Month: July 2015

Summer Holiday

I’ve been struggling to keep up with the blog here for a couple of weeks, and I think it’s time to just take a break for a little bit.

The reasons are both positive and negative: on the negative side, I don’t feel like I’ve slept properly since I hurt my wrist the other week (although that could also be the heat), while on the positive side I am making continued progress on the book – it’s not as if I have not been writing, I just haven’t been writing blog posts.

Back at the beginning of August.

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Still Tired

I missed the regular post on Wednesday, partly because I was writing and partly because I am still worn out.

This has been a weird week, overall. My sleep has been affected by my injuries last week but because I haven’t been riding to the day job I have at least been able to get some writing done on the bus. So, the book has been moving along: covered 65% of the outline.

I’ve also been running, which is good given that Hood To Coast is only six or seven weeks away. The higher temperatures have given me lots of opportunities for heat training, which I sorely need to deal with the event, and I’ve been pleased that my legs have been coping pretty well with the runs without hurting too much. More training needed, including running to and from the day job, but I’m quite optimistic that the event will go fine.

But my main preoccupation is how tired I have been, and trying to figure out which of the many potential factors I can change so I can get more rest. It’s not a healthy thing to think about, really.

I should make more words.

Back to more like normal on Monday, I hope.

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Dream State

I wrote this yesterday, but never quite got to posting it here.


Tiredness sometimes feels like a physical thing to me, a weight I’m pulling behind me, slowing me down – a problem, but a tractable problem as long as I don’t weaken (which is its own problem since willpower is reduced when tired).

Other times, like now, tiredness is more like a monster lurking in the corners, waiting to leap out and waylay me with distractions.

Actually, “distractions” is too benign a term. They are dreams, recurring dreams that I… do not look forward to. They are dreams of games and bland office situations and colony ship scensrios which take a turn to the unwinnable and the bizarre; dreams of unwelcome surprises which were surprises the first time but are just grinding misery when I encounter them for the fourth or fiftieth time. They are not true nightmares because I do not fear them, but they instil deeply unpleasant emotions in me, principally those of feeling trapped or lost.

These dreams are unpleasant enough in the night, but when I am tired they will sometimes come in the day, infiltrating their emotions into my brain, making me see the dreams by reminding me of how they make me feel.

So the dreams do not scare me, but sometimes the feeling that the dreams are stalking me during the day will.

I hope I sleep better tonight.


Fortunately, I did sleep better – things feel much more functional in my head today, and so I thought I should probably post something after all.

… and this persistent recurring dream state feels like the launch point for at least a couple of different stories to me – as long as I can figure out a way to examine it critically without it freaking me out.

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Raising Steam

Terry Pratchett died earlier this year.

It was therefore with mixed feelings that I picked up Raising Steam, the last main sequence Discworld novel*.

SPOILER WARNING: this post discusses overarching narrative direction for this book. There’s not much in the way of specific plot detail, but your read might be spoiled if you’re not familiar with the book already.

The truth is that every book since Unseen Academicals has felt like the last Discworld novel to me, with a very strong sense of touching as many characters as possible to give them closure. They’ve been much smoother, much less risky for the characters and the world – still worthwhile stories to read, but less exciting**.

Was Raising Steam a return to earlier form?

Terry Pratchett wrote many wonderful books and some of them are among my favourites by any writer. Raising Steam is another high quality book, but it suffers from the same omnibus feeling as the other final novels. There is also an inevitability to the story – the characters are exposed to risk but seem to triumph without danger or loss, or indeed change.

The ending is satisfying, but it doesn’t feel earned: the trajectory of the story is set from the outset and never seems in doubt. Truly can it be said that this book is on rails.

Overall, it’s an entertaining book and fans of the Discworld series will surely enjoy this penultimate chance to spend time with the excellent characters that Sir Terry developed over the decades of his writing, but it’s not as good as his earlier books and I would not recommend it to new readers.

[*] there is one more Discworld novel still to be published, The Shepherd’s Crown, a final volume in the Tiffany Aching series.

[**] and in checking the bibliography I find that the fourth Tiffany Aching book, I Shall Wear Midnight, is the exception to this.

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Injurious Thoughts

One of my goals this year is to run the Hood to Coast, and part of that goal is to remain uninjured. Whenever I think about injury, I am always most worried about my ankles and my back.

Whenever I think about injury… that was the problem right there.

Yesterday I was riding home from the day job, reaching the top of the first big hill on my route. Terwilliger Boulevard is a magnificent route for running and cycling, and it’s much easier to deal with the traffic on that road than the other options I have for getting home (which, it has to be said, are not numerous).

I was thinking idly about how I had managed to avoid being injured this year, when I lost focus for a moment and rode into the kerb.

This was a really good example of object fixation: that phenomenon where you go where you are looking but what you are looking at is something you are not really supposed to be going towards. Hence in my top-of-hill slowness I scuffed the kerb and fell over, landing pretty heavily on the grass with the bike on top of me.

Well, I leapt back to my feet immediately, and started to do the necessary inventory: no blood, no apparently broken bones, bike still in one piece. I had to straighten up the lock mount and put the chain back onto its sprockets, but there was no apparent damage. My right hand felt a bit weak, though, which was not encouraging.

I was very pleased to find that several people stopped to check on me, drivers and cyclists alike. Portland is a friendly town and I’m glad to be riding here.

