no David Bowie. They may have to revoke my fan licence.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Friday-working-at-home, hallelujah, since I currently feel as though I've made a hamfisted and inexpert attempt to hang myself, failing miserably to produce any positive outcome other than a really sore neck. There are apparently high-pressure pain conduits running from under my ears down my neck and under my chin, where they quite distract me from the sinus headache. This degree of pain is a new one for the glandular wossnames, bless their experimental little hearts; I can only hope that my hapless form is not a lab-rat to a spirited attempt to blow my head off by inflation or constriction.

I have been noodling happily around various work projects all morning, to a sound-track composed entirely of random YouTube linkage (mercifully, the inexplicable yen for ELO, which has occupied most of the week, seems to be over). The usual trail of arbitrary link-following has led to a couple of truly lovely covers of Toto, by variously (a) pub acoustic cover-band guys with excellent voices, and (b) a full a-capella choir. "Africa" is one of those beautifully anthemic pieces with strong harmonies and a rousing chorus that really lends itself to this sort of thing, and I refuse categorically to be embarrassed about my thorough enjoyment of both these versions.

(The Perpetuum Jazzile version is absolutely worth waiting through the slightly lame rain-simulation at the start, although I have to give them props for the effectiveness of their thunder. Also, latent Belladonna experience makes me heartily jealous of their tenors).

Finally, Doctor Horrible gave me the vague idea that Felicia Day's voice was a bit thin and quavery. Apparently not. She kicks butt in this one, which is also insanely cute and catchy.

Now I shall set about ruthlessly re-defining myself as an academic in HR jargon, and writing plaintive remonstrances to the Dean about mentorship programmes. I like Fridays. Work is done by mystic processes while pretending to be something else.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
It tells you absolutely everything you need to know about the Internet, popular technology and the thought processes of the geek tribe that when BoingBoing posts a link to a slinky on a treadmill, it seems a natural, right and inevitable thing. Because if you have a slinky, and a treadmill, and a camera, and YouTube, why wouldn't you? It's some kind of Darwinian thought selection. The niche exists, therefore it must be filled.

Also, while inevitable, it's also bizarre and wayward enough to make me seriously happy. And the video is, for some reason, mesmerising.

I am working happily at home today, with rain drumming on the windows, a cat and a heater on my feet, a continuous cup of Earl Grey, a blissful lack of student interruptions, and a consciousness of the rearguard action all this is fighting against the sinus infection which is bumbling around somewhere in the middle distance, plotting its takeover. I have sprungclent my inbox, answered about forty emails, written a review of a paper, taken an Advil, and am about to play a righteous half-hour of Mass Effect over my lunch-break before I write up notes from three different meetings. All is right with the world.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Aargh. Builders on scaffolds are using drills and jackhammers to scrape plaster off the walls around my window. Other builders are re-plastering. Still others are scraping off my windows the solidified plaster detritus from yesterday's identical operation six feet higher up. The noise is of the indescribably penetrating and tooth-jarring order which is causing me to actively look forward to going to the dentist this afternoon. At least I'll be able to flee my office.

There being a tragic hiatus in my Veronica Mars watching (Seasons 2 & 3 arrive today, calloo, callay!) [ profile] wolverine_nun lent me the first couple of seasons of Chuck, which she enjoyed and which I've been vaguely wanting to test-drive for a while. On the surface it seems right up my alley - fluffy, undemanding watching, with a reasonable degree of humour and self-reflexive irony, and the kind of thrillery/actiony format which also grooves my ploons. (I'm a sucker for car chases and explosions and OTT fight choreography and other icons of the mindless action genre). But it's not doing it for me, and I'm trying to work out why.

