Stross's Laundry series

Sep. 22nd, 2014 06:46 am
puzzlement: (Default)
[personal profile] puzzlement
A while back I asked for SFF recs. I'm frankly unlikely to pick up everything suggested, but when I read someone's suggestions, I'll try and review them to some degree for you.

This week, I read the entirety of Charles Stross's Laundry series (5 books, 2 short stories and a novella) which reminds me of why I am hesitant to buy fiction. It and clothes were the two goods that were Money We Didn't Have when I was a kid. And I can understand why at 8 works in a week. (Per previous entry: I know about libraries and am bad at them and not currently seeking library-related advice.)

So. Occult secret service stuff.

Cut for: extensive spoilers for the Laundry, and some for Lukyanenko's Night Watch series, fictional child death, and paraphrasing of horror scenes )

Summary: it's fun and I'll buy the next one when it comes out. It's not my heart series but I didn't expect it to be.

3 things about Nico

Sep. 19th, 2014 02:12 pm
rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)
[personal profile] rmc28
1. New words.  New words all the time.  New phonemes rather less often, so guesswork is frequently required.  On the other hand, the most recent new word is a very clear "Hey!" complete with indignant intonation.  Yesterday I was well impressed with "toc milk" i.e. chocolate milk. 

2. No.  Alongside all the new words is a lot of no no no no no.  "Do you want a cuddle?" "No" "Do you want a drink?" "No" "Time for a nappy change." "No".  Sometimes complete and furious meltdown when he isn't getting what he wants.  Two is clearly hard.

3. He's currently utterly fascinated with putting the DVDs in and out of the player.  Sometimes he doesn't even want to watch them very much, just establish which one they are and then get a different one.  As he's got more stable and careful, I've become more relaxed about letting him be in control of what goes in.

3 things about Charles

Sep. 19th, 2014 07:19 am
rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)
[personal profile] rmc28
1. He wants ukulele lessons.  I am entirely happy to support this, but it just took me five minutes to find my chequebook.  I wonder if I can persuade the music teacher to take bank transfers if he sticks with it after this half-term.

2. He has convinced me he can cross the one quiet road safely so he is now walking (most of the way) to school by himself.  Except the first bit is my route to work so yesterday we had an argument because he wanted to Do It Himself so refused to walk with me, and I wouldn't set off for work until I knew he was on his way.  So we had this embarrassing standoff halfway down the road until a friend of his turned up and he could save face by walking with friend.

3. He was losing his temper in the shop yesterday and
a) actually listened when I suggested going outside to wait for me and calm down and
b) found that it did actually work and came back much calmer, if still upset, about five minutes later. 
We continue to discuss the merits of walking away and counting to ten.  I'm making a lot of use of the latter at the moment ....

rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)
[personal profile] rmc28
I woke up a bit after 4am to find both children had come into my bed during the night, despite neither starting the night that way.  I snuck downstairs to watch the end of the Scottish referendum results.  No more than 15 minutes later, Nico turned up next to my chair looking very sleepy.  About 15 minutes after that Charles turned up looking worried and very sleepy.

I've spent the next hour or so fielding questions about the election from Charles e.g.
"What does 'united' mean?" 
"Why wouldn't Scotland want to be independent?"
"What's a nation?"

Meanwhile Nico is playing with wooden blocks and ignoring the tv.


ETA: well, that was a disappointment

Mixed day

Sep. 18th, 2014 08:09 pm
rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)
[personal profile] rmc28
+ back to work after 2 days sick
- lengthy meeting in room with flickering projector triggered a new headache
+ free lunch
- colleagues with assorted troubles taking them away from the office
+ played with new free project-management app
+ which resulted in dumping a lot of stuff I was perseverating over into external memory
+ got a few of those "little non-urgent but useful" tasks done
- missed book club due to headache
+ tony being supportive and children being (mostly) lovely
brainwane: My smiling face, in front of a wall and a brown poster. (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane



It might be good for the world, though temporarily stressful for one's marriage, to edit an anthology together, as Leonard and I discovered when we created and published our speculative fiction anthology Thoughtcrime Experiments together in 2009.* Despite the risks, maybe you should become an editor. "Reader" and "writer" and "editor" are tags, not categories. If you love a subject, and you have some money and some time, you can haul under-appreciated work into wider discourse, curate it, and help it sing.

Thoughtcrime Experiments cover You can do this with lots of subjects,** of course, but doesn't it especially suit science fiction and fantasy? We love thought experiments. We love imagining how things could be different, with different constraints. I love enlarging the scope of the possible, and both the content and the production of Thoughtcrime Experiments did that. Neither of us had professionally edited science fiction before, we released it under a Creative Commons license,*** and we wrote a "How to Do This and Why" appendix encouraging more people to follow in our footsteps.


Every story needs an editor to champion it. One thing we conclude from this experiment is that there aren't enough editors. We were able to temporarily become editors and scoop a lot of great stories out of the slush pile....


It's well known that there's an oversupply of stories relative to readers. That's why rates are so low. Our experiment shows that there's an oversupply of stories relative to editors. By picking up this anthology you've done what you can to change the balance of readers to stories. I wrote this appendix to show that you've also got the power to change the balance of editors to stories.



Another way to enlarge the scope of the possible is to seek out, publish, and publicize the work of diverse authors.***** But if you don't explicitly say you're looking for diverse content and diverse authors, and make the effort to seek them out, you will fall into the defaults. I ran into this; I did not try hard enough to solicit demographically diverse submissions, and as a result, got far more submissions from whites and men than from nonwhites and nonmen. However our final table of contents was gender-balanced, and at least two of the nine authors were people of color.

And if you do not explicitly mark characters as being in marginalized demographics, the reader will read them as the unmarked state. Here I think we did a bit better. And our selections caused at least one conversation about colonialism, and really what more can you ask?


