Archive for April, 2009

/backing music by Jethro Tull, why not?/

Today being the 29th of April, my father would’ve turned 53 today. [In the unlikely event random people are stumbling up against this, I say ‘would’ve’ because he’s not turned anything since 41 – apparently the Highway Code’s suggestion that one should check for oncoming traffic before turning a lorryload of concrete across the carriageway isn’t quite such a pointless directive, after all.]. Twelve years is a long time, of course; even if I were inclined to try I doubt I’d be able to give you more than the roughest of character sketches of the man.

Still, it’s not untypical for me to get pensive at all of three points in the year, this one included and, this year more than usual, I’m finding myself feeling introspective. Five’ll get you twenty that this is down to finally having somewhere to head in life, or, at any rate, a plan that extends over a greater scale than my previous range of ‘Do x because everyone knows that’s the thing that happens next.’ Even so, I don’t much care for introspection. It’s so inclined to get in the way of not really thinking anything much.

The bulk of you, I suspect, will have seen that inspirational-sounding quote about how scar tissue is stronger than yer actual regular tissue &c., &c. Of course it isn’t; it doesn’t have the elasticity or something, so it’s less good under strain: less like a wooden oar patched up with steel braces and more like torn blotting paper that’s been prit-stiked back together along the edges. Still, as a quote it sounds good, which is the main thing.

Much like ‘That which does not kill us makes us strong,’ it’s been kitted out to give comfort rather than point out to a chap who’s lost of all your limbs, but not died, will nevertheless find it hard to summon the strength to heft a sack of potatoes; there must be a whole industry out there devoted to thinking these things up. (What, you thought Einstein came up with that whole ‘1% inspiration, 99% perspiration’ without spending five nights tearing out his hair and moaning “Come on Albie! The miniature diary industry is counting on you!!” Yeah, right.)

Anyway, I’ve got a whole welter of the scar tissue knocking about, and I find it mainly leads to character traits that come under the heading of ‘OK in moderation’.

A prime example of this is the manner in which I can be stubborn. To a point, being stubborn is the same as being persistent – you get to go home and say you tried your best & if things didn’t pan out OK, then it’s no fault of yours. Except I default to the kind of stubborn where I try my best and if things don’t pan out then it’s because I didn’t try hard enough; I take failure in the face of impossible odds as a weakness on my part, and I’ll beat myself up about it along the way, which is somehow made worse by the fact I know what a stupid approach it is.

Summer of 2005 was pretty much a case in point, there: there was a time during that particular fight where, in retrospect, I think we were all sunk and we all knew it, except for the pig-headed bastard who kept saying ‘This is not going to happen’ under the impression that if you said it quietly enough the world would just stop holding out on you.

[Tip for Film-makers: If you want to win me over run one of those scenes where the bad guy gets the living crap pounded out of him by someone who’s got so angry about the whole thing that they’ve suddenly got dead quiet, and started breaking people’s elbows over their own knees while nevertheless asking really politely. And humming a cheery tune. I promise you at least five “Awesomes!” in the foyer afterwards.]

In fairness, it worked; I think I got some good work done, under the circumstances, but I screwed myself up in the process. When I stopped doing that job in Spring 2006 I spent about three weeks getting hammered on a nightly basis because it turned out I’d wound myself up so much I couldn’t deal with the sudden disconnection from all the responsibility I’d taken to assuming.

Yeah, that’s another one. I take responsibility for way too many things, although it sometimes feels like I can hardly wait to offload it onto some other chump once I’ve got it. Except, not always: I can’t access it on a conscious level, but I’ve decent reason to suspect that I’ve got a complicated ranking system somewhere in the back of my head that sorts out the people to whom I feel a greater level of responsibility than others. Mostly it doesn’t have an effect on anything, least of all how I deal with people on a daily basis, but you should (really, really not) see me when you cross someone on that list: not only will I take it incredibly personally on their behalf, but I can hold a grudge for long enough to make Basalt feel worn down.

Even now, there are people out there that I have never met, and if they introduced themselves and said ‘Hi, I’m Mike,’ I’d say ‘Hey, Mike, nice to meet you’ and we’d probably get along fine and have all sorts of interesting conversations, because nobody ought to be judged by who they used to be (certainly I shouldn’t; I was a complete arsehole for years.) And yet, if Dave were there and said ‘This is Mike. Yeah, Mike,’ I’d lay even money that I’d punch the man in the face while he was waiting to shake hands simply because five, seven, ten years ago he did something that fucked over a person I’d only meet a decade later and if I feel an obligation to someone, I’ll gladly backdate it just far enough to cover past injuries. Or, rather, I’ll automatically backdate it. Doesn’t seem to come with an off switch.