A lot of it is doing it for me. I like the premise, and the ridiculously tongue-in-cheek concept of the Intersect, with all its cheesy and unlikely images. I love the CIA/NSA rivalry, and Adam Baldwin in this role; I genuinely like Chuck himself, who is dopey and geeky and endearing, and hapless not quite to the point of irritation. I like Sarah, and I love the interactions between Chuck and his sister. I think, on mature reflection, that the series becomes literally unwatchable (as in, I get up and go out of the room for five minutes so it can play an excruciating scene through without me having to watch) around the character of Morgan. Hi, I'm Extemporanea. I Get All Protective Of Geeks.

This is nerd-humour, but I'm finding it nasty. Morgan is almost entirely without redeeming feature: his social ineptitude and rhino-hide insensitivity make him actively painful to watch. It's a one-dimensional, horribly stereotypical, rather sadistic portrayal: apparently his only function in the series is to make life difficult and embarrassing for Chuck. Morgan is The Hero's Cross To Bear: I'm on the sixth episode of the series, and in terms of his own good qualities, points of interest, elements with which the viewer can empathise, there's nothing. Chuck is a geeky stereotype that's actually well-rounded; Morgan's just a foil, and one you're encouraged to laugh at rather cruelly. I can't take it. It's poisoning the whole thing for me. Which is a pity, because I rather want to see how the whole ridiculous premise works out. It looks like fun, but fun I can't have. Bother.

Now I shall go to the dentist, braced for the nasty, expensive little noise which results when a dentist peers into your mouth and does the sharp intake of breath indicating that at some unspecified stage in the last few weeks a very expensive crown came randomly adrift and you accidentally swallowed it without noticing.

beyond lies the wub

Monday, 14 March 2011 06:48 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
My car is jerking my chain. I got into it yesterday at lunchtime preparatory to going out for a lunch date, turned the key, and it made a sort of throaty, angsty coughing noise, like Darth Vadar choking on a bread roll, and refused to start. Repeats, threats, sobs, curses and hitting the battery with my shoe had no effect. I staggered back inside (very Sidded again, not quite functional) and cancelled the lunch date in a fit of aargh-can't-deal. This morning I got into the car in a sort of last-ditch attempt to prove conclusively that I wasn't hallucinating before phoning the tow truck, turned the key, and the engine leaped merrily into life with what I can only describe as callous insouciance. It started fine after work today. It remains to be seen whether it will continue to start (a) when I try to go out to my game in about ten minutes, (b) when I try to go home at the end of my game, or (c) in time for work tomorrow. News at 11. I just hope it holds out until I'm on leave on Thursday and Friday, when I can sling it at my tame mechanic without the need to also wend my way campuswards.

In other news, the backlash from two months of insane productivity and absurd hours has raised its inevitable head. (I see a backlash as a sort of purple feline thing with a long tail and an attitude, and a lot of very sharp teeth. It grins.) I did very little at work on Friday, bar the weird politics, and nothing today except for a very dull timetable meeting. Today, I have to be fair, was because I incautiously discovered Questionable Content, and have been trotting through its back archive in a state of high glee and frequent giggling. It's pleasingly off-the-wall, with considerably more of a dark and ironic edge than other favourites like Scary-Go-Round, and I deeply love its hipsterishness and flights of insane fancy. I am also slightly staggered to discover that I probably know the music of approximately half of the bands he references. I think I'm technically too old for indie music cred. On the other hand the writer shares my conviction that Bowie's Outside is a highly underrated album and actually one of his best, so possibly it's an inevitable confluence and I should just relax and go with it.

Now I shall go and spend the evening being a steampunky lady disguised as an actress as part of her plot to become a Pirate Queen. Last session someone gave me a parrot. I have high hopes for tonight.


Friday, 25 February 2011 11:19 pm
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I'm very full of excellent Asian cuisine from Haiku, which was this month's Salty Cracker. I've had a very nice day working from home, and being both unbugged by students and insanely productive. I have wrangled orientation budgets and credit transfers and weird student email queries with cheerful dispatch. My weekend is full of nothing in the way of work, and several things in the way of happy socialising, except not too many, so I'll still have time to restore the soul by pottering around gardening and sewing and baking. (God, I'm domestic. I shall have to sling some Smallville in there just because). I am clearly coming out of the Horror That Is The Start Of The Year, and am in a benign space which calls for an anti-rant-list. Indulge me!

