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Unintended gaps, I think we should just move in together. The way we keep meeting up by accident is kind of baffling.

In a nice turn of events, there are positive reasons for the lull in posting of late. After 9 months of unemployment, building urgency, and an almost colossal state of despair and pressure, I started working for A Very Awesome Company on March 1st. Said company isn’t going to be named because I want to avoid what happened when I mentioned the fact to people in real life; doing the same on the internet, where social filters are a thing unheard of, would be tantamount to madness.* Let’s just say for the moment that we’re very happy with each other at the moment and see what happens, eh?

(* For the record, much like when I worked for WIT, I won’t be talking about the new job or the company on the blog, for the sake of good grace and manners as anything else.)

On top of that, stuff happened! I went from sitting around the house in my underwear** trying to get through the first Gormenghast book to being thrown around a rollercoaster of events which required my immediate attention because, y’know, money, power, the women… What this mostly translates to is a bunch of posts I had intended to write up got delayed (the end of the trip to Japan with Osaka, Kyoto, cakes and sumo wrestling) or killed due to untimeliness (the end of CHUCK being the only one that comes to mind – the tl;dr version is ‘Right place, right frame of mind, necessity, weren’t it good, like?’). Some stuff will still get written – the only thing that slows down the Japan posts is sorting through the hundreds of photos of each location, truth be told – and more recent concerns will get shoved in there too coughcoughPottermorecoughcough coughcoughgrowinguneasewithcomicscough  coughcoughMassEffect3endinghasplentyrightwithitcoughcough…

(** Granted, this was by choice rather than necessity.)

Right now, I’m settling into a better place of mind than I’ve been in for quite some time. Getting let go was rough; that both myself and Herself were let go at the same time was brutal; that this was on the back of the crap we had to deal with after getting back from Japan, then quickly followed up by what was not so much a stream as a raging river of crap thereafter means that, and at time of writing, 2011 holds the record for the worst year of my life. I’m in a good enough place to say that out loud now, though. Three cheers for progress, and all that jazz.

So yeah: regular posting will begin again shortly now that I have a grip on my weekly schedule (which right now consists of full-time job, full-time MSc research, activity time so as to not become the shape of mush, time with my Good Lady, sleep, and Miscellaneous Endeavours) I have a notion of how to move forward.

I’ve missed moving forward. It’s nice to do it again.

While en route to Yudanaka, a wonderful thing happened.

A while before we flew out, the sage Chris Butcher posted about a delicacy he found in the vending machines of Japan. A thing of wonder and loveliness. A prize in canned form. He made me aware of the Morinaga Pancake Milkshake. A hot drink which also bore the flavours of butter and maple syrup. And lo, an obsession was born. Read the rest of this entry »

I go years without one, then three funerals hit in the last month. I was beginning to wonder if, following the second one in as many weeks, a third would follow immediately after. As it turned out, I was lulled into a false sense of security by a quiet week. I’m in the lucky position to be mildly and inadvertently flippant as I didn’t lose anyone myself, but was instead supporting to varying degrees those who did. As per the course of these things, I did start to think about how I was going to cope when the inevitable came along for the people closest to me (likely not very well), but also how when the time came for me, what would need doing.

I really don’t want a funeral.

Or, now that I’ve made the standard and pointless ‘shock & awe’ statement that I’m going to completely undo, I don’t want a normal funeral. Putting aside my ongoing and overstated issues with religion, a lot of it is due to my being really uncomfortable with how death and its ceremonies are often approached. I don’t want people being solemn and depressed and trying to reach for platitudes to wallpaper over my glaring personality flaws. If people are to come together following (or maybe just for) my death, I want them to have a good time.

Dudes, I want a party.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ikebukuro was our effective headquarters for the trip – even though we left the confines of Tokyo for the best part of two weeks, it bookended our stay there. We had previously made our temporary home in Shinjuku. We didn’t realise it at the time, but this was one of the most sensible decisions a first-timer who wasn’t fluent in the native tongue could make as, being the business district, the English language was unusually prominent, even by Japan’s standards. As we had gone then as now during the build-up to New Year, it was much quieter than normal, allowing us to acclimatise quickly to our surroundings.

Ikebukuro is very much the opposite of Shinjuku, being one of the de facto R&R Happy Super Fun Time Zones of Tokyo. This district is where the locals come to have fun.