Mary Anne Mohanraj and Sumana Harihareswara at WisCon in 2009(To the right: E. J. Fischer's photo of me with Mary Anne Mohanraj at WisCon in 2009.) It turns out that Thoughtcrime Experiments made a lot more things possible. For example, we published "Jump Space" by Mary Anne Mohanraj, a story that stars a South Asian diaspora woman. I remember sitting in my brown overstuffed chair in my apartment, reading Mohanraj's submission, completely immersed in the story. As I emerged at the end, I had two simultaneous thoughts and feelings:


  1. This is the first time in a whole life of reading scifi that the protagonist has looked like me. This feels like a first breath after a lifetime in vacuum.
  2. Why is this the first time?

Mohanraj, encouraged by the response to "Jump Space", wrote a book in that universe, and may write more. The summary starts: "On a South Asian-settled university planet" and already my heart is expanding.


And then there's Ken Liu.

It turns out Thoughtcrime Experiments restarted Ken Liu's career. Yes, Ken Liu, the prolific author and translator whose "The Paper Menagerie" was the first piece of fiction to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award, and who's been doing incredible work bridging the Anglophone and Chinese-speaking scifi worlds. You have us to thank for him. As he told Strange Horizons last year:



I wrote this one story that I really loved, but no one would buy it. Instead of writing more stories and subbing them, as those wiser than I was would have told me, I obsessively revised it and sent it back out, over and over, until I eventually gave up, concluding that I was never going to be published again.


And then, in 2009, Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson bought that story, "Single-Bit Error," for their anthology, Thoughtcrime Experiments (http://thoughtcrime.crummy.com/2009/). The premise of the anthology was, in the editors' words, "to find mind-breakingly good science fiction/fantasy stories that other editors had rejected, and release them into the commons for readers to enjoy."


I can't tell you how much that sale meant to me. The fact that someone liked that story after years of rejections made me realize that I just had to find the one editor, the one reader who got my story, and it was enough. Instead of trying to divine what some mythical ur-editor or "the market" wanted, I felt free, after that experience, to just try to tell stories that I wanted to see told and not worry so much about selling or not selling. I got back into writing -- and amazingly, my stories began to sell.



There is no ur-editor. It's us.

And there is no ur-geek, no ur-fan. No one gets to tell you you're not a fan, or to stop writing fanwork because it's not to their taste, or that you need to disregard that a work is insulting you when you judge its merits.*****

The Ada Initiative's work in creating and publicizing codes of conduct for conventions, in creating and running Ally Skills and Impostor Syndrome workshops, and in generally fighting -isms in open culture, helps more people participate in speculative fiction. TAI's work is even more openly licensed than Thoughtcrime Experiments was, so you can easily translate it, record it, and reuse it to make our world more like the world we want. For everyone. Please donate now, joining me, N.K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, Annalee Flower Horne, Leonard Richardson, and many more. You can help us change the constraints -- help us edit the world.

I'm gonna close out with one of my favorite fanvids, an ode to fandom. This is a different kind of love song / dedicated to everyone.



Donate now





* Some couples can basically collaborate on anything together. Leonard and I, it turns out, can get grumpy with each other when our tastes conflict. Just last night he pointed out that the multi-square-feet poster I presented at PyCon (mentorship lessons I learned from Hacker School) barely fits on the wall in our flat, anywhere, and will be the largest single item of decor we have. My "it would fit on the ceiling" well-actually gained me no ground. I pointed out that it would easily fit over the head of our bed, and mentioned that after all, some couples do put religious iconography there. I backpedaled off this in the face of his utter unconvincedness, and suggested that we *try* it above the TV. It now watches over us, slightly overwhelming. He might be right.


** Maybe you heard about The Aims Vid Album, encouraging and gathering fanvids to the tune of Vienna Teng's Aims? Which is FANTASTIC AND AMAZING and omg have you seen raven's "Landsailor" vid?? I have all the feels about that vid.


*** Although not as free a license as we sort of wished. In retrospect I wish we'd gone for an opendefinition.org license so we didn't have niggling questions about whether our sales counted as commerce, etc.


**** Strange Horizons is seeking out submissions from new reviewers, and a Media Reviews Editor. Why not you?


***** I particularly like Patrick Nielsen Hayden's formulation:

I think it's fine to ignore and not read something because the author has called for harm to you or to people you care about. Art and politics can't ever be completely separated. As a general rule of thumb, when we think our approach to something is politics-free, that generally means the politics are so normative as to be invisible.



Cross-posted to Cogito, Ergo Sumana.

Wednesday reading

Sep. 17th, 2014 11:03 am
rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)
[personal profile] rmc28
What I've read
I still haven't been reading books much.  I had a migraine yesterday and read the entirety of Talyn by Holly Lisle which I bought my own copy of this year.  I wrote a short review of it in 2010, based on the library copy.

What's next
I have a vague plan to reread Watership Down but I think that will be its own set of posts.  Mirror Empire is still sitting where I put it when I unwrapped the parcel.  It's three more weeks until Ancillary Sword comes out so I hope I unstick my reading by then. (I did devour the first chapter free on Orbit's website).  Maybe I'll reread Ancillary Justice for bookclub tomorrow.

Books acquired
I got Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho & Whispers Under Ground, all by Ben Aaronovitch, at a very reasonable price from the Angel Bookshop on Bene't Street.  This is a local independent bookshop that stocks the sort of books I like to buy, so I suspect we'll be back.   Charles has figured out that I am a pushover when it comes to buying him books so he got Diary of a Wimpy Kid which I'm hoping he'll read with me.

People Change

Sep. 16th, 2014 12:47 pm
brainwane: A silhouette of a woman in a billowing trenchcoat, leaning against a pole (shadow)
[personal profile] brainwane
My ex (whom I broke up with in May 2001) is now a senior director of engineering at an SF startup; whoa. More path-crossingly, he participated on a GNOME mailing list in 2010, at the same time that I was in that community, and I didn't realize. We basically haven't talked since the early 2000s so my impression of him is stuck then -- is that he's a LARPing, Mac-using, LiveJournaling guy in his early twenties who wants to study martial arts in China. I have way more of a public web presence than he does, so if he wanted to he could have gradually changed his impression of me as I changed.