Administration is one of those things I'm good at mostly because I hate it and will have it done as quickly and efficiently as possible so that I can get on with fun, useful stuff like reading CakeWrecks. That being said, I also like systems; I appreciate the elegance of a well-oiled machine, and respect those who respect the machine and put their energies into removing the grit from its wheels. These people are, alas, few and far between. One realises quite how rare they are when one does actually run across a system that works, leaving one stunned and unable to parry in the best possible way. The South African online tax returns are a case in point. They work. They're elegantly put together and designed to be intuitive and reduce your chance at making mistakes. The other two joy-inducing loci of actual efficiency in my life at large are Loot, and Imaginet.

I blush to admit the size of the monthly book/CD/DVD habit I have built up on Loot. It's probably approaching about a thousand rand a month, which is the unmistakeable sound of Extemp hitting disposable income for the first bloody time in her life. Loot is South Africa's baby Amazon, except it's not an evil empire. They can get almost anything I want, and my sf/fantasy/comic book/music tastes are eclectic and wayward and tend towards the cult. Their wishlists are beautifully constructed and email you to alert you to things becoming available, or going down in price. They send me emails when they've posted an order, and the items always arrive at the post office, impeccably packed, within 24 hours. About once a year I receive an apologetic email to say that there's been a problem with an order and it won't arrive within the minimum projected time. Twice in a four-year relationship they've had to cancel an order because their supplier didn't have it. One book order was misprinted, and they replaced it immediately. One multi-disk TV series had a blank disk in it, and they not only ordered a replacement, they emailed me to say that the replacement had arrived but they'd tested it and the same disk was blank, please hold on while they re-order another one from a different supplier. Their email helpline is quick, courteous and given to actual spelling and grammar. They apologise when something goes wrong. At least part of the reason behind my ginormous shopping addiction is because they're so pleasant to use. I love Loot.

The other organisation I love is Imaginet. The hideosity that is the Telkom experience makes you lose all hope in actual intelligent life at the other end of a phone helpline. Imaginet, on the other hand, employs nice geeky young men who are polite, articulate and know what they're doing. I've just disrupted my perfectly fine working ADSL line by changing my login username, on the grounds that it was still in my dad's name and I was finding it mildly distressing to keep running across it. The actual login name change took, I kid you not, all of 35 minutes - I emailed asking how to go about changing it, they mailed back half an hour later to say "It's done, just reset your router." Of course, changing the router settings is a bizarrely arcane process involving a totally badly-written user interface opaque to geek or non-geek alike, which I never remember how to access and have to be talked through from scratch. We ended up having to factory reset the bloody thing, which entailed me crawling around on the floor, phone stuck to ear, to prod the hole at the back with the official straightened paperclip dingus, without being able to see what I was doing because the computer and router are all cabled neatly into the desk and the cable's too short. The nice Imaginet geek was lovely about it: patient and clear and not in the least condescending, and apparently mildly amused by my running dialogue with the cat (Hobbit assumes that these sorts of complicated operations are run entirely for his benefit, and insists on sticking his nose in more or less continuously). The Imaginet helpline makes me deeply miss dating computer programmers. Something about the way their minds work.

I am planning to have a lovely weekend, with working internet and no orientation to run and the latest stash of books (more Jo Walton, the dragon one, and A Superman For All Seasons, which has dreamily beautiful artwork). I hope yours will be likewise.

little blockses

Saturday, 5 February 2011 07:35 pm
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The Evil Landlord subscribes quite cheerfully to a number of geeky programmer stereotypes, and has most recently taken to buying himself a Lego set in celebration every time a major client project goes live. This has rebounded into my life in the form of a Lego Death Star sitting in the living room for a couple of days (Lego Luke! too cute!), and the Prince of Persia set, deconstructed, set temptingly down on the dining room table.

