hell's coders

Small dishonesty

This morning I found myself waiting for the kettle to boil in company with Kat, who works on reception. She's nice enough, and I always say hello when I go past in the morning, but we don't know each other all that well. We made friendly small talk about the weather and such-like. And I concealed the truth from her.

I was relating an anecdote about something that happened on Earth this week, and I started with "One of my housemates...". Now, it's true that I do share my house with other people, but a more accuracte description would be 'boyfriends'. The thing is, we were talking about the colder weather which has settled over Oxford, and I was enjoying the conversation. My experience to date suggests that a phrase like "One of my boyfriends..." immediately changes the topic.

I don't mind that people are curious about my somewhat unorthodox domestic situation. I don't mind answering friendly questions about our lives. I just wish that it was possible to mention it in passing, rather than have it become a talking point.

Every time I refer to my men as less than they really are, it feels dishonest; like a small betrayal of who I am and of the people who make me happy. I don't know if it's me that's the problem or the rest of the world, but I wish it didn't have to be this way. Mind you, polyamoury is gaining momentum and visibility; maybe there will come a time when no-one will care how many life-partners I have, and I can relate stories about mundane things from our lives without fear of interruption. I hope so, anyway.
hell's coders

Some good things

It seems like I only ever blog when something really big happens or when I'm unhappy. This is because I primarily use my blog to vent, these days - it's become less a chronicle of my life and more a way of letting off steam. To redress the balance a little bit, here are some good things that are going on:

I have the love of two wonderful men. I can't overstate how happy my new domestic arrangements make me; I couldn't wish for a happier family than the one we've forged together in Oxford. We have our little problems, and we're still working on making sure this works for all of us, but I like living with Dan and JTA and I like where we're living.

I planted some lavender in the garden at the weekend. This is the first step towards cultivating the ramshackle patch of earth which I hope to make into a lovely, peaceful space. There's something wonderfully permanent feeling about working on the garden; I've never had a garden of my own before, and this is the first time in a long while that I've felt like I might be able to stay where I am for long enough that it's worth putting effort into improving my surroundings.

We went punting last week. It's harder than it looks, but we had a fun time zig-zagging down the Cherwell. It felt Oxfordy, and was a welcome reminder that we can still be childish and chilled out here, for all that we're now pretending to be grown-ups.

Wedding stuff! I'm getting so over-excited about the wedding time. I'm done panicking, and I'm confident that everything will be sorted in time (even if we have to make some compromises along the way). I've managed to shake the mindset of holding everything against some hypothetical 'perfect' wedding and finding it wanting, and I'm much happier for it.

Despite all that, I still feel like I'm falling to bits right now. But it'll pass; it always does. It's just that I don't usually bother to say so on here. Sorry about that.
hell's coders

All alone in the biggest room in the world

Does anyone else feel awed and scared when they type the error they're getting into google and get no results? I wouldn't say the internet is my first resort when trying to solve technical problems, but once I've exhausted the obvious lines of enquiry I generally have a poke around to see what other people in the same situation have said.

Sometimes, and increasingly often since I started at NAG again, no-body has ever said anything about it. It makes me feel alone.
hell's coders

Murder and Magic and Muffins

I'm not so good at updating lately, for a variety of reasons to do with being crazy busy and also having wounded two fingers (more on that on the wedding blog at some point).

However, I thought I'd say a few words about the house-warming party we held to celebrate Paul's arrival on Earth (thus completing the relocation that began a whole year ago when I first moved over to Oxford at the end of last summer).

Dan had once again written a murder mystery for us. With 13 major characters and a handful of additional minor characters, it was our most complex and challenging one yet. I decided to make a cold buffet, on the grounds that I wouldn't have a clue about the plot if I was cooking for 20 during the evening itself. Consequently, I started cooking on Thursday evening, worked solidly all through Saturday and Sunday, and finished the last bit of prep 20 minutes before the start of the party on Sunday evening. Honorable mention should be made at this point of Finbar, Liz and Simon, who turned up early and were a massive help in getting all the food finished on time. Simon earned millions of points by clearing a big stack of washing up. Sadly, these didn't count towards his score for the mystery game or he would have easily won the evening...

