Saturday, January 21, 2017

Weekly Album: The Beatles - Meet The Beatles

One of the weirdest things I've run into in the past year is Brian Molko. He seems, at some basic algorithmic level, to work a lot like I do.

This is a startling thing to realize. I'm not dumb enough to think I'm the very specialest snowflake, unique in human history, but I am aware that most people don't work like I do. I know this because if they did, the world would be much better adapted to me. Most of the people who do work like I do go to some trouble to keep it under wraps. As irritating as it is to deal with some of this shit all by myself, involving other people just makes it more complicated. The main problem is that there is just too much stuff in the world, and sometimes it comes at me too fast, too bright, and right in the fucking face. Most people who want to help think that help involves interacting with me, which is exactly the opposite of what I need in that situation. So covering and deflecting is a survival tactic that both preserves my important relationships and keeps me from going bonkers.

The list of little details that make me think his fundamental difficulty is the same as mine is too long to go through here, but some bits are obvious. I'm willing to bet he doesn't take his sunglasses off in studios for the same reason I don't take mine off on the train -- the world is much more comfortable when it's attenuated, and people are less weirded out when they don't have to notice you noticing all of the other things in the environment. He makes no bones about the fact that doing press and getting attention is incredibly stressful for him, and he considers it the price he has to pay for doing the music/performing part he actually likes. One of his most persistent complaints about being on tour is that he can't just go home at night, do his laundry, and make his own damn dinner.

Seeing it on someone else is almost uncomfortably educational. One of my most aggravating blind spots is that I have no idea how I look to other people. I know how they react to me, but I don't always know what they're reacting to or why, and most people are rubbish at explaining it, even if they take me seriously when I ask. I recognize enough of what he does to wonder about the rest. Is this what I look like when I'm interested in something? I know most of you don't speak French, but you don't have to; you could watch it with the sound off entirely and get the idea. (He's wittering on about music history, both his own and in general, if you're curious.)

If I'm right, then it's also confirmation of some of the other stuff I've guessed about the way brains like mine work. He's lived a very different life than I have, and I still recognize a lot. It's a good thing most of the "fun" drugs don't work right on me, or I'd have taken a fuckton of them. The too-much-ness of everything is innate and not a problem money or success can fix. It's fundamental to this kind of snappy, word-filled genius -- the part that comes off as 'smart' to other people is just me repeating the 10% of detail that comes in and fits together and makes some sort of useful narrative, but the other 90% of data is still there, always, everywhere, and it's overwhelming sometimes. So far as I can tell, his favorite drugs were the ones that made everything pause for a little while, so he could either get a grip on it or quit caring that he didn't have one.

Molko has legitimately cracked up a couple of times. Maybe more than a couple, but at least twice that I know about he's had to walk off the stage and not come back. I don't know if anyone ever used the exact phrase, but the first one was a textbook example of a stress-induced psychotic break. He's talked about it. He could have kept his mouth shut and let everyone assume he had a panic attack or something, but he didn't -- it's clearly not his favorite subject, but he's given enough detail in interviews to make it clear that he was delusional and terrified and if that never happened again it would be far too soon.

I've never been psychotic, but that may have been more dumb luck than anything else. I've certainly been that non-functional. I can't say I enjoyed being in that state and knowing that it made no sense any more than he seems to have enjoyed his version. He's the only person I can recall running across who didn't think that cracking up was a transformative experience, the same way I didn't -- he didn't suddenly become a different person any more than I did, but now we are both people who are well aware of what will happen if we ignore all of the warning bells, which I for one will never ever fucking do again. He talks about it in the sort of register you'd expect from someone who has learned the hard way that it's a bad idea to try to perform through food poisoning: He thought he was okay enough to go on stage, he went on stage, he discovered he was wrong.

I don't know his life, but he sounds very much like a person who has spent most of his time here on Earth doing things the weird way because the "right" way just doesn't work for him. It's fucking exhausting to have to hack your way around everything, but it's more fucking exhausting to spend all of your time trying to hammer square pegs into round holes, so.

One thing I do respect is his absolute refusal to be ashamed of any of this. He's a human, I'm sure he's done stuff he winces at in retrospect, but shame is for choices you consciously made that you regret. The rest of it is just stuff that happens. I talk about all my brain-weird here on purpose, but I'm not risking much; I'm nobody, and I really have nothing to lose by telling stories to strangers on the internet.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Having completed my Victorian period show, I have now put the blonde flash back in the front of my hair. It's amazing how familiarity breeds contempt. When I first started doing it myself, I was terrified. You're doing something permanent! To your hair! OHGODWHATIFITGOESWRONG. Now I mix up a couple of tablespoons of bleach in the lid of a discarded peanut butter jar and smoosh it into my roots with a travel toothbrush.

