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Monthly Spotlight: Sir Terry Pratchett

Once a month, I pick something from my bookshelves and talk about it. There’s no better choice to kick off this series than the work of my favourite author of all time, Sir Terry Pratchett. This post is going to be insanely long because there’s just so much to talk about – no future spotlight is even going to get close.

Mostly I’ll be focusing on the Discworld series, easily his best-known books – 36 adult novels and 5 young-adult novels (broken down into character arcs), plus 4 science-based novellas, TV adaptations, animated adaptations, plays, music, computer games, diaries… you can see why this is going to be a long post. Before jumping into that, I’m going to talk briefly about his non-Discworld books, under the cut.

[Mitchell here. I don’t have a lot to add, as I unfortunately haven’t read a lot of Pratchett’s work. He was a thoroughly admirable human being and brilliant writer, and I’ve appreciated what I did read of his. I have issues with depression and I’ve found that interferes with my enjoyment of the humour: I tended to notice in the abstract that it was clever and I should be laughing without actually reacting, so I’ve been putting them off until I’m in a better mental place to experience them. That’s not going to stop me from seconding the recommendation, though, his books are great.]

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Posted by on January 25, 2018 in loten

 

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New Feature: Monthly Spotlight

Hey folks, time for something new now that the Strike nonsense is a thing of the past.

In addition to the ongoing Harry Potter coverage, I’m going to start doing one post a month showcasing something from my bookshelves, be it an author, a series, or (rarely) a single book. I can’t decide which of them, if any, should replace the aforementioned Strike nonsense as my side series here, but doing this should help me pick, as well as showing me which of my books you’re all familiar with and/or want to know more about.

(No, it’s not a cheap way of giving myself potentially years of blog content! Well… not just that, anyway.)

I’m thinking at the moment they’ll mostly be spoiler-free, for the benefit of people who want to discover them on their own, but for some of them it might not be possible to do it that way. We’ll see when we get there.

Mitchell is allowed to comment on posts about things he’s familiar with, IF he behaves himself! Because I know before I start that he has quite strongly negative opinions about at least some of the things I’m planning to write about. Certainly generally valid opinions, but we already have enough posts ripping things to shreds here, and there will be plenty of time for that if and when I take any of them on as full deconstructions.

I think that most if not all of these will be mainly positive (while still acknowledging that there are problems, because I have yet to find an actually perfect book/series/author and I really don’t think it exists). Most of the things I’m planning to cover are long-established favourites, while some are things I used to like a lot more than I do now, and I’m sure along the way I’ll find new things to feature too. Anything I feel mostly negative about doesn’t deserve a spotlight, after all. I expect the vast majority of features will be at least passingly familiar to most of you, but hopefully I can recommend some new things as well.

So, starting at some point in January, that’s hopefully what I’ll be doing. I think it’ll be fun and a nice change of pace.

As for Harry Potter, I was hoping we’d have the next chapter ready by now… but it’s December and I work in retail, so my time and energy levels are about what you’d expect and falling every day. Mea culpa. Keep commenting on the arbitrary death count so far if you like, and what passes for normal service will hopefully resume soon. Happy end-of-year festival of your choice in the sadly possible event that we don’t update again until after Christmas, and let’s hope that next year is better.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2017 in loten

 

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Happy New Year

I’ve been saving this.

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Thank you, John Oliver.

Let’s hope the new year doesn’t suck as overwhelmingly as the last one, eh?

See you soon for Chamber of Secrets and whatever else we decide to babble about. Happy new year from both of us.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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The view from the brink (or: on the Electoral College)

I have been struggling with writer’s block for quite some time, so it may not be surprising I’ve not had much to say recently. That said, I think the recent version is something a bit different: I keep feeling like I need to say something about politics (what I have called and will continue to call the US national disaster) but can’t get through the shock and horror and disbelief well enough to actually say something coherent. Lots of people have already been saying the things I want to say better than I could say them, which doesn’t help either (I’m not sure if anyone has noticed my continued linkspam in the comments over here but that’s the best I’ve been able to manage thus far).