I never played with Lego as a kid. When I was a child the country I lived in was Rhodesia, which was under UN sanctions on account of its bloody-minded self-determination and general "up yours" to the British Empire. This meant that, even if my parents hadn't been relatively impecunious government researchers, fancy toys simply weren't readily available. I played with Fisher Price and Barbies in the homes of school friends whose parents were wealthy enough to go on South African holidays and spend money on toys. (I hasten to add that I don't feel deprived in the least; I had a wonderful childhood in all the right ways, full of books and animals and huge gardens and imagination and a protected experience of the bush). Lego, however, was a "boy" thing and I and my sister were very girly girls, so at best, my experience of Lego was a few blocks at random and in passing from the brothers of friends. The first time I ever sat down with a full Lego set and constructed it by the book from the ground up was last weekend.

I never quite understood the geek fondness for Lego, but the whole thing has fallen into place with the inevitable, satistfying "click" of a Lego brick mating with the correct fellow. I completely get it now. There is an enormously Zen and calming pleasure in the process: the shapes fit together so cunningly, the logic is so inexorable, the sense of participating in the creation of harmonious structure is so satisfying. It's been a completely bloody week, and I've been exhausted and stressed to a perfectly ridiculous extent. Staggering home at 7pm to sit down for half an hour to fit blocks together has been absurdly healing. Even with the Evil Landlord wandering into the kitchen every now and then to make derogatory remarks to the cats about having a seven-year-old in the house.

There are two and a half sections of the Prince of Persia palace completed. I look forward to the rest with great pleasure. I am developing almost instantaneous Lego snobberies (the giant prefabricated plastic shapes are cheating! blocks or nothing!) and am fiendishly plotting to give the Evil Landlord Lego sets for Christmas and birthdays for the forseeable future. It got me. I'm a convert. It may just keep me sane.
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Cape Town is ungodly hot today: honestly, those of you in sub-zero temperatures in the northern hemisphere, I'll swap, any time. 36o today. I had to go out to Fish Hoek, where the entire world and their favourite armadillo were seething around on the beach, shoulder to shoulder, sizzling gently. Heatwaves in bumper-to-bumper traffic are not fun. Also, we apparently have two more days of this, and I go back to work tomorrow. In addition to being a small limp melted puddle of thing, I tragically have to take my mother to the airport in an hour or so, after way too short a time of The Holiday That Virgin Atlantic Screwed Up. Fortunately I'm too heat-stressed to work up a good head of steam on railing bitterly at the cosmic wossnames.

Despite all this I'm actually in a ridiculously good mood, as a direct result of the fact that the Evil Landlord has finally managed to negotiate his post-Australia-return insane work schedule to actually see me for more than three and a half minutes in passing. He bought me a sonic screwdriver for Christmas. Apparently Australia has lots of sonic screwdrivers, who knew? It's the Eleventh Doctor's one, it has a blue light and an extendy claw bit and makes the proper sonic screwdriver noise and everything. It's regressed me approximately to a five-year-old in a state of unholy glee. I would be a sad geeky fangirl, except that I'm an extremely happy geeky fangirl. Next up, those USB memory sticks shaped like a Tardis. They go "vworp vworp". In not entirely unrelated news, which of you fellow happy geeks scored the Christmas Special? I need to wave my sonic screwdriver at it.

*wanders off to re-attach barbed wire and resonate concrete*
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Observe the extreme self-control with which I refrain from making some sort of lame subject-line pun about pilgrimage, or something. Although it was: I've been looking forward to Scott Pilgrim for months, on account of (a) hopeless Brian Lee O'Malley fangirling, (b) hopeless Edgar Wright fangirling, and (c) general nerdy indy-music video-game fangirling.