(I'm not on Facebook so I look up people from my past occasionally, e.g., today when I made a joke about physics majors, and am always surprised.)

I wonder whether a guy like 2014 him would get along with a person like 2014 me, now, if we met fresh. It's not out of the question that we'll run into each other someday professionally.

I suppose deciding to leave Wikimedia is making me think about breakups more generally, and about the closing off of possibilities. I won't know WMF's textures as closely after I leave it behind. They have a future without me and I won't even know about the internal arguments, much less take part in them. It's a strange thing, a parting -- not that it is unusual, but that it estranges you from a part of yourself.

Late August and early September

Sep. 16th, 2014 08:34 am
puzzlement: (jelly)
[personal profile] puzzlement
Originally posted at http://puzzling.org.

I see Andrew and I had our fifteen anniversary (as a couple, not as spouses) in August and I think managed not to remark on it to each other at all. Happy times. Not very surprising when that was just a week out from his flu recovery. We’ve always largely ignored that anniversary, although it would make sense to mark it since it’s the only event of any significance in our household that occurs in the second half of the year. Instead, we pack it all into the first half with both children born in January, Andrew in February and me in April, followed by our wedding anniversary in May. Andrew and I usually take each other to a joint birthday lunch in March or April, and then we have a family lunch at the pub where our wedding reception was each May and then we’re done partying for the year, evidently.

We had a couple of very quiet weekends after we got back which was good from the point of view of recovering but had the usual effect on me: once I haven’t done anything socially for a few weeks I wonder if I have any friends. We went to the aquarium with V’s friend A (everyone I talk about has the initial A) and A’s family; they commented that it was the fastest aquarium trip they’d ever done, with V hauling A from exhibit to exhibit. “Look here! Look here!”

I was really cranky about it though, because we decided to buy an annual pass — like most tourist things in Sydney, you only need to go three times for an annual pass to be cheaper, and their passes also include Wildlife World — and their system couldn’t be more contemptuous. We bought the pass online and showed up at the aquarium to find that the queue to have our photo taken and cards printed was over half an hour long and for that matter really poorly managed, as it was also being fed through a side door by people who’d been sold passes at the ticket counter as well as the main entrance by people who’d bought them online. And the queue was in a gift shop, so that’s delightful to wait in with children, especially V who is very tactile and would love to shake everything, stroke everything else, and swing off the remainder.

Not recommended. I had to go through half the aquarium before I calmed down, and that was only in the underwater tunnels beneath the sharks which mostly made me wish I was using SCUBA. Partly because a dive site might have 12 people, but the underwater tunnels were packed with 100 or more, but mostly because being underwater is really calming. It was easy at that moment to forget all the difficult aspects of diving: the early mornings, the seasickness, the wetsuits.

I don’t think I’m done with diving forever.

The following weekend was V’s school’s BBQ for the incoming kindergarten group, which was sweet. The kindergarten classes have just hatched chickens in incubators, so while I am dubious about this practice (I am not sure the creation of fifteen chickens, presumably to be short-lived and perhaps not even used for food, is justified by the educational outcomes) the whole day was chicken themed with chicken crafts and so on. V was very excited and left his craft chicken with the real chicks so they could admire it.

We had a lot of trouble and worry trying to organise someone to look after V when I was in labour with A. (Scheduled births made a lot more sense to me with my second pregnancy, especially when A was three weeks overdue, stretching the time for which we needed 24/7 on-call carers for V to six entire continuous weeks over Christmas and New Year.) So in late August I remembered to reach out to our friends Ben and Anna, whose second child was due, to offer at least “call us if you’re stuck”. Sure enough at the end of August Anna went into labour on an evening when their promised child carer had taken off to the snow at short notice (!!!). Andrew got to try and be the big damn hero in this case, driving across Sydney in the middle of the night, because it makes more sense for me to stay here with the baby than for him to. But in the event he only arrived at the hospital as Ben and Anna’s baby was being born. It would have been very handy for them if it had taken longer or there’d been an emergency though, so not wasted effort.

Last weekend V was to watch Star Wars for the first time with his friend A, but as Andrew predicted, the early sequence with characters walking the desert for twenty minutes completely lost them. They watched The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course instead, which was a cultural experience for us all. I was only familiar with the Steve Irwin phenomenon by cultural osmosis while he was alive. The movie is a good type of bad movie, with Irwin doing his own stunts (mostly falling out of dinghies constantly), unsubtle editing together of crocodile scenes and Irwin scenes to make it look like they might be in the same vicinity, and his educational pieces to camera set incongruously in a plot featuring fish-out-of-water CIA agents, Magda Szubanski as a crocodile-shooting station owner and David Wenham as a fisheries employee.

Finally, yesterday we went to visit Ben and Anna, and their child G and to meet new baby H. This was a nicely symmetrical visit, as we took A out to them in her first few weeks as well. H is still the dusky rose colour that newborn A was, and very sleepy. I held him, but didn’t miss having a newborn baby. Without hormones, I think they aren’t a lot of fun before they smile, although they are sweet in their own way. V had a very good time playing with G for hours, from drawing in chalk, staging a concert, and making sandcastles on the beach.

Writing this is half giving the lie to a recent complaint of mine, which is that I don’t really have a social circle! We are lucky to have a reasonable amount of social contact, although some of it would drop off if V had his own friends and could visit them under his own steam. I think two things are going on: the first is that we don’t have a circle, as in, people who know each other. I think that’s probably tough to overcome now unless we primarily make friends in our workplaces. Which brings me to the other problem, which is me working from home. While Andrew could socialise mostly with friends from work, although it would mean his circle would be comprised almost entirely of men and would talk about nothing but Google projects (this is a common condition among people who work there), the entire concept is moot for me. I’m planning to try co-working next year when V is in school and I’m working more days, and seeing how I feel then about the need to have more adults in my life. In the meantime, I will try and value all of my one on one friendships at their full value!

Skiing, August 2014: day 5

Sep. 15th, 2014 08:42 am
puzzlement: (jelly)
[personal profile] puzzlement
Originally posted at http://puzzling.org.