As usual, things were a little awkward as we settled in and started the party off. This time round, they were more awkward than normal since half a dozen of the guests were delayed at the hospital with Becky's friend Zara, who had suffered an asthma attack (but was later observed smoking a ciggy and deemed to be recovering!). Consequently, we had a longer than usual bit of hanging around and making small talk while Dan frantically shuffled characters to allow us to start when his mum and her partner arrived, Becky having elected to wait at the hospital.

Dan had tweaked the free-form format slightly since Murder in Space, so we started by introducing ourselves and revealing a couple of clues. There were a few additions to the format that I really liked this time, like the fact that some clues were in other languages which only a handful of characters could translate (although in my case, when I asked for clues to be translated I never got them back...). Things quickly became hectic, with everyone rushing around following up leads, forming alliances and trying to winkle information or plot items out of each other. One particular highlight for me was the very dramatic scene where the college librarian (Finbar) confronted one of the staff (Andy R) about his misappropriation of funds, bellowing "Tworings!" across a crowded room to get his attention. Fantastic! Sadly, the librarian paid for his bravery and deductive prowess with his life, becoming the murderer's second victim of the night. As a librarian fan, I found this deeply tragic.

At the end, it turned out that the person who I suspected (and made such a convincing case against that others suspected him too) was not the murderer, and we executed an innocent man. And I failed in my objective of making sure that I came top in Potions. Unsurprisingly, Liz got the most points, having achieved all but one of her objectives. The real murderer failed to get elected to the newly vacant post of Dean, which was all he wanted, so it was all a lovely lesson in the futility of life and how crime doesn't pay. Or something.

The important thing is, everyone was nice about the food. The 'magic' idea that I'd had for drinks didn't work out so well - I had this great plan to fill glasses with frozen fruit juice ice-cubes in a variety of colours, and then add clear spirits and mixers. My theory was that all the ice-cubes melted they would produce pretty swirls of colour. It didn't work out that way, at least partly because the only colours we managed were red and yellow and the resulting concoction came out an unpleasant fleshy pink after a surprisingly short time. On the plus side, we had plenty of drink and after the murder was over many guests stayed around chatting and hanging out. The party ended up lasting until around 2am.

Monday I felt incredibly ill. I'd drunk way, way too much booze on top of deliberately dehydrating myself whilst cooking (to minimize bathroom trips) and spent quite a lot of the morning throwing up. The folks who were still around made an expedition to the Victoria Arms, our adopted local (there are closer pubs but they aren't as nice), and ate lunch together. I managed to pick at some food, and by the time we got home I felt almost normal again. As we waved each group off, I felt grateful for the people we know and the fact that they continue to come through for us when we want to indulge in these crazy activities. Thanks so much to everyone who came down for the party, I had an amazing time and I think Earth is now very definitely Home.
hell's coders

Everything that's wrong with modern Fortran

I'm sure that the geeks reading this are probably thinking "isn't that an oxy-moron?", but they're wrong. These days, Fortran has many of the features you need to program in a modern style, including such new-fangled ideas as object-orientation, parallel processing and pointer manipulation.

The problem, really, is its age. Not that Fortran is really a creaking behemoth; old-school code written in Fortran 66 or Fortran 77 was so simple that very little has had to be deprecated from the old standards - even the much-reviled computed goto will still compile. However, there is a desire amongst the committee members who control where the language goes to make it look familiar to existing Fortran developers, and that is where it all goes wrong. For example, the (soon to be finalised) draft standard for Fortran 2003) allows you to write code that looks like this:

  character(:), allocatable :: s

Care to guess what that little snippet does? I'll give you a clue, it's declaring a variable, but of what type?

Well, here's the equivalent from Java:

  String s;

Yep, the concept of strings has finally come to Fortran. And they made it look like some kind of hellish devil-code. What that little beauty up there means is "I'm declaring an array of characters, but I'm not going to say at this point how long it will be. And I want it to be able to change size after it's first assigned". Which is one way of defining a string, and has the big advantage of reusing existing keywords, but is completely alien to people who have learnt to program in other languages.

Which is why Fortran will probably never shake its image as fusty, out-moded and unsuited for modern programming.
hell's coders


In other news, if you haven't yet received your invitation to our wedding, that's because we haven't finished making them. I know some people have been discreetly enquiring as to whether they might have got lost in the mail, but the truth is we've been very busy with the house move and various other things, and we're behind on making cards. Unless you have some other reason to think we might have stopped liking you, don't let it worry you - they should be out this month.