Flying first class had meant that jet lag didn’t take nearly so much of a toll on me as I had expected – on the first trip, I did not sleep at all and as a result got sicker from 11+ hours in an air-recycled cabin and 24+ hours without sleep than I had in many years previous (Fun Fact: Planes seem to be the only place I cannot sleep!) As a result of being mercilessly pampered for the flight , I was bouncing and ready to go nuts. Unfortunately, Olivia as still recovering from the ill health she suffered in London and had a slight relapse en route. Nothing so horrible as to not recover, but it slowed down her ability to get over the lag.

This is the main reason why we don’t actually have many photos of Tokyo this time around. That, and a mild case of been-there-done-that. We were too busy taking in new environs to pause for pictures, particularly since our  time in Tokyo had been so heavily reduced. As a compromise, I’ve scoured the internet for images from te anime Durarara!!, which goes to painful detail to recreate Ikebukuro as is for the series. You could probably watch Durarara!! and figure out how to get around Ikebukuro, truth be told.

But I disgress!

Read the rest of this entry »

If you ever get the chance, fly first class. You think you know it’s amazing, but you don’t know. You are only thinking it, after all.

None of this sitting with the chattel and hoi polloi! Nay, you get to further chill out in comfortable surroundings, offered food on platters, the opportunity to avail of massages (Olivia did), a shave and a haircut (I did not), ye olde arcade games (yes I did very much) and as many sweets as you can smuggle out in your multiplicity of pockets… In preparation for a 12 hour flight to Japan, this is not simply a good thing but outright bliss.

And then you get on your flight, which will be more comfortable than any other flight you will ever take. The space of three people is yours! A bed is made for you! Attractive stewards and stewardesses, clearly kept up front for the Better People! It’s the free whiskey what does for it in the end, though. Olivia claims silver spoon service, but when a flight crew apologises that they don’t have the swill you normally drink and in apology and embarrassment offer you as much of their otherwise expensive 30+ year old single malt as a body can hold down in its place, you know you’ve made it.

Okay, so making it would be a bit strong: in order to fly first class we had to get stranded at the beginning of our trip in London for 8 or 9 days, toiling through ill health and an uncertain situation of shelter amid seeming endless phonecalls to right what wrongs fate dealt, thus missing out on a significant portion of our time in Tokyo, but at least we went in style.

But who cares about this? Me? With that much whiskey, coffee and gid? Ample. Reward.
Man, I should have gotten that haircut – I had the beginnings of a Final Fantasy character with that unbrushed mop. Wait, I was going to Japan – intentional? I don’t know any more! The important thing is that we got to Japan and it was the beginning of The Awesome.
Next up: Ikebukuro.
Photo by Olivia, obviously not in Japan.

I love my workload, I really do. Wait, today is Opposite Day, right?

I kid – as heavy as the last few months have been, I don’t have much to complain about. Well, until the semester ends and I have to find another means of gainful employment for a few months, at least. But in the meantime, I have work aplenty to do, we’re cheerfully busy in the Academic Skills Centre and the change in my working week, while shorter thanks to the joy that is recent education cuts, allows me to spend more time at my desk in the research area working on My Future.

I’d add “… as a scientist…” but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Once I qualify?Then I can toot my own trumpet. Right now, I happy to enjoy the hustle and bustle of developing something that can make a difference to the world that doesn’t directly orbit the hulking gravitational mass that is my own ego. You know: the real one, as opposed to the fancy one with elves, robots and nostalgia ghosts that exists inside my head.

Right now, I’m throwing myself into Chapter 0 in order to prepare for the PG1 form and ethics review. The former is an enrollment document outlining my intentions and aims, while the latter is to make sure I 1) know what I am in very clear terms doing, and 2) am not a raving lunatic. Most people would be intent on just getting the first chapter done and out of the way, but not me, I have notions.

Insouciance aside, they’re important milestones that I want to get right the first time around so that I can focus on the research without distraction. Chapter 0 is based on the notion that I will have heavily rewritten it to Be Not Terrible by the time it comes to the final submission. I’m fully aware of how bad first drafts can be and end up editing to the point of a lily more gild than chlorophyll. Right now I have five A4 pages of notes scribbled in that scrawling joy that is my hand-writing to my side detailing the ethical considerations I need to address, with more yet to follow.