Andrew had, as near as we could tell, pretty typical flu-like symptoms: fever, pain, respiratory symptoms. This makes this the third time in seven years he’s been sick like that, two times in years when he had a flu vaccine. (The first time of the three was the reason he started having flu vaccines.) So not the best of of luck. In a way, however, he felt comforted that it explained aspects of his snowboarding he’d been unhappy about earlier in the week. Had something fundamental about his body changed since 2008? No. He was getting ill.

He’d been a bit of a hero over the previous days, bringing V to his ski lessons and so on, but on the Friday we needed to pack for the trip home, so I lost five minutes of my lesson dropping off V myself. I told my instructor A I’d been planning to go up Merritts but couldn’t now that Andrew was ill, and she agreed that I could be up there at this point, it simply was too long on a chairlift for our one hour lesson for her to take me. So we did one last lesson on Friday Flat and agreed that I would do a lesson next year in which she would take me down a blue (intermediate) run, because of course she would come back and I would come back &c. (Ski lesson version of Before Sunrise, and, spoilers, the Julie Delpy character didn’t make it to their rendezous.) It does become an intense shared endeavour, rather like a theatre performance or something, and the break-up is just as sudden. I later looked her up in the top-to-bottom race that she was hoping to win the following day and didn’t find her name at all; I don’t even know her surname.

I went up to the apartment to help Andrew pack up and lug the bags out of the room; thankfully the owners were storing them for us until the evening. Andrew was determined that I would ski Merritts, and was doing basically OK, so we lugged our gear and our baby down, installed him in the lounge of the Thredbo Alpine Hotel, and I returned his sadly underused performance snowboarding gear, and set off up Merritts.

It didn’t begin promisingly. Merritts is its own little peak and there’s two ways to reach the base of it, the fast Gunbarrel chairlift from Friday Flat or the Merritts chairlift from Valley Terminal. Being at Valley Terminal, I headed for the Merritts lift, which turned out to be old and ricketty. I had to take my skis off and hold them to ride it, no mean feat when they were 155cm long, and it was so old it didn’t have a pull down bar but a flimsy chain that I had to pull across and work out how to fasten while being lifted into the air and holding my skis and poles under one arm. So I was already a bit uncertain. I enjoyed the terrible terrain below me with all kinds of things poking out of the uneven snow, and wondered if it was indeed a ski run. (Yes, it’s the advanced run The Schuss, and I didn’t see a single soul on it on either the way up or the way down.)

Merritts itself has a fast chairlift The Cruiser running up it. I was accustomed to the ludicrous hot and lengthy queues at Friday Flat and The Cruiser didn’t have them, so I was zooming on it before I had a chance to get oriented. It was fast enough I was very worried about getting off, but of course it slowed for dismount, if only at the last possible second. I didn’t fall there. And then there was only one way down; on skis.

This turned out to be really tough for me. Merritts’ beginners runs are at the other end of beginners difficulty from Friday Flat, so they were like the toughest bit of Friday Flat only for about a solid kilometre of unrelenting slope rather than ten metres. (Tough is relative of course, but even so.) I talked myself down the first bit but then chose — it turns out — the slightly harder Squatters Run for the first half rather than Walkabout and arrived at the top of a bit that was steep enough I couldn’t see over it and despaired. I ended up removing my skis, prompting a children’s instructor to come over and point out the escape hatch traverse back to the Gunbarrel Express to me before zooming off with her teeny intermediate skiers, trudging over to and down the steep part (which was only a few metres high, and probably serves as a brief test of intermediate sloped terrain for borderline intermediate skiers) and fixing my skis on.

But of course by then my confidence was pretty shot. I could at least now see clear down Walkabout and knew what I was in for. I prepared myself to just get down it, no need to fret about parallel turns but to stick to A’s Italian-style snowplow turns and take it at my own speed and so on. But I fell twice on two consecutive turns, and the slope was steep enough that the experience was reminiscent of New Zealand all those years ago. Stand up. Try to get in skis. Fail. Knock snow out of my boots. And around. I probably spent ten minutes or more on each of those two turns, all the while crying and heating up. (Thredbo is a pretty hot resort, at around freezing or a bit above.) And I had several hundred metres to go. Eventually I convinced myself to go even more slowly and carefully and just get down and have done it, and I did: several more hundred metres without falling.

I feel just fine about this now and it’s easy to explain what went wrong. It’s just hard to do a new run at the edge of your ability without an instructor or better partner to prepare you for the tricky bits, identify what technique your fear is causing you to forget, to help you knock your boots clear of snow and pull you up from falls. If I’d had time and energy for even one more run I probably would have been slightly better. If Andrew (who is a better snowboarder than I am skier by dint of about two weeks practice if nothing else) had been there, he could have done a run ahead of me and told me which bits to brace for and hung out with me if I’d taken my skis off and had a sulk at the side. If I’d gone up for two consecutive days I’m sure I’d be going down both Walkabout and Squatters Run and enjoying it and beginning to contemplate the intermediate runs. But I didn’t have two days, I had about 90 minutes, and so that was my one run up there.

I was intending to go back to Andrew and work through that line of thought and feel better that way. On my trip back down the slow and creaky Merritts chair I realised that it had a halfway station labelled “Friday Flat” and I could get off there and return to a slope I knew for a final run. So I did that. Unfortunately, that meant entering at the intersection of Sundowner, which is a beginners run, and High Noon, which decidedly isn’t, and having High Noon’s exiting riders fly around and past me, some of them falling themselves. So even though it was fairly flat and well within my ability (I should try Sundowners next time), I fell again and had to have another little chat with myself again about focussing on basics and ignoring parallel turns and taking it at my own speed and etc. I did then make it to the Friday Flats lift for one last run down that, which I tried to enjoy but wasn’t in the right mood for. So I had to have forced pride that I’d picked myself up and tried and tried, even if I wasn’t feeling it.

I feel good about it looking back though.