So, first off: wheee! I am somewhat thoroughly immersed in the comic books, having read the whole series three times since August, when I bought them in a bizarre and distributed acquisition spree across two airports, three bookshops and the length, lingth and longth of Britain. I <3 Edgar Wright. The mood, tone and feel of the film is pitch-perfect; it's almost impeccably cast, cleverly scripted, and the editing and cinematography are always competent and occasionally bloody marvellous. It's in spirit and very largely in plot an extremely faithful adaptation, with whole chunks of dialogue and framing of shots stolen wholesale from the comics. It made me giggle with unseemly glee rather often. (Particularly, for some reason, in the first Sex Bob-Omb song. I don't know if it was simply the dreadful Canal Walk sound, but the whole thing came across with the absolutely perfect incoherent repetitive garage-band distort. It made me very happy.)

Here be spoilers or whatever. For both film and comics. )

Quibbling aside, however, I loved this movie - I loved its speed, its ability to mimic the comics in a narrative construction which is all about inconsequential juxapositions, its faithful visual renditions not only of characters but of all the video-game nods and elements. I loved the over-the-top framing of the fight choreography and the way that the film didn't fulfil my fear that they'd disrupt its central fantasy conceit, that Scott Pilgrim can kick anyone's butt. (So many contemporary fantasy films bog down in "The Hero Acquires His Skills". It's trite. The comics make me very happy in their complete refusal to examine how it is that Scott does what he does). I loved the music. The music made me nostalgic for my days in a garage band, and I've never even been in a garage band.

This is one for the DVD collection. I shall happily re-watch it whenever I want to break out my delusion that Hollywood can make movies which are sensitive to their source material, and are able to embody the happy, essentially innocent fantasy of a world in which the extra geeky dimensions are unquestioned and joyously real. Or whatever.
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Oh, dear, it's a Red Bull day - or at least a V day, given that [ profile] wolverine_nun introduced me to this rather more palatable equivalent, and there's still a can in my cupboard. I'm very stressed at the moment, and it's exacerbating my insomnia to new and baroque heights. Last night I became convinced that my bedroom smelled funny, with a sort of sharp, chemical pong, as though a local factory had suddenly ignored all pollution controls and was emitting something sulphuric and slightly charcoally. My throat closed, my eyes streamed, I coughed and sneezed, and sleep, laughing cruelly at the sleeping pills I fed it, eluded me quite. I wandered around the house for ten minutes trying to isolate the smell, and couldn't smell it anywhere else. When I went back into my bedroom, I couldn't smell it there, either. I think I may have dreamed it, in that half-asleep hypnagogic state which is all I achieve for about four hours at a time when insomniac, and my sinuses obligingly jumped on the bandwagon. I finally got to sleep around 3am. It was ugly. And I have to be enthusiastic and inspired about the Harry Potter movies for an hour and a half this afternoon. Aargh.

However, by way of consolation, Randall Munroe has updated the Map of Online Communities, which I would still give to my internet culture students if I thought they'd get a fraction of it. Sigh.

The V is making me feel rather more awake, but now my teeth are furry. Phooey.
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I've come late to Star Trek. Neither the original series nor Next Gen was ever on TV when I had access to a TV; the Evil Landlord and I watched some Deep Space Nine when it trickled through to SA, but only in a desultory sort of fashion, and I don't remember much of it. I'm not sure why borrowing [ profile] first_fallen's complete STNG set and proceeding to watch it in an unholy gulp over several months should have had the effect of putting me into warp drive in the direction of helpless, geeky fandom, but it has, and there we have it. I knew the die was cast when the simple action of Spock teaching Data the Vulcan nerve pinch caused me an exquisite, inexplicable, fangirly joy. It's over. I'm a Trekkie. Alas.