Mind you, we've been saying that every month since June...
hell's coders

(no subject)

So when does a general feeling of dissatisfaction and malaise cross the line into out-and-out depression? About 15 minutes ago, I think.

Don't let it worry you. I expect I'll start to feel better when I leave the office.

Edit: Although I don't usually redact things, the last-sentence of this was unusually whiny and self-serving even by my standards. So I cut it.
hell's coders

Faking the smarts

It's time for me to admit something that I have always kept secret. I don't really know why; maybe I'm maturing. Maybe my mind is disintegrating under the weight of all the doubts about my career. Maybe I'm so bored I'd say anything. Maybe I want to practice my one-handed typing (I'm getting pretty fast).

Whatever the reason, projecting an altered image of myself is becoming less and less important to me. I'm ceasing to care whether I appear likeable, fun or in any way normal. A symptom of that is that I am choosing to come clean about something:

I'm not really all that smart.

I think the reason I've been faking it for all this time is that, for a long time, I thought I was unusually intelligent. I attended a small primary school and a smaller secondary school and in both I had no trouble in rising to the top (or near it) of the class. My self-image was 'smart but socially awkward', and it was a cosy (albeit one-dimensional) place to be.

When I went away to university and discovered that I was actually about average in terms of brain power, I didn't know how to construct a new persona out of that and I didn't really want to try. So I developed a work ethic, and learnt to really work hard (you guys wouldn't believe how little work I did for my GCSEs and A-levels). That allowed me to cling to my illusions a little longer.

Now, though, I've decided it just isn't important whether anyone thinks I'm brainy. I admit that I'm not totally sure of the definitions of some of the words I use. I'm done getting insecure and jealous if someone calls a mutual friend 'clever'. Also, I'm not too proud to admit that this post arose because I was going to write something else and I experienced a twinge of doubt over whether 'corollary' meant what I thought it did (turns out it doesn't). See how even my inspiration for writing a post about being less smart than I pretend is a bit dumb? I never admitted it in a public forum before, but I only got a first by a couple of marks and of my year, 6 out of 8 students got firsts.

In other news, they've changed the bbc news website. I don't like it. That could just be reactionarynessism, though.
hell's coders

My embarrasing ailment

I have a medical condition which severely impacts my ability to live a normal life. Most of the time it's in remission and I can mingle into the crowd, laughing and joking with my peers and pretending I'm just like them. Other times, such as now, it halves my productivity and makes it impossible for me to carry out many everday activities. And yet, when people ask what's wrong, I always answer "Oh, it's only RSI, nothing serious".

This attitude is one of the reasons I've never been to a doctor, and never taken a sick day even when I couldn't type painlessly with either hand. Even though it's taken me the best part of half an hour (and counting) to type this, I'm a little afraid that you're all thinking "RSI? Huh. What's she making such a fuss about?" I don't know if it's because there are no visible symptoms, or because attacks are brought on by nothing more strenous than typing, but I honestly feel like it isn't real. It's as if the shooting pains in my elbow, the dull ache that works its way up to my collarbone and across my shoulders as the attack progresses, the nauseating jolts from my wrists and the tingling numbness in my fingers are all punishments for being a bit lame and I don't want anyone to know.

Most of all I hate how feeble I get. Yesterday, the boys and I went to the supermarket for a weekly shop. I followed them around pathetically, weakly murmuring that we should buy vegetables and being emo about whether I wanted cake, and then I sat on a bench while they packed the shopping into bags.

Another example: at lunch today I discovered that it's almost impossible to eat soup left-handed*. And I had to butter my bread by peeling back as much of the foil as possible and then desperately smooshing the packet against the bread. It didn't work very well, so I tried to fold the bread round the butter-lump to make it look like that was my intention all along. There's nothing like a lunch of half a bowl of soup and a squished-bread mutant-dumpling to make you re-evaluate your life in a harsher light.

Is RSI a legitimate medical problem? Maybe. But that doesn't stop me feeling like a total idiot and wanting to hide it from people. Perhaps other people would take it more seriously if I treated it like a "real" issue, but it seems more likely to me that they would laugh at me/consider me pompous/hate me/all of the above.

When my RSI is bad, I am no use to anyone because I can't carry anything and I can't think about anything much other than 'dammit, pain SUCKS' (exception: once every four hours I pause to meditate on how great codeine is). I think you should just prop me in a cupboard until my arms work again.

*Unless you're left-handed, I guess. But why would a left-handed person be eating soup??