And then it was time to head back to Andrew, check in, and begin the flurry of things needed to get us home. I returned my skis, and headed over to V’s class to pick him up and return his skis, and smile through V’s own reports of the joys of Merritts where he’d also been that day. (“I went up the mountain on the fast chairlift Mama. And I wasn’t scared.” Thank goodness I didn’t run into his group.) Andrew went up to the apartment to help the owners drive our bags down.

We’d figured the bus back would be easier, because V would be exhausted, and it went into the night, meaning both children would be asleep. This was true as far as it went, but no doubt it was not any fun for Andrew to sit up for seven hours trying not to melt from the inside out. Everything about ski holidays is utterly fixed and unchangeable, including our accommodation and bus tickets, or I might have been tempted to stay another day.

We had a very complicated plan once we got back to Sydney centered around the problem that taxis will not take A without an infant carseat, and that taxis with infant carseats are like hen’s teeth. One of us was going to taxi back to our house, pick up a car share car, fit our carseats for both children to it, drive back to the unlucky parent waiting with two exhausted children in the midnight chill, and drive us all home, at which point we’d put the kids in bed, remove the carseats, return the car and fall into bed. We’d completely forgotten that we were arriving home on a Friday night, and that commuter buses were still running at midnight. So instead we merely hauled our bewildered four year old, who has almost never been out of the house after 8pm, onto a bus, home, and into bed.

The aftermath was substantial for Andrew. He recovered in bed all weekend and into the following week, returning to work only on the Thursday. He still however kindly reflected that he was glad that he’d had a bad week at the snow rather than me, as otherwise we would have viewed the enterprise as thoroughly cursed. Which is fair. But hopefully some year soon I can report that we went to the snow and enjoyed a run in each other’s company and a hot chocolate to wrap up.

rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)
[personal profile] rmc28
I went to see this with C, as we have both enjoyed the previous four Tinker Bell films from Disney.  Things that I generally like about the series are:
  • Disney has gone with Tinker = Engineer and Tinker Bell is the best most amazing engineer that the fairies have ever known.
  • Not all the fairies are white! (though they are of course all slender and beautiful).
  • Most of the main characters are female.
  • Which means there are multiple different female characters who are allowed to be different rather than a single Strong Female Character.
  • And the characterisation is consistent across films and the plotting is generally fun, if a bit predictable.
Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy felt quite short (it's under 80 minutes), and has a rollicking action plot where almost all the fairies are drugged to sleep for several days, enabling the theft of the super special fairy dust that allows fairies to fly.  Tinker Bell and her friends are the only ones awake to see the theft and set off in pursuit.  There's some nice little nods / setting up characters for the pirates in Peter Pan (and are we all shocked when the pirate with a super-posh English accent turns out to be extra bad? no we are not), and there is a happy ending where friendship and teamwork save the day. 

I find it amusing that the films generally fail the reverse Bechdel test i.e. the few token boy fairies rarely talk to each other and if they do, it is usually about Tinker Bell.  This film actually passes because of conversation between the pirates (all male) but I was amused that the six girl fairies went off to have adventures and left a token boy fairy to look after everyone at home.

Skiing, August 2014: mid-week

Sep. 14th, 2014 09:04 am
puzzlement: (jelly)
[personal profile] puzzlement
Originally posted at http://puzzling.org.

As I expected, I woke up on my second day of skiing, Tuesday, very sore and stiff. As I expected, V did not. We grumpily trudged through our morning.

There was an annoying timing issue at this point: my expensive and timed down to the minute private lessons were to begin at 8:30 on Tuesday through Friday (because 8:30am lessons are significantly cheaper), and that was the earliest possible drop-off time for V at his ski school. I didn’t want to waste ten minutes of my lesson on his drop off. So Andrew gathered up himself and the baby solely in order to do V’s drop off and then go back up the mountain to chill out with her.

Because I’d switched lesson times after Monday, B was not my instructor for the remainder of the week. My instructor was A, a young Italian ski racer and instructor. A and I didn’t start off great with her evicing some skepticism that I was ready for the Giddy Up run, if I’d fallen up there. Her students, she reported, do not fall. She took me up there, I presumably embarrassingly fell off the end of the chair lift and she very cautiously took me down the steeper bit of Giddy Up with a critical eye.

We did better from there, because she agreed that I was the right level for that run. She then wanted me to tell her how I’d learned to turn, and discovered that her suspicions were right: I’d been taught the “Australian way”.

A brief digression into skiing technique: as a beginner skier, I skied with the front tips of my skis close together and the back ends far apart, called a snow plow, or a “triangle” at the kids’ school. This let me go very slowly, because it’s easy to turn both skis inwards and brake by dragging the inner edges of them both along the snow. The “Australian style” of turning (which I also learned in New Zealand in 1998, and which is also shown in the beginner ski school videos I’d watched, is that I turned by pressing the inner edge of ski which was to be the outside of the turn (my left ski when turning right and vice versa) harder into the snow than the other ski.

The “Italian style” turn that A preferred involved shifting weight throughout my body instead. Specifically, she wanted me to do nothing consciously with my feet, but instead always ski with my shoulder dropped down the mountain and my hips tilted up the mountain, with my upper body driving my weight into the lower ski. (Later in the week, she had me actually stepping my uphill ski up off the snow a lot, to prove I wasn’t bearing excess weight on it.) To turn, I was to slide my hips over the downhill ski and my shoulder over the uphill ski, which caused me to turn and restore the original weight distribution only I’d be pointing in the other direction.

“OK,” I thought. “But I really hope I’m not switching instructors every day this week.” Sometimes it’s best to learn one technique well than several poorly, even if it’s not the single best one. (Oddly, learning to breastfeed has this problem: every lactation consultant seems to have their own slightly incompatible technique.)

However, since A was assigned to me for the remaining four days, and the technique worked well, this worked out. Specifically, it resulted in quite fast and very controlled turns, which is great because the slower the turn, the more chance I had to point straight downhill and lose control of my speed and fall over. At the end of the week, A triumphed that I hadn’t fallen in her lesson and suggested we might be at Merritts (the advanced beginners area and early intermediate area, higher up the mountain) at the end of the week.