In anticipation of same, I presented a poster based on the few months of work to date, which was simultaneously stressful and essential. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in trying to fit what I needed into the beast, it did help me to lay down what needs doing over the next few months in a way that sitting at your desk while spinning on your comfy chair can often preclude. So many gaps and flaws and weaknesses to be addressed, so little time by comparison.

It’s fun. Remind me I said this is six months time, won’t you?

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I promised talk of Japan last blog post, which is part of why there was a slightly larger delay in my babblery than is normal. It felt a little bit odd to talk about how amazing the trip was when the country was smack dab in the middle of a natural disaster. That I had started rereading Akira when it happened was practically zen. The passing of time may not heal wounds as well as can be claimed (and certainly not this quickly), but thinking positively of the place and encouraging people to visit is important for the process. It’s an amazing place and that needs to be focused on, rather than holding the world’s best pity party, however well-meant.

Also: Akira has possibly the finest closing pages to any story ever, and you would do well to consume said tome if you have not already.

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Fun fact: In spite of being an obnoxious godless type who takes too much pleasure from arguments regarding deistic existence than is healthy, I am once again Off Stuff for Lent. I get asked by a lot of people why I do this, given my alien ways and all, to which the most common response is “Did you enjoy the Christmas present I got you?” It’s mostly an excuse to cut out a bad habit for a time, spurred on my the reassurance that other people are similarly going without as well. It’s not quite peer pressure – I’m an adult who realised the horrible truth about Pancake Tuesday long before now – but for some reason I manage to go the distance during Lent that I somehow don’t manage at other times of the year, to the extent that any similar such foregoings tend to get called Lent as well in a desperate attempt to stay the course.

As usual, this means forswearing sweets and chocolate with my traditional caveats:

  • Desserts are acceptable so long as they are not chocolate/candy-based.
  • Chocolate sprinkled on top of a frothy coffee is acceptable, should the barista do so. The chocolate/sweet on the side is to be given to someone else.
  • The above also applies to sauces and incidental ingredients applied by a third party.
  • Caramel macchiatos don’t count, but mochas do.
  • I take this stuff far too seriously for someone who isn’t catholic.
  • Upbringings, man/lady. You can only do so much to get away from them.
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Man, it’s a pretty good time to be a nerd, isn’t it? New Doctor Who in a few days, while in the time that’s mean Game of Thrones is a damn fine adaptation of the books (presumably getting a blog post of its own when I’ve watched a few more episodes). The Pale King is finally out and so far is as lovely and melancholic as I hoped, albeit a tome I’ve barely started. I’ve discovered a new author to follow in Ben Aaronovitch, whose Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho are excellent and will similarly get a blog post down the line. Dragon Age 2 is wonderful, having not only made a genuine effort to address the notion of Games as Art, but also experimenting with tropes taken for granted by other narrative forms, such as the unreliable narrator, all the while playing hard and fast with the idea of what choices a game should present to the player. The more I think about it, the more I appreciate it, bugs and glitches be danged.
Okay, let’s just assume I’ll be talking about all of these things over the coming weeks, shall we?
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My nimble and clever friend Emer has a new blog wherein she’ll be talking about theater, soc-pol, PhDery and more. Emer is one of a group of people whose surname I forget and or confuse with someone else’s every two and a half years for reasons I’m not sure of. Help me assuage my White Man’s Guilt by popping over and saying hello, won’t you?

My most common hits are still coming from Scott Pilgrim searches. Were I to take it as an indicator of scale, O’Malley’s gem is more important than Terry Pratchett.

I can’t choose between them, I love them both too much.

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I’m tremendously happy that I didn’t make a New Years resolution to blog more. Aside from the fact that I have never made a New Year’s resolution with a straight face or possible scale, reality has struck against me and she. I had planned to blog about Japan while in Japan: this was first hampered by being stranded in London for eight days under weather conditions favourably thought of as ‘arctic’; secondary hampering came from trying to write about the said personal disaster. It’s too depressing to go back to a very bad headspace involving high stress, failing health, damaged ankles, impossible phone calls and red tape cutting off your ability to function while on honeymoon. The return fared no better, as we came back to a house still without heating (a long story 13 months and counting in the making), a still-broken fridge, doors as yet still-unrebarrelled and, but a few days after landing the eagle, a kitchen flooded thanks to a burst pipe.

And that’s just the highlights!