It became a lot less nerve-wracking when I realized that my hair is virtually unkillable. Lifting to level 9 involves 45 minutes in 40V bleach, wrapped in cling film and jammed under a hat. (I've no idea what level I start at. About 6, maybe? All the sample cards I can find run blonde to brunette, which is unhelpful. My natural hair color is Titian red, almost dead on young Jane Seymour.) The idea of letting it marinate that long is probably making some of you twitch, but nothing really happens, aside from all the color coming out. Might be a bit more fly-away, but not so's you'd notice, unless you were the one in charge of spraying it smooth.

The point is, I've now fixed my hair so it looks the way I think it should when I check the mirror. Less so the rest of me.

I have lost a great deal of weight since this time last year. Or, at least, girth -- I don't own a scale, but I've got several tape measures. I had some vague idea that had happened, but the extent of it wasn't apparent until I put on the ball gown I wear for some of the Mrs. Hawking shows, and it was so loose the wardrobe mistress double-checked to make sure it was zipped all the way up. My leotards are all fitting funny around the middle. Although not at the top or the bottom. Apparently I am going to be blessed with T&A no matter what size I am.

I don't think anything's specifically wrong with me; I just haven't been stuffing down enough calories to account for the amount of running around I do. My portion sizes are off. A cup is much bigger than I think it is. So is a tablespoon. Intuitive eating doesn't appear to work very well for me, as my intuition says 'no, finish the thing first before you go eat, otherwise you'll lose all your momentum'. If I don't manage to get to food within an hour or so, my stomach gives up and just goes 'eh, fuck it, we'll fix it later'. And then I don't fix it, because there's a limit to the amount of food I can eat before getting nauseated. There's food at home, but I'm often not at home, and I don't have the money to just stop off and buy something pre-made wherever I am.

I don't eat much when I'm home either; the people with the car and the bigger income do most of the grocery shopping, and it all has this aura of... not mineness to it. Most of my diet these days consists of things that have been in the fridge long enough that it's apparent no one else is going to eat it, but not so long it deteriorates into rat food.

It has occurred to me that both other roommates specifically told me when they made a colossal pot of curry because they have noticed that I've dropped a lot of weight and think that perhaps I would like to stop doing that. It has also occurred to me that this would require them to be paying more attention to me than they probably are, and that they were just being generically nice. They did make about a gallon of the stuff. They probably wanted the refrigerator space back.

I may have evaded comment on the shrinking because I look fairly athletic now. Most people who lose weight and build muscle at the same time are doing it on purpose. Anyone who notices probably thinks I'm on a self-improvement kick. It's nice to have obvious quads, I suppose, but I'm also developing obvious clavicles, and sitting on the floor feels cold and bony.

The other reason I am losing a lot of weight is because I'm dancing very seriously again, and I'm doing that because frankly I don't know what else to do with myself. I'm trying to justify it by putting together curriculum for some workshops, which theoretically would make money. Unfortunately, I need to have some money up front before I can do anything about that. I'm not allowed to use banked time on for-profit ventures, so room rental would be $35-40 for an hour, plus a $50 deposit (which can be refunded or carried over to the next workshop rental, should I continue). I also work with props, and not very common ones either, so I'd need to buy a bunch in order to lend them out (or sell them) for classes. Five sets of the cheapest fan veils I can find, including shipping, would work out to about $80. It's not a lot of cash, and it wouldn't be difficult to make it back, but I don't have it to front.

The last time I dropped weight like this was the year before I left Flagstaff. I lived in an apartment complex that had an exercise room, and had a therapist who suggested that working out would make me feel better. It didn't; I think treadmills and elliptical machines are the physical manifestation of ennui, which doesn't do anyone any good. I made myself go every damn day anyway. I had to quit when I realized I wasn't keeping up with it despite the unpleasantness, but because of it: If I were such a failure that even things that should have been making me better weren't working, then being bored and miserable was the least I deserved.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The show is over, and I lived. We all did! Which is no mean feat, as we all showed up at Arisia pre-infected with something horrible. I was personally medicating our tech director, and pretty much anyone else who turned up coughing their little brains out.