A had a rare and excellent quality in a physical teacher, which was that for every mistake I was to make throughout the week, she had a diagnosis. To be fair, it was almost always “lean further forward” or “your weight is on the wrong ski again” (especially, for some reason, when my right ski was the downhill one) but even so. Many a person has tried to teach me physical skills but has not brought relentless and flawless debugging skills to the party.

She was, I think, in her early twenties, her first time in Australia, and seemed to be naively charmed by all the lifties greeting her in terrible Italian. There are very many Italian instructors in Thredbo this year! Everyone is being kind and trying to learn Italian and speak it with us! If she had any inkling that there might be any special effort being made to speak Italian with smiley small young blonde winners of the women’s section of the instructors’ race, she didn’t hint at it.

But she probably knew it. The incredibly slow chairlifts meant we had a lot of chances to talk during the week, partly about travel and partly about the many, many things she disapproved of on the snow. For example, people who don’t wear helmets (one time she split a helmet in half in a racing crash), people who ski with babies strapped to them, and, especially, snowboarders. On the first day with her, she side-eyed the snowboarders joining us on our lift chair and asked them pointedly if they knew how to get off the chairlift. I pointed out that I didn’t know how to get off the chairlift and she ignored me while continuing to glare daggers at the snowboarders. (Sure enough I fell and they didn’t. She said nothing.) On the second day, I had my first fall in her class when I heard an “uuuuuh-oh” from behind and a snowboarder knocked my skis out from under me (I was fine, I fell up the hill on my side and slightly bruised my hip) and it’s possible she killed him with her brain. On the last day, I think one of her final piece of advice to me was “steer clear of them.”

I was still confined to Friday Flat, the beginners area, mid-week, on Wednesday progressing to the slightly steeper main area. But after my first day with A, it was my first ever time on the snow that I would happily just circle around. Ski down. Ride lift up. Ski down. Ride lift up. And of course, this kind of practice is necessary to progress, so I was extra thrilled that it wasn’t ski down, nurse injuries, cry, ride back up.

I also solved the chairlift issue after my Tuesday lesson on my own. The trick with dismounting chairlifts is that you need to get your weight above your skis, because that’s the general trick to not falling over when skiing. However, I’m very tall, and while I’m fairly strong in an absolute sense for an untrained woman, I’m not strong for my height or weight. Together, this means that getting my weight above my feet takes me appreciably longer than it takes most people and during this time, I figured I was falling over, especially since the ground beneath chairlifts at the dismount point is close enough to the seat to allow three year olds to get off comfortably.

So, I simply waited half a second longer than most people. Chairlifts all have a short slope leading down from the dismount point, and I would wait until the chair was a little way over the slope, and get off then, meaning I was basically dropping down into a standing position rather than forcing myself upright into one. This was a touch tricky; once I waited long enough that I actually had to jump down very slightly. But it worked and I didn’t once fall again, nor did I ever fail to actually get off and have to go round embarrassingly. (Presumably with increased skiing ability and faith in my skiing ability, I would be able to get off at the normal disembark point too, but I never tested again.)

So on early Tuesday afternoon, I headed up to Andrew comfortably smug at my ability to stand up and slide around on skis. He said he was feeling a bit tired, and we planned out that he would “only” do the Village Trail, Thredbo’s easy but long run at 5km. He didn’t start quite at the top but took the slower Snowgums chairlift most of the way up it (spying a wombat on the way) and came down. He was feeling a bit ill from something he’d eaten and figured it wasn’t the day for a lesson and a short outing was fine. We gathered up V, fed him a donut, and came back for the evening.

On the Wednesday, Andrew was becoming feverish and decided to take the day off. In a selfish way, this was good as I was able to double my practice time, but I was sad for him. He saved energy to do one beginners run with V, who at this point had turned into a child-shaped snow-bullet and left Andrew fallen in the snow half way down Friday Flat. Andrew was worried that he’d inexplicably become a bad snowboarder but (spoilers!) he was in the early stages of getting quite ill.

It was on Wednesday, I think, that A decided that I should start turning parallel rather than in a snowplow, and instructed me to drag up uphill heel with a turn so that the skis turned together. This caused, I’m pretty sure, my first self-inflicted fall under her instruction. No more mention of parallel turns was made for a little while.

Shortly after that, I felt that I was doing a particularly dodgy turn, hurriedly managing to shove my legs back under me before I fell over. A observed this and I waited to be told how to avoid it ever happening again. “Yessssss,” she crowed. “That turn, that turn parallel.” I had been wondering how on earth skis turned parallel, it seemed like it would involve impossible stresses on my knees and ankles to pull two skis around together while both bore my weight. But no. The mechanism is, essentially, to have so much weight on the downhill-side ski (or when turning, the ski that is about to be downhill-side) that the uphill ski can just be yanked around smoothly; thus, the exercise later in the week of stomping my uphill ski in the snow to check how little weight it was bearing. So that was pleasing, considering that A described it as something that was very hard to predict, taking some skiers a few days and some years.

Thursday was another fine day of skiing and gradual improvements as I linked parallel turns on the flatter part of Friday Flat (which is, in its entirety, very flat by the standards of skiing) and another day of Andrew ceding all his snow time to me. Perhaps, I said on Wednesday, this fever just needs a day to blow itself out, but it wasn’t true. On Thursday morning I was planning that I would try Merritts on Friday. By Thursday evening, Andrew was on a continuous loop of paracetamol and ibuprofen to manage the fever and pain, and we were very worried about packing and getting everything down the mountain. I said, very sadly, that probably on the Friday I should just do my lesson, have a celebratory run down the slope to acknowledge how far I’d come, and call it a week, rather than leave him alone for the day to handle packing and look after A while barely able to walk.