Of course, the whole thing was more or less sparked by my discovery, over vastly circuitous sf fandom routes (possibly via the Whatever), of Wil Wheaton's blog. I have an unholy fascination for the Wesley Crusher phenomenon: for the incredible outpouring of fan hatred which managed to pillory not only the character, but the unfortunate actor, who seems to be a likeable sort of person who really didn't deserve that. I'm a few episodes into Season 5, and of course Wesley has now left, to "go to the Academy", but really for the shattered teen actor to hie him off into the middle distance and try to regain some sort of self-esteem. It's all rather unfair: being a teenager is a poisonous enough experience without legions of geeky sf fans craning over your shoulder and insisting not only that your character's a dweeb, but that you are.

But I have to ask myself, even in strictly narrative terms - what the hell was going on here? I mean, yes, the writing in the first couple of seasons was really very clunky, and Wesley didn't exactly shine as an example of logical plot decisions, character development or emotional coherence. But then again, nor did anyone else. Honestly, I spent about the first season and a half dropping stitches in my knitting while shouting enraged instructions at the screen - for heaven's sake, beam them out of there! or use your empath! or why the hell are you putting a teenager into that situation? it makes no sense! And I have ranted elsewhere about the dialogue. Good grief. But these generalised problems don't seem to have generated the frenzy of frothing hatred that poor Wesley did. Putting an immature and inexperienced kid, however intelligent, onto the bridge is dodgy, but I think there's more going on here, and most of it is about fan identification.

See, Wesley is a geek. He's written as super-intelligent, accomplished and precocious; he solves problems adults can't. It's not realistic in many ways, but it's no more unrealistic than other aspects of the series, which really abandons all sorts of logic in the pursuit of both story and budget. (The stand-alone episodes drive me crazy: Significant Person or Moment introduced for an episode arc will vanish without a trace with the closing credits, never to be seen again despite the fact that really they should continue to affect the Enterprise and its inhabitants. Like Worf's bonded brother. Bleah). Wesley being a geek shouldn't be any more of a problem than Worf never being able to win a fight, and it particularly shouldn't be a problem given that the bulk of the viewers are themselves geeky science-fondling types. And Wes is not written as an arrogant smart-arse: he's an eager kid, probably intended as a rather endearing point of identification for geeky types whose reaction to the Enterprise would be an identical wide-eyed wonder, because all this spaceship science is just so cool.

And this, I think, is where the problem lies. However badly he's written, the root of the Wesley Crusher problem is not the fact that the character is unlikeable or unrealistic. It's actually a problem of over-identification, not failure of identification. I think too many geeky Trekkies see themselves in Wesley, and they find it excruciating to watch - oh god Wesley is where I would like to be, bumming around on the bridge with an enormous grin on his face, and he's completely dorky and has no right to be there. He both embodies and dramatises the fact of the watcher's own eternal exclusion from the bridge. The revulsion is thus because he represents the watcher too closely, at least the kind of watcher who spends a lot of time at Star Trek conventions. I think it's significant that, at least anecdotally, a lot of female Trek fans seem to really like Wesley. They don't have to watch themselves, and cringe, knowing full well that if given half a chance they'd be babbling just as excruciatingly about the ways in which matter and antimatter could be aligned even more efficiently in Dilithium crystals. (They might well so babble, but at least they're not watching themselves).

I don't like Next Gen as much without Wesley. There's a gap on the bridge, and I'm very aware that the writers partially created it by being really very bad at finding a realistic place for a teenaged geek in Star Trek - but only partially. In fact, the fans created it by being intolerant and incredibly cruel, and that intolerance is directly and slightly unforgiveably about the whole unhappy, marginal geek package - about insecurity. It's sad. I wish it had gone differently. I like Wesley, and he didn't deserve that.

And in broader terms, the whole Trek thing's bloody annoying. Now I'm going to have to re-watch the recent Star Trek movie and see if I actually like it any more than I did now that I'm all Trekkified. Phooey.


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