The reason for that, I believe, comes down to a simple fact: there have been times where, through no fault of my own, I’ve failed to stop Bad Things happening, and that doesn’t sit well with my stubbornness. In that sense, pretty much anyone I like is quids in: either I’ll try and pull a shielding-from-the-badness maneuver, or I’ll make life miserable for anyone pissing you about. It is, of course, hard on anyone unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire (thought it’s ideally worse for anyone in the crosshairs, of course) but it’s been a while since anyone played silly buggers anyway, I’m happy to say.

(Lord knows how many times I’ve polluted this blog with memes, but I’m still looking for one that decides that Which Character I Am is an abominable cross between Ikari Gendo and Malcolm Reynolds. That would be a meme built out of raw Awesome. And dodgy html, of course.)

Happily, therefore, I’m not actively stoking anything right now – and given long enough, I can let things slide. I usually do, in fact, because it’s quite tiring otherwise, and once I’ve burned through the actual anger, I tend to have trouble keeping up enough of a head of steam, though God knows I’ve seen the anger last a few years a head. (Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be linked to whether the person who actually got done over has done with the forgiving thing. It’d be a lot simpler if it did, really, but instead it seems to run on whether I can still remember how much it affected them. Introduces auto-balancing, I guess.)

But I like to think, on balance, that it all works out OK, and that I’m not, in fact a sociopath. (I am antisocial, mind, but that’s just because I continue to use computer games as a Way Out Of Responsibility, where fixing bad things is just a quickload – or, indeed, a console command – away, and I’m not giving that up in a hurry). I periodically worry that I’ve got a predisposition to be horrible to people I decide I don’t like, but it rarely seems to be much of an issue, thank goodness.

Mostly, the worst extremes of being stubborn, and overzealous and inclined to fret like crazy, I keep in check, and the impression I get is that by balancing them out I actually wind up as a reasonably easy-going (& ideally half-way considerate) sort of person. Or, at least, I look like I’m trying, which is better’n nothing.

Mostly, I hope, I get by OK without being too horrible to people.

Mostly, I think, I avoid writing people off entirely because I fail to make allowances for why they might be acting like that.

Mostly, in fact, I wonder how well I match up to the tracing of a character sketch I last saw done in charcoal more than a decade ago, and which would probably be out of date even if I could remember what the shape of it was.

I’m not certain, but I think I’m slowly getting there. Perhaps if I work on it long enough I’ll fetch up with something that wouldn’t completely disappoint the original artist, hey? It’s always good to have something to try and do tomorrow, after all.

No comments today, folks. I ain’t here to fish.


Poured with rain last night; drummed on the windows from around 04-00 to 05:30. News on radio at 8 warned of severe rain warning in Eastern parts of Wales; I assume the storm has passed over.

Drove Ruth to campus to get dissertation printed. Deep pool of water in passenger footwell; at least a third of an inch, spread out over wide area plus, of course, that which was absorbed by the carpeting. Suspect this is more noticable because I removed the protective mat things that were down there (I wondered at the time why there were two, now I come to recollect doing so) because they were damp.

Had hazarded that the damp remained from when Miriam was leaking through the sunroof, but this apparently not the case — suspect leak is getting in through vents. A good deal of sogginess up in the foam around the vent, and trail of water down the wainscoting in passenger footwell. Mopped up with paper towels, though still dampness in carpet, as I needed to get into Law.

The good news, on reflection, is that this is evidently an exceptional quantity of water due to the thumping great storm last night, and the lack of additional matts to blot it up. Must remember to retain a towel in the boot in case of emergencies.

Beyond that, Miriam seems to be running OK. Starting to suspect she’ll want a new battery at some point; on rare occasions where she does multiple short hops the engine can be a bit reluctant to start on the third or fourth time, but she goes alright once she’s going. Look to replace the battery ahead of the winter, I suppose.

Bought a new kettle because the old one was on the blink, and refusing to turn itself off once it reached boiling point. Has righted itself now, though, under the omnipresent threat of replacement, so may as well run it a while longer.

Much news this morning about the spreading Swine Flu. Much concern since we’re a way overdue a major outbreak, but so far it just makes me want to play Pandemic.

Coffee break over: back to work.