Thursday I also had the frustrating experience of my rental skis disappearing during my after-lesson meal, so I trudged sadly around the rental places sorting it out and believing I’d be out a few hundred dollars in loss fees. I ran into my first day instructor, B, during this, and she enquired how I was doing and we had a nice chat in the midst of my frustration, and in the end the rental place told me that they usually recover the skis and, honestly, probably wouldn’t bill me if they didn’t. But it was annoying all the same, not least for costing me an hour of skiing while I sorted out replacements.

assortment

Sep. 13th, 2014 08:25 am
brainwane: A silhouette of a woman in a billowing trenchcoat, leaning against a pole (shadow)
[personal profile] brainwane
I'm leaving the Wikimedia Foundation. I announced this yesterday and got a bunch of praise from the developer community and Twitter, and OVERWHELMING praise from my colleagues. People I barely got to talk with will miss me. My last day will be 30 September.


Signs of progress: we've fixed this bug: "Vector: Default icon for "profile" in personal tools should be gender neutral and fit with other site icons look & feel". And someone I know helped add a code of conduct to a "Foo Cafe" meetup.

Mindy Preston & Lita Cho both attended Hacker School and then did Outreach Program for Women internships, and wrote up interesting wrapup posts. I'm noodling around thinking about the confluence of Hacker School and OPW. I think it's clear that women who do both are much more likely to get programming jobs than are women who just do one. Together they constitute a 6-month apprenticeship, half face-to-face and pretty unstructured (often working on lots of small projects), half remote and preplanned (usually working on one 3-month project). I think this is complementary in the end, but people going from one to the other get disoriented I think.

I have been getting stellar performance reviews at work and they're really sad to see me go. I'm genuinely choosing to leave. But of course some people will squint at my statement, practice their Kremlinology, and wrongly presume that I'm being pushed out. I think I'm sending pretty strong "this is my choice" signals but I have to be ready for people to doubt that.

Leonard and I have now watched the first half of "British Transport Films Volume Ten: London on the Move". I love old industrial films. And I'm maybe 20% of the way through this His Dark Materials fanfic and a third of the way through "Perfecting Sound Forever".

Several important fundraisers happening right now. TransTech, Growstuff, Ada Initiative, probably more but those are the ones that come to mind.

Time for tea.

10 books meme

Sep. 11th, 2014 04:48 pm
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
[personal profile] damerell
Idea is, ten books that affected you somehow, don't overanalyse.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is _not a book_ )

Wednesday reading

Sep. 11th, 2014 08:44 am
rmc28: (books2010)
[personal profile] rmc28
I have not read any books, electronic or otherwise, in the last week.

Instead have two recs for fanfics for Captain America / Avengers / Winter Soldier, both of them doing what I think of as 21st century epistolary form:


User Since (3848 words) by rageprufrock
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: Major Character Death
Summary:

To: PC (loyaltothedream@hushmail.com)
From: Buck (bucky1956@yahoo.com)
Subject: Report!
Date: May 10, 2012

Phil — where the hell are you, man? Let us know if you're all right, or if there's anything we can do to help. HQ's freaking the fuck out.


tin soldiers (19743 words) by idrilka
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Summary:


In his 2009 book on Captain America comic books, war photography, and American propaganda, Everett claims: “There is nothing to suggest that either the graphic novels issued during the war or the photographs taken during Rogers’ stay with the Howling Commandos can serve as a basis for a queer reading of Rogers and Barnes’ relationship. But even more importantly, there is nothing to suggest that such a relationship ever existed in the first place, and as such, those queer readings are not only misguided, but also libelous” (197).


[from: Lynn E. Anderson, Captain America: Behind the Mask. Steve Rogers and the Contemporary Hero Narrative (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), p. 242.]

In the aftermath of Steve's return to the world of the living and the battle of New York, the academia and the Internet react.

Skiing, August 2014: Day 1

Sep. 11th, 2014 04:57 pm
puzzlement: (jelly)
[personal profile] puzzlement
Originally posted at http://puzzling.org.

When I left you last, we’d just stumbled off a bus and onto a minibus overloaded with children and luggage and ski gear and hauled it all up a steep driveway and two flights of stairs on an icy day and fallen into bed in bad moods.

One useful thing I did before falling into bed was watching through some of the earlier ski school lessons on Youtube. Video cheat sheets; new since I was last skiing. So after the second slighter hell which was helping V get down the stairs and the driveway in the morning, while carrying his and my gear, with neither of us very steady in ski boots and both of us tired and grumpy, I dropped him off at his all day ski lesson and then worked through the very first steps of the ski lesson from the videos on my own, namely putting my skis on and off, pushing myself along on the flat, and doing the teeniest of snow plow stops, all in the area which is notionally a milling around stop for people who’ve just shown up.

As with snowboarding, I’d decided to go all-in with skiing and have a private lesson every day, beginning with two hours on the first day. I duly met my first instructor, B, at 9:30 and explained my skiing background. She didn’t seem completely convinced by my attitude of being uniquely cursed to never be upright on the snow and looked at me critically while I stood in skis. “We’ll see how much you remember, I guess,” she said. “You seem to have reasonable balance!”

So we walked (ski-walked? ski-trudged?) over to the beginnerest of beginner slopes, and I got on the magic carpet up the slope while B skated up it at about twice the carpet’s exceptionally slow speed. (Skiers can move on the flat with a skating motion, and instructors get bored easily and do it up beginners slopes too.) Magic carpets, also new since I was skiing last, although I’ve been on one as a snowboarder. Like every method of getting snow sports people around bar maybe gondolas, they are somewhat easier to use as a skier. So far so good, and B had me snowplow gently down the slope once and then work on turning down it. Other than needing to repeatedly use my poles to get started again since it was a very gentle slope, I did fine, much to my surprise and probably not to hers. The second time up the magic carpet I smiled into the snowy trees, smiling being new to me and snow sports.

After that, B said that I was ready for the chair lift and the real beginners slopes (as in, things that actually sloped). I thus fell for the first time getting off the chair lift, got up, and headed for a second magic carpet called “The Burrow”, which goes through a perspex tunnel over a creek. It was fairly magical in a more direct sense of the metaphor and I enjoyed it a lot over the next few days before I got kicked up to Friday Flat proper.