It’d be very easy to just roll over and whine, but to Amsterdam with that noise. This is an upbeat blog, goddamnit, and if I can avoid cursing up a storm here and on Twitter through sheer force of will in the last few weeks, then damn it we will beat Misery’s ass until Kathy Bates turns up with the notice of surrender. For all the rough, nasty, horrible crap we went through in the days that preceded and followed the Wedthing, we also got to meet a lot of good and splendid people and relish fantastic opportunities.

Read the rest of this entry »

While the temptation to bitch endlessly around the vagaries of climates and airlines is still present (and will fallalal along soon enough, worry not), I thought I would take the time to post the six comics I drew as part of our wedthing favours. This, in part is because I’m not sure if anyone managed to get all six, since we put them into the bags individually and at random. So prease to enjoy and click to embiggen!

Sarcasm and Silliness Read the rest of this entry »

Oh my science, there is now a Wedthing website! Did you know that it can be found here? Because it can be found there!

We have had a few people ask us about what exactly we were doing, in terms of the event, humanist ceremonies and the intricate goings-on of the afters. Where we’re disinclined to spill too much on the lattermost, we figured we should try to be as open as is possible in regards to everything else. Sending people to a blog called Turn My Brain Off would be considered an odd signal, apparently, so heads were together put and Olivia and Brian dot com was the result. It has a nicer ring to it, and garners far fewer askew glances from thither and hither.*

Olivia, having more free time than me lately, put it together while I directed and critiqued from my glorious tent far from the war zone. Also, I found the software she used to design it insane and head melting, so I dodged it like crazy. In my defence, I did build her a website for her thesis a few years back. But dang if she didn’t make it look right pretty. Feel free to have a look (and report any problems we have not yet caught…)

The site isn’t supplanting my occasional word flurries here: it’s more a way-station, information point and an easy way to get in touch as is needed for a more general audience (er, family mostly) than a spot for me to spin and tremble and comment as the need takes me. The site will be on the invites, and at worst all they will have to do is google our names (which, I hope, they already know). Since a lot of people will be travelling to attend the Big Day, our local knowledge is somewhat critical to make it easier for them to get both there and around. The only thing not yet up there that we know of is the date itself, since we are waiting on one final confirmation to cease its provisional status. Between now and then, I still have a few addresses for invites left to get, but then… BOOM!

Man, only two and a half months left. All and no time at all. How are you?

* We did look at trying to get Brian and Olivia dot com to cut down on vowelling issues, but it was not to be. Also, foreshortening it would have produced “B & O” or “B.O.”, both of which I was quite significantly against…

I have spent the last few days getting increasingly sick, while my fiancee has come to the apex of several months of insomnia. Last night was the first night in who knows how long she has managed to get a night’s sleep. The only reason, given the above facts, that I opened the door was because the person outside insisted on wrapping upon it with the full force of fistly fury feasible, creating the risk of a premature end to her slumber. Watchtower leaflets in hand, he proceeded near immediately to ask me about how optimistic I feel. Being sick, and tired, and running on about four hours sleep while trying to manage every other element of my life, I tried to straightforward and honest with him: I am an atheist, thank you for the effort but I am not interested and I have to get to work in the next fifteen minutes.

I did not need nor did I want or invite a lecture.

Yes, you were very polite. Yes, you are 75 years old and have presumably seen more than my 29 years on this earth has allowed opportunity for. No, this is nothing against Jehovah’s Witnesses or indeed any religion in and of itself. Yes, there is cause for optimism in this world, but you telling me that by not subscribing to belief in a divine entity and intelligent creator I am leading a life without optimism or hope is:

1. Insulting.
2. Condescending.
3. Missing the point of what I believe in.
4. A slap in the face of anyone who is spiritual in addition to and not in spite of being atheist, agnostic or any other such persuasion.
5. Not the fault of Richard Dawkins, whose older genetics work I preferred to recent diatribes, and for whom my atheism significantly predates awareness thereof.*
6. Completely missing the point that I have strawberries.

I love strawberries. In fact I love all sorts of fruit. They are delicious and juicy and sweet and wonderful and every time I take a bite of a good one, I am reminded of how amazing it is to be alive. It’s the same with books, movies, TV, and spending time with my friends and my fiancee and my family and all the little elements that compile the whole that is my life. I write in this blog because I enjoy doing so, I comment on others because I like to discuss and argue and compete. All of these things are amazing – consider that by writing these very words, I am achieving something that was beyond hope hundreds of years ago. With four or five hundred views a month, I am right now read more widely than Shakespeare was back in the day.** Instantaneous communication around the world, sharing ideas for fun and profit and simply because you can. And consider what that is connected to – the sheer odds of existence itself.