Setting off again I found that my right hand was indeed protesting if I pulled on it: standing on the pedals going up the next hill was uncomfortable because of the stress on my hand, but braking was normal thank goodness. By the time I got home the adrenaline had worn off and my hand was definitely hurting.

The good news is that ice and ibuprofen have helped a lot. The bad news is that I seem to have bumped a rib as well as my wrist. I’m glad I fell so that I landed on my elbow and hip rather than putting my hand out, but still: things are a bit tender.

Today is a non-cycling day for other reasons, but I probably would have taken a day away from the bike just to give my body time to stabilise. I will try running on Thursday, most likely.

So, that portion of my goals has been blown, but hopefully I will still be able to get the running going. It’s really time to be working on that.

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Welcome, glaaki!

A couple of weeks ago I picked up my new laptop from the Apple store.

My previous machine, yig, was a bit long in the tooth: its RAM wasn’t big enough to run all the applications I want at the same time* and the hardware is starting to fail in interesting ways (audio connectors, especially). The machine is more than six years old though, so I feel like it’s had a pretty good run.

This new laptop is the lowest end of the MacBook Pro line – the one without the Retina screen but with an optical drive – and I am optimistic that it will last a while, probably past the point where Apple still sells machines I want to use (although that topic is a separate post for another time)**.

Thanks to a hardware failure on the day job laptop, I have recent experience of using Time Machine to recover a machine state so I did the same thing with the yig brain transplant: plug a USB drive into yig for a current Time Machine backup, then run Migration Assistant to suck the contents of the brain into glaaki***. It went just as smoothly this time.

… which is to say that it worked well for the GUI applications, but all the command line stuff was hosed.

Other things I’ve found difficult:

  • Google Drive kind of sucks if you’re doing a brain transplant. Even having copied the Google Drive across to glaaki, I had to abandon the copy and download everything from the network. I only have a bit of data in the Google cloud, but this discourages me from putting any more up there.

    Dropbox, it should be noted, transferred its state through the brain transplant without a hitch.

  • all the command line tools had to be reinstalled: new Homebrew install, new Perl library installs, and so on. Probably not a bad thing since the versions I had were stale, but tiresome.
  • as a precursor to the Homebrew install, all the XCode tools had to be reinstalled. In the Long Before, these were on an installation disc but there’s no installation disc now so it all has to come off the network. Which is great for being up to date, but bad for tripping any bandwidth limits.
  • MacVim isn’t available as a binary image any more that I could find. Pulling the git repo and building it was not hard, but would be a barrier to use for a less technically inclined user. Mind you, MacVim is probably not the editor for that user.

Despite those few problems, glaaki is a fine machine and I am glad to have its services for the foreseeable future.

Now to glass yig so I can bump the OS and see if it would still be be usable for my kids.

[*] or, more precisely, I still run the same applications, but their RAM requirements have grown.

[**] I hope it’s clear from that remark that I’m not an uncritical Apple fanboi. I like their computers because it’s a Unix system which works without endless tweaking, but I do not really care for their iOS devices. Assuming that this is my last Mac, which seems quite plausible, I will most likely be looking for a Linux laptop in five years.

[***] I do this rather than a machine-to-machine connection for two reasons: firstly, the bandwidth of a USB disc is higher than a network connection, even a wire; and secondly I can use the machine being backed up while its brain is being copied.

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I Show My Arse

I try to be an accepting person – not necessarily accepting of others’ sins, but accepting of their selves. I endeavour to not offend or assume, but I don’t always succeed.

The thing is that we all have unconscious biases: reactions and responses to people and circumstances that we don’t think about. These biases are cultural and they are learned – there’s nothing innate to these reactions, as evidenced by the fact that different people have different sets of unconscious biases.

Unlearning the biases is very hard. The best that can usually be done in the first instance is to recognise them and to not make our first thought the only thought. If you are surprised by a black biker or a female lumberjack, examine your surprise for its origin and remind yourself that it’s unjustified.

But sometimes you say something which is triggered by an unconscious bias, something which is embarrassing and potentially offensive – if you had been thinking clearly about what you were saying you would not have been uttered those words. Scalzi calls this “showing your ass”, although since I am British I do not own a donkey. I do have an arse, though, which is occasionally on display.

This week it was pointed out to me that I was guilty of just such an unthinking utterance when I said something rude about the French.

The French and British have had an antagonistic relationship for a very long time. Wars have been fought, lands invaded, insults traded, and competing empires built. These days it’s basically two ex-imperial powers glaring at each other across a narrow strip of water. In that light, the fact that I’ve picked up some unconscious biases against the French is hardly surprising.

When the witlessness of my remark was pointed out to me, I of course apologised and began to to think about where that bias was rooted. I concluded that it was the imagery and confrontational language of the right wing press in Britain. I’m not now nor have I ever been a regular consumer of right wing news, but the current of xenophobia is strong all the same. So, I thought, it’s a good job I’m not regularly exposed to that stuff any more.

Then I listened to a Radio 4 show, The News Quiz, which often plays host to left-leaning comedians and I heard exactly the same anti-French sentiment. I realised that this unconscious bias had deeper roots than I thought, and indeed that I had an unconscious bias around my acceptance of the words of like-minded entertainers.

Anyway, it’s been a good learning experience, and if you notice me saying anything mindlessly offensive about a particular group* I’d be glad of the information that I’m stepping out of bounds.

Except if it’s about the Welsh. No apologies there**.

[*] except possibly Oregonians, Portlanders, Yorkshiremen, or Scots.

[**] which is of course a rather tasteless joke.

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