At the same time, I haven’t been able to look away. I keep reading news stories in horror as they come out. It certainly isn’t good for my mental health, but I can’t stop doing it, and at the same time I can’t imagine it would be better to stop paying attention and bury my head in the sand. I’ve been wrestling with that since 11/9, as I’d been fully expecting the horrorshow to be over (or at least to change forms; I’ve said before that prior to the election I’d naively thought the worst case scenarios involved disappointed deplorables lashing out). (As an aside, I do love that people are referring to this as 11/9; while slower acting, I really do think this is a catastrophe of similar scale to 9/11.)

I can pretty safely say that I do not think I have ever felt such hatred and contempt for anyone as I do now for Donald Trump, his stooges, and the Republican party for abetting them. These people are fucking terrifying. These feelings make me very uncomfortable, but I think in the end they are rational feelings to have, and they’ve more than earned it by this point.

I should say again that while I currently exist in a constant state of anxiety and terror, it’s not really for myself; it may be my depression talking, but I honestly don’t particularly care what happens to me (and at the same time, I belong to enough privileged demographics that the worst consequences aren’t going to fall on me; a lot of my fear is fear for what is going to happen to other people and groups of people). This is bigger than any one person. Rather, I’m concerned about the drastic consequences that will inevitably ensue from having such an incompetent, foolish, narcissistic arsehole in power and from the destructive cabinet appointments he is making. And that’s even disregarding the Russian interference, and the Trump campaign’s possibly-treasonous collusion with it; between this emboldening of Russia and what is looking something like a resumption of the Cold War, and Trump’s irresponsible actions with respect to China and the Middle East, I am beginning to seriously think this might be leading up to a World War Three. The odds of humanity surviving such an event do not seem favourable.

In a time where everyone should be seriously concerned with trying to curtail climate change in any way possible (if it is not already too late) instead Trump and stooges seem to be threatening to remove anyone who agrees with the scientific consensus from their positions in the EPA, promoting climate-change deniers and oil executives to high positions and encouraging more environmentally destructive drilling and reliance on fossil fuels. There are multiple ways in which the worldwide consequences of a Trump presidency might be irrecoverable. This is not histrionics; it is brute fact. We cannot afford to play games.

And that is disregarding the smaller effects that a Trump (and Pence) administration will have on the everyday lives of people, especially people with marginalised identities. I am not the biggest fan of ‘Obamacare’, but it is undeniable that many people will suffer and die if it is repealed.

To frame things a bit flippantly: I do not ever want to see another fiction story about time-travellers trying to prevent the rise of Hitler, when people in our time couldn’t even do anything to prevent Trump and at best looked the other way while it happened. Let’s note the parallels in how journalists downplayed that threat too. While I don’t want to make excuses for ignorance, in the case of Hitler it could at least be argued that such a thing had not happened before; today we have the benefit of history, the benefit of hindsight, and the parallels are all too obvious. Americans like to think that our national ideals and supposed values make us immune to facism, but it has become all too clear over the past two years that if anything it makes us more vulnerable, because that very tendency to think ourselves immune caused us to stop looking for the warning signs. We elected (for some definition of that word at least) a candidate whose only noteworthy newspaper endorsement came from the Ku Klux Klan. We cannot afford to minimise that either.

I could go on. I could try to list off every single thing Trump, his children (who thanks to nepotism and corruption will have outsized influence in his administration), and his cabinet appointees have said which makes it utterly obvious what a disaster they will be for America and the world, but if you are reading this post you probably already know.

The Electoral College meet tomorrow to cast their votes. This may well be the last opportunity we have as a nation to legally put the brakes on this tragedy, though I’m afraid I don’t think the odds of the electors miraculously opting to spare us are very high. Nevertheless, I can’t help hoping they will do something (even without the intelligence briefing they’ve requested and been denied). It’s unfortunate that many of them have received harassment and threats (and from both sides of the issue; so much for the moral high ground. I really do not envy the electors their position, as they may well feel unsafe no matter what they do), but I hope some of them will find their consciences in spite of that. It may sound melodramatic, but our future really is in their hands right now. If I were a praying person (or even thought there were the slightest possibility of benevolent supernatural entities), I would fucking pray. But that won’t help us, so instead let us pray to the potential better nature of the electors.