A highly articulate outburst

I was having an e-mail conversation yesterday, and the subject of people driving everywhere rather than using public transport came up. As the only car driver present on the mailing list, I got asked for my opinion – specifically in relation to my having taken the Park & Ride into Oxford, rather than having tried to park in the city centre, & having started to write a short reply, I found several hundred words had passed.

Most of them, I decided, on re-reading what I’d written, relatively sensible ones.

At this point, I’ll point out I’ve made barely any revisions to this theory – bar my square-bracketed clarification of fare changes, and the re-setting of the line-breaks my gmail account put in this is just what I churned out last night, but I think there might be something there. Lord knows we’ve all got enough money to fritter it away trying to prop up a brassic banking industry, I don’t see why we didn’t ought to get some decent use out of it.

There’s probably a few hundredweight of flaws in the idea; you’re welcome to point them out in a friendly way, but at least it’s not as stupid as some of the ideas out there. (Seriously, I am curious as to where the bad ideas are, here; I admit I’ve kinda planned everything out in Sandbox Mode, with unlimited funds and no fixed deadlines, but still…)

I’m in favour of P&R. Although I’ve driven through Oxford (through a complicated coming-off-the-motorway-wrong scenario that had me trying to plot a route through the centre of the city based on
where I thought the tour buses went after Broad Street. Was dead chuffed when I managed it). However, I still drove to Oxford. From Wallingford. And the X39 is actually pretty damn good – I really like Thames Travel.

Even London – Edinburgh is the sort of thing I might drive, depending on circumstances! If it was at a busy time, I think I’d take the car, because I’d at least get a seat! Other times, maybe not – it’d depend what I was doing after Edinburgh, I guess.

But, yeah. The thing to do is spend a hundred fuckloads of money on the transport network: re-nationalise *everything*, buy back all the land sold under the Beeching Axe, put the tracks back, buy the station houses back and re-introduce full service to all of them (automatic ticket machines will save you a few salaries there, at least) and get into the habit of offering free rail passes to, er, everyone. (Or everyone paying less than the 50% income tax band, say).

Upgrade everything. Electrify the entire network while you’re at it to a) save time in the future and b) free yourself up to put any rolling stock down a line, increase the number of passing places, terminals
and sidings and give tax breaks to businesses that transport anything by rail, including produce (I reckon the distribution networks could cope with running services from local rail terminals instead of local warehouse depots, I don’t really see the difference). Accept that the national debt is going to look like swiss bloody cheese anyway, and bootstrap the domestic rail manufacturing industry to get some trains that’re less than 20 years old running through the provinces.

Bring back First, Second & Third class, [but do away with the multitude of saver fares; either it’s off peak or it’s a fixed rush hour surcharge of £3, say] and change the conditions of carriage to promise everyone a seat on their service, or they get a £5 voucher for the shop on the train for each 100 miles or part thereof for their journey as specified *on the ticket* – we could print that easy enough.

Then – gradually, over a few years – increase tax on petrol to fund the public transport network, and offer free bus routes to railway stations. No less than every 10 minutes per stop in towns, and aim for
every 30-40 minutes for rural areas. Since the Government run everything anyway, they can sync all the timetables up without (too much) difficulty.

Engineering works no longer mean such severe stoppages, as there’s now *network redundancy* and you can route around them with care. Long-term you get improved maintainance. Schedule for an x-day period, specifying exactly what needs to be done, and at the end of the works, have them surveyed by two independent teams from seperate bodies (one from and one from the Dept. of Engineering Works, say). If the works are approved by both bodies as being OK – and *signed
off* by *every member* of the inspection teams, good. If they’re signed off ahead of schedule, give the workers a bonus of £x/day over schedule.

The thing is I *want* trains to be good. But as long as people think they’re supposed to make money, they ain’t gonna. And even people like me will stay in our cars until we can get a fascist party set up, with me in charge…

As Statto said: a highly articulate outburst. So where’s it fall down? Money, obviously, and political intransigence. But where else?

I should’ve gone to bed (but the whisky isn’t gone)*

‘s been a good Easter, so I’ll start with that. Food & company and a surfeit of neither which gave me some space for a bit of Quiet, which is always a worthwhile use of time, especially around now.

Also, we went out to Cwm Rheidol and hunted Easter eggs. (Our own, of course; we didn’t just show up expecting them to be there already). Slight issue with swathes of the countryside having been inexplicably closed, but we found a space in the end, and it was really quite fun.