In order to write this, Information Communications Technology had to be developed. Brilliant thinkers had to put aside grievances and conflict to work together on this. Countries had to evolve to the point of not warring with each other over various clumps of land and money. Societies had to emerge from smaller clusters of tribes and feuding in order to reach that point. We had to emerge as the superior species by way of intellect against deadlier predators and survive all sorts of environmental changes and catastrophes. In order to reach that point, our genetic forebears had to survive what wiped out entire species. In order to get there, our progenitors had to form out of single cells. In order for those cells to exist, the world had to have the exact conditions that would allow mitachondrial reaction to occur. The world itself had to form and take orbit around the sun at the exact position it is in. In order for the sun to exist where it does, allowing the earth to orbit as it does, the events of the Big Bang had to be so insanely precise as to allow for all of that.

Can you even begin to imagine how many numbers there are in the odds of all those things happening?

Whether you believe in God or not, how can you not marvel at how amazing all of that is?

I am a smart person. I am well-read. I spent many years as a child believing in God, and came to be dissatisfied with both the answers given to my many questions and in time the nature of that belief. I have as a result spent a long time addressing the nature of God for myself – I do not think there is some divine entity that set all of the events described above into being. I do believe in providence and serendipity and beating the odds. I do not believe that science has all the answers, and I realise that it never will. Do we need all of these answers? No, we do not. Do we need to stop looking for them? Never, because searching for truth and cause and purpose is what makes us human. Do I feel the need to have an omnipotent, omniscient deity standing over my shoulder to assure me that all the ills of the world are for a reason, that the just will prosper in the next life and the wicked suffer? No, I do not. I do not believe in the afterlife, reincarnation or any existence beyond our mortal being. When I die, all that I am will decompose and merge with everything around and become a part of something else, but I myself will no longer be. Does that make me sad? A little, in truth. Does that scare me? Only in that I will not be able to do everything I want. Do I believe in souls? Yes, in that a soul is the part of me that thinks and jokes and acts beyond the basic, physical nature of my being, and once I die it will not go anywhere, it will simply cease to be. But would you like to know what I think that means for our lives?

It means that everything we do, here and now, matters and is all the more precious for it.

So no, I do not need people coming to my door, bright and early in the morning when I am sick and have a poorly loved one above that you may wake if you don’t stop knocking, just to tell me that I am without optimism in my life. I have plenty to be optimistic and happy about. I’m getting freaking married in a few months! And I am following it according to humanist principles because I hold religion to be an awful thing which has exploited, hurt and affected in too many negative ways the lives of billions. Yes there is good in religion, but you know what? If I need a priest to tell me to be nice to people, that says a lot more about me than anything else. This does not mean I dislike religious people – most of my friends are religious, to varying degrees, and my family certainly is. People passed in the street are religious and I do not dislike them for it. I will frankly be more likely to dislike someone for having bad taste in a song or a movie than I will their belief in the world. The key difference is they don’t force their beliefs down my throat.

Yet what angers me the most is the sheer dismissiveness of how this man regarded my beliefs. If I went door-to-door asking people to give atheism a chance, I would have every authority imaginable set after me for attacking their life, principles and beliefs. I live in a country that teaches Intelligent Design as a fact in primary education, has given new powers to the Blasphemy Law and will still somehow assure us that Gay Marriage is wrong because because because… Yet somehow it’s perfectly fine to hound me for what I think and feel, telling me what I think and that I believing in nothing, when all I have said is that I don’t believe in a divine creator or God.

At least me and mine don’t have organisations covering up the atrocities we commit and then blame the victims.

* Fun fact: it was comics writer Adam Warren who made me first aware of Dawkins and The Selfish Gene, around 2002 if I recall correctly. I would have been 21 at that point, subscribed to atheism quite some time (I’d like to suggest about 10, since the thoughts were germinating during the many boring hours of primary school, but probably took hold later on: 10 is a nice guess at the median age; a brief resurgence of belief around 16 and the death of a friend did not last long and was more attributable to the accompanying existential ennui and grief rather than any genuine consderation – any funerals attended since have not provoked a similar response).
** Possibly. Presumably. Maybe?