I should add, because I’ve just been reminded: this is not about “poor sportsmanship” and Democrats being “sore losers”. This is not about “sour grapes”. Donald Trump is the single most unqualified person ever “elected” to the presidency (in point of fact negatively qualified, nearly everything about him should have been disqualifying), and beyond that the election was “won” by suspiciously slim margins in a few “swing states” while having the largest gap between popular and (projected) electoral vote we have ever had. When we consider this is also in the context of interference by a hostile foreign power (via propaganda there is no doubt; whether voting machines and vote counts were actually meddled with seems an open question but is unproven at best), it becomes even more troubling (and I find it troubling even to discuss), because so much of this sounds like conspiracist nonsense. I should like to think that Democrats would be equally troubled if it was our own favoured candidate who “won” an election under such circumstances (I am not sure this is true, sadly, but at the very least I think they/we would be more troubled than the gloating deplorable Republican “sore winners”). This is about an international crisis and preventing catastrophe. Don’t be blindsided by accusations of partisanship. This is a crisis that should transcend party affiliation.

Honestly, we don’t even know how long it will take us to find out if they’ve done anything, and I suspect that will cause a great deal of anxiety for quite some time.

I don’t expect it to accomplish much, but there will be protests outside every state capitol tomorrow and I will be participating. It took me a long time to make up my mind, but I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t go; I’m not at all optimistic that it will make a difference (especially in Pennsylvania) but I feel like I have to do something more than just signing petitions…

I don’t know that I’ve made any coherent point here, but I’ve been quiet for too long and I needed to say something.

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2016 in mitchell

 

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Well, we’re doomed.

Goodbye world, it was nice knowing you.

 

Okay but for real, actual post coming in a few hours when we’re both less shell-shocked.

 

…fuck.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2016 in loten, mitchell

 

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Musings on tech culture and employment

How realistic an expectation is it not to be miserable one’s entire life?

It sounds pretentious to put it that way, perhaps. Or perhaps entitled; I do find myself wondering whether the main problem I suffer from is unrealistic and/or greedy expectations.

This all sounds rather vague, I’m sure; context will follow.

There is a response I often get, especially from my parents, when I complain about anything job-related or job-search-related, which essentially boils down to “everybody hates their jobs, so suck it up and deal with it”. Or to put it slightly more charitably, “nobody enjoys their job all of the time, and most people don’t enjoy their jobs most of the time, so suck it up and deal with it”. And while I am certain there is some truth to this, I still find myself unwilling to accept the consequences (and I do suspect there’s a level of “misery loves company” to my parents’ promotion of this view, because neither of them are particularly happy in their situations). And there are also practical considerations, in that the longer I languish unemployed the more inescapable that position becomes.

Nevertheless, I find myself pretty thoroughly miserable in the current job (and this is before being paid much of anything and/or getting an actual job placement out of it), watching my depressive symptoms intensify and despairing for the future. So you get to have an angsty rant from me! Aren’t you lucky? (I suppose I could only be more of a cliche if I were publishing this on LiveJournal, but I haven’t got an account there and have no intention of making one.)

Firstly, I’m being reminded all over again of how little I like programming and working with code in general (one of many reasons I didn’t pursue a CS degree: I’ve found recently that to get myself to work on code I often have to take anti-anxiety pills first), and how little I like programmer/tech culture. And while there may be something to be said for trying to do activism from within to change that culture, I doubt I have the emotional fortitude for it. (I keep thinking back to the Adria Richards incident, for example; I’ve been witness to quite a lot of similarly inappropriate ‘humour’ in the past few days. Lots of juvenile ‘humour’, lots of sexist/misogynist ‘humour’, etc, from the instructors as well as the students. I’m never sure whether it’s worth my while to speak out against this sort of thing – especially when it’s in a classroom environment and would be disruptive – but not doing so often reads as condonation and probably contributes to the problem in the long run. I do sometimes wonder whether I should consider myself to have a moral obligation to stay and try to effect change from within, much as I’d hate to actually have to do that.) And the endgame of this program is something like earning the privilege to be immersed in this environment for an extended period of time; just what I wanted, clearly. And furthermore I suspect I’ll find myself further entrenched in the tech world after that period has ended, with even less hope of escape than I have now.