The easiest beginners run is called “Giddy Up” and begins with its steepest part (steep being relative of course), so for the first day my goal was mostly to get down that bit and into the wider, shallower bit to actually work on skills. B had a whole patter for this about not being scared because if I gained speed, I knew how to control it. This didn’t stop me leaning back a few times and promptly flying over backwards for my trouble. Because I was slamming the back of my helmet hard into the snow every time I fell like this, I gave myself a firm mental talking to, including invoking the name of Natasha Richardson, about leaning forward. B meanwhile decided that because of my height, leaning forward at the right angle was actually fairly scary for me (an equivalent angle means my head and torso come way further forward in horizontal distance) and decided to focus on having me shove my shins against the front of my boots instead.

And so we proceeded down the slope three or four times. I even got off the chairlift without falling one sole precious time. But the whole thing was exhilarating and deeply satisfying because I had stayed upright! On snow! And moved down it at a slow speed! B advised me that I could do a sort of circuit, up to Giddy Up, down, up the magic carpet at its base that the children use (leading to a slope somewhere between the first slope and Giddy Up) to work on turns and around.

At the end of the lesson I was happy but extremely tired and hungry (and extremely glad I hadn’t signed up for a 3 hour lesson as I’d considered), so I staggered slowly into the cafeteria and had one of my chocolatey meals for the week and surfed on my phone and felt happy and rang Andrew to bubble at him. I then steeled myself to leave the nest and do Giddy Up by myself, other than falling off the bloody chairlift it went well.

Andrew came down to swap the baby over and get his snowboarding feet under him. He walked a little way up the hill, came down, and then went down Giddy Up. He seemed happy and the plan was for him to do a group lesson after that, so I headed up to the apartment with A to chill out for the afternoon. Andrew’s week then, unfortunately, started in the direction it was to continue as well, with him not being able to find the group class meeting point. Instead he texted that he’d gone up the Gunbarrel chairlift and had gone down High Noon and found it a bit challenging. No wonder, I replied, when it’s one of the hardest intermediate runs at Thredbo (and isn’t short either). I felt proud of him in his ambitious innocence and imagined us doing a run together at the end of the week, although my ambitions didn’t rise to High Noon.

I headed down again to get V from his lesson, and we all came back via a hot chocolate, and for Andrew and me, to the early onset of sore muscles and stiffness that made us dread the morning. But not, happily, nearly as much as I’d dread a snowboarding morning, although I still felt like perhaps some bad experiences were coming.

Emergency holographic phone

Sep. 10th, 2014 11:34 am
rmc28: Rachel with manic grin holding up wrist with new watch on (watch)
[personal profile] rmc28
My smartphone (a Fairphone 1) abruptly started taking an age to charge, and then stopped charging altogether. It is under warranty but needs to be sent off for repair which with their advertised turnarounds means nearly a month by the time I get myself in the vicinity of a post office.

A month without the ability to read one-handed while wrangling children to bed, or my running app: the blood ran cold.

I am grateful to [personal profile] andrewducker who linked to a review of cheap Android smartphones, which meant I was at least aware the possibility of a cheap backup existed. I spent some time Monday morning browsing phone seller websites, then got offered a "live chat" by Phones4U and said "ok, tell me the cheapest SIM-free Android phones you offer, that have at least 4GB of built-in memory and take a standard SIM. MicroSD expansion slot is a would-be-nice." Within a few minutes I had a choice of two, rang up the nearest shop, and by lunchtime I had an Alcatel OneTouch Pop C1 for £50.

It's smaller and feels a lot more cheap-and-plastic than my Fairphone, but it a) works b) has been really easy to set up with email, web, ebooks, Zombies Run, enough of my music to make me happy, and a bunch of other apps that make my life easier.  I'm deliberately only installing things as I want to use them, and I expect once I have my lovely big phone back I'll go back to it.  But this is better than I expected as a backup.

Meanwhile I came home yesterday to find Tony watching some Apple event and contemplating a phone ten times the price of my little ETH.

Portal power

Sep. 9th, 2014 05:52 pm
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
[personal profile] damerell
(For those not familiar with the question, it is; given one pair of _Portal_ portals, that transmit matter between them instantaneously preserving velocity relative to the portal surface, what's the most useful thing we can do?)

My answer to the question is energy generation: drop a solid steel bar through the portals. If the portals are 2m^2 and we drop the bar at a very modest 10 m/s we get out 160MW.

It's trivial to extract this energy; electric railway locomotives have all the engineering we need. The Class 91 is an obsolete design now, but each bogie's 4 driving wheels can move nearly 250kW from one steel surface to another (an electric motor pretty well runs in reverse as a generator, the frictional considerations are the same, etc). We can also obviously drop the bar at the Class 91's c. 60 m/s top speed, generating just under a gigawatt from 16,000 steel wheels pressed against the bar. (Sanity check; each wheel then has just over 300 cm^2 of bar surface to itself). The bar is safely held by the infrastructure of wheels, electric generators, and the supporting framework for same; it can be sped up or slowed down by adjusting the load.

Obviously one could do much better with custom designed equipment, but this is clearly possible because it uses existing - 1980s - technology.

It's counterintuitive that the speed of the bar makes one get more free energy out, but it does make sense. Cyclists (who are also nerds) are familiar with this effect because, although power to overcome air resistance varies with the cube of speed, power input from gravity varies with speed. Another way of looking at it is that our figure for work done by gravity on the bar (which is where that 160MW comes from) should match our figure for potential energy created by teleporting stuff. 2m^2 (cross-section) * 10 m/s (speed of bar) * 8000 kg/m^3 (density of steel) * 100m (height teleported) * 10 J/kg/m (energy imparted to mass by being teleported up against gravity) is indeed 160MW. Now it's clear why a faster moving bar works better; more mass is being teleported every second.

I don't know what the air resistance losses are - although I hope they're low for a polished steel cylinder - but in principle we could run the mechanism in a low-pressure environment.