Birthdays & Purchases
I’ve turned 24. Which isn’t an especially exciting sentence, let’s be honest. I don’t think I’m due another birthday that feels like it might be important for at least six years, and possibly not for another eighteen; my 43rd will feel creepy, I’m pretty sure, but other than that each year kinda feels the same as every other. I’ve probably said that before; it’s a perennial complaint. (Pause for laugh)

Still, people have been very nice and given me everything from beer to periodicals subscriptions, and Ruth has very kindly chucked me a small pile of cash, with which I’ve bought a microcomputer. Well… yeah, OK, so I’ve technically owned very-very-late-era Microcomputers for years, but I can’t keep track, these days, of what’s a Laptop, what’s a Netbook and what’s a Small One Of The Above, so I’m going with Microcomputer because I know what one of those is.

Anyway, I had been going to get an S101 on the grounds that it’s called an S101, which is Teh Awesome. (Because – as if anyone needs telling – S101 was the directory name for Spellcasting 101: Sorcerors Get All the Girls, the precursor to the fab S201 & S301 by Steve Meretzky. All, quite literally, Legend-ary.)

So, yeah, the S101: it’s woefully underspecced for modern games (but would play old DOS stuff fine; see what I did there?) and I liked the fact it got essentially decentdecent reviews (for something built for battery life rather than speed) and I knew what I’d call it even before it turns up, which saves all that tedious umm-ing and ahh-ing.

Anyway, I’m not getting one of those. I’m getting an NC10 which has better battery life, costs less money, exists in a spiffy blue colour and gets even better reviews.

I’m still going to call it Ernie, mind.

The point to this, however, is pretty much that it can’t do very much, but is small and handy for carting about. Also, the NC10 comes with a closer-to-normal-size keyboard & a small hard-drive which puts it ahead of the rest of the minilapbook genre which seem reluctant to give you space to install anything very much. So it’s portable, won’t do [as much in the way of ] games to distract me [compared to a proper tower] and is easy to type on. If you didn’t know me better you might think I intended to get some actual proper work done next year, no?

If the machine has a downside I’ve not already factored in, it’s that it doesn’t come with 3G, which means if I need Internets on the go, I’ll have to create an unwieldy lash-up from my phone, Nokia PC Suite and a short length of USB cable, but I think I’ll be able to cope. Ruth proposes to teach me SVN-ing, so that’s promising.

I’m looking forward to the Masters, but I’m a little worried about the state of the profession – we had a meeting on Spy Weds. wherein it was revealed that we’ve not got a bean. This was pretty much the case at my previous place of work (although, in fact, their defecit appeared to be even larger), so I’m a little concerned that there may be employers out there who won’t be able to pay me.

But I figure I’m awesome, so they’ll find the money somewhere.

Tech Generally
Went back to Newport on Saturday, and miserably failed to fix the computer there – something very strange seems to have happened to it; it’s in need of a full-re-install, I think. In a bid to save myself an extra trip, I’m going to attempt to guide people there through a re-install. Worst case, I have to go back (which I would anyway, if I didn’t attempt this first), so I figure it’s worth a shot.

I move to SSEL on Monday. Fewer Readers to deal with, more Spreadsheets. At present I’m not really sure how that balances out, but we’ll see how it goes. I have to say I rather enjoyed quite a lot of being in Lending; the Thin Red Line stunt got a bit dull the fifth time it was myself & one other person (normally Annette) holding the fort, but only a little.

Had to work Maundy Thursday, which was shoddy since it was my Birthday, which is shoddy, but I ended up glad I did, as we had a vagueish academic come in and start asking me questions, who turned out to be a Bodley reader, so that was nice. I do miss the old place, strangely. (That is, strangely if you only recall my experience of the place before they got my eyes tested, when I appeared to be of the Fail for no reason I could work out. After I could actually read what I was typing I really enjoyed it.)

Wow, I’ve rambled all over the place again. And Storm Front just looped round, Tell you what: I’ll throw in a few semi-themed headers and push off to bed, how’s that sound?

*Sounds like a song title, dunnit? Well, it would if it started with ‘you’ rather than ‘I’. Something melancholic and slow, I think. Or something very bouncy and fast and miserable as sin. Both good.

I love the smell of coaligned opinions in the morning!*

Just to point out that if you don’t already follow Shamus Young‘s stuff, you really should.

*I think something like this got said in some sort of war film, or something, at some point. But you’re more than welcome to not cite it, this time.


Ruth’s Christmas present has arrived!