But what right do I have, really, to a career I won’t hate? Maybe it’s my fault for being too picky or too depressive; I genuinely don’t know whether such a thing is even possible (and also there have been studies in psychology which suggest that paying people for doing a thing decreases their enjoyment thereof, which has further unpleasant implications: it may well mean that finding a career doing something I love, if there is such a thing, would just suck all the joy out of it and render me equally if not more miserable in the long term).

I almost want to make a slightly goofy analogy here and compare job-hunting to looking for a marriage as a woman in a Regency romance or the like: if it weren’t necessary for survival/livelihood a lot fewer people would be doing it, the odds of ending up in a satisfactory situation are rather low and there are far more people vying for the good opportunities than can realistically attain them, and, of course, one just has to hope against all odds to end up with someone who isn’t going to be abusive and exploitative, let alone merely not insufferably dull. The vast majority of job prospects are not going to be Fitzwilliam Darcy. But, merely to remain with Pride and Prejudice here, does that necessarily mean that one should resign oneself to the likelihood of having no better than a Collins? (Hmm, what would a Wickham be in this context? Something like my current situation, perhaps? – mandatory relocation, tempting offers of money and opportunity that mysteriously fail to appear in the promised quantities? God, that’s depressing.)

When I think about it rationally I think the best I can realistically hope for is to find some kind of 9-to-5, 40 hour per week job that I don’t absolutely hate, and then try to build the life I actually want in the fragments of time that that leaves me. But there’s another part of me that rebels against this, arguing that that’s actually quite a big time commitment as it is, and that if the work is even moderately taxing it will likely leave me unable to accomplish much of anything in mornings or evenings during the week, and essentially giving me at most two days out of the week to actually live. I know a lot of people are capable of living that way, but I have a hard time convincing myself it’s a pleasant lifestyle unless the job itself is better than tolerable. Plus there’s the annoying fact that – especially in technology-related fields, where I’ve mostly been pigeonholed whether I like it or not – many if not most companies have an expectation of being the worker’s number one priority and that a certain amount of work is going to be taken home with them (to the point where I almost find it refreshing when one is honest enough to just demand people work overtime). Shouldn’t the bloody 40 hours of servitude be enough? (No, of course not; THIS. IS. CAPITALISM!)

And then I’m reminded that it’s not even as simple as that, because people who enjoy their jobs also do better work and are therefore more likely to get the bloody jobs in the first place. I’ve been observing this recently as well – most of the others in this training programme actually seem to enjoy programming and working with code, don’t (much) resent being expected to do so at all hours of the day without regard for spare time, and are excited about continuing to do so at actual work placements. Whereas I, obviously, do not. As such, while passing no judgment on the relative intelligence levels of persons involved, I can safely say these people end up being better (and vastly more employable) programmers than me by virtue of enthusiasm alone even disregarding any other factors.

And then on occasion I listen to something like, for example, Mark Rosewater’s podcast, and am reminded that there do actually exist people who find careers they love and seem to have a marvellous time at it. Dare I actually hope for such a thing? (This comes full circle to the question I asked at the beginning of this piece – statistically, what are the odds, and is it greedy and unrealistic to use that as a standard?)

Sometimes I think I should just change my name to Marvin and give up on any hope of enjoying life.

This has been a rather amorphous rant and I’m honestly not sure how much sense it even makes, so I’m not sure whether publishing it was the best idea… oh well, it’s too late now.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2015 in mitchell

 

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Congratulations on your nuptials!

Congratulations, Steven and Emma!

From what I’ve been given to understand, you’ve survived an awful lot of planning-related bullshit from the wedding-industrial complex, and have now joined the ranks of those who’ve rendered their romantic relationships legally binding and more difficult to escape from should things go badly! Here’s hoping that never ends up mattering to you; I wish you all the best.

(I’m trying my hardest to be positive without sarcasm, but that’s always been difficult for me.)

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2015 in mitchell

 

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