Other people keep telling me that I sound very busy. I don't know that I am; it's hard for me to really tally up the hours I spend at things. I had a time clock app for my phone which I never successfully made myself use, mainly because the phone is a bear of very little brain that runs a few things very well and most things slowly and grudgingly. And also I found it depressing to see how much time I spent on trains.

One of the problems there is that I get the nagging feeling that things I enjoy doing don't really count. I can spend ten hours a week in rehearsals for a show -- which I am paid to do, to the best of the producer's ability and budget -- and I still have trouble bringing it to mind when people ask what I do with my time, because that's "fun" and it exists in a different continuum to things that I "should" be sinking all my waking hours into. Same thing with the hours I spend dancing, and working at the dance studio to bank my rehearsal hours. I like doing that, so it's not really "work", even though part of the point of spending all that time on it is to develop some workshops and curriculum so that I can transition into teaching people for money.

I am unsure who to blame for these ideas. I'm sure at least some part of it is the national culture. The American work ethic is heavily rooted in Calvinism, the movement that produced sayings like "idle hands are the devil's playthings". The general philosophy there is that you should be doing some sort of grinding work every minute of every day, because you were born into sin and depravity and deserve to suffer. And this back-breaking labor is supposed to bring you some kind of satisfaction, although not joy, because if you enjoy it too much that's just more sin. You'll have your chance to be happy in the afterlife. Although probably not, because God has chosen a bunch of people totally at random to be saved, and if you're not one of them then you're just out of luck.

Charming people, the Calvinists. They're pretty much the reason Americans hate fun.

Part of it is probably also my parents. They never actually said "you deserve to be unhappy", they just acted like hating your life was pretty normal, and smacked me down for suggesting it wasn't. I remember once, during a severe depressive episode in college, I called my mother begging for an appointment with a psychiatrist, because she had my insurance card hostage and I couldn't make one myself. I told her I was appallingly miserable, to the point where I couldn't get out of bed most days. She told me that everyone was like that, and I should suck it up. Which was pretty much the end of me asking my parents for help with anything, really.

Another unfortunate aspect of this whole "work should be unpleasant" thing is that most normal jobs are brutal on me. For whatever reason, I find that dealing with people face to face is exhausting, and if I had to do it for forty hours a week I would have an honest to God mental breakdown. It doesn't matter who or what or how nice they are. I couldn't even spend that much time with my friends. Even if it's not a public-facing position, going into an office means having to put on a lesser sort of public face and interact with a bunch of coworkers. There is a reason I do my absolute damndest to work from home. I can do a lot more if I can do it from a small dark room in my pajamas.

Now that I have some down time, I can get around to actually making some New Year's Resolutions. One of the few that have ever stuck was the year I resolved to not make any long-range decisions during a month where I am doing forty-five million things and also potentially spending a lot of time upset, depending on what I have going on and how many people are asshats about asking why I don't travel to be with family. So I give myself until the end of January to figure out WTF I am going to do with the next 11-12 months.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hello! I am alive, sort of. I am in the middle of what is called "tech week" for my annual January show, which is when you get together for hours and hours every night to run the show as it will be done on stage, so that you can get all the screwing up and panicking out of your system before you actually perform it. It kills me ded every time, because hours of people every day, and also right now i have some sort of head cold that is clinging desperately on weeks after it should have gone away. I have excellent drugs and also excellent co-stars, so I'll be fine, but if you're going to be in Boston for Arisia this weekend, you should come and see us so I'm not doing all this for nothing.

Vivat Regina: Friday @ 7:30pm
Base Instruments: Saturday @4pm and Sunday @12 noon

Our show photographer will also be wandering the halls before and after, taking photos of cosplayers. Feel free to stop her and get yours done! Her name is Annushka Munch and you could probably spot her from other planets, as her hair is violently pink. I know this because I helped her color it. The really neon bits react to blacklight.

There are also various Circlet Press things going on at the con, including the Tea Party, which I will have to miss because I am on stage. You don't have to miss it, however, as there is conveniently a second show scheduled. Go, do both of these things! They are great.

I'll post more about Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice and New Year's Resolutions and other such tat after I'm done with shows and have had some heavily-drugged but un-congested sleep. In the meantime, rest assured that the rats are still very fat and very spoiled, and that the Saturday album posts will continue.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Update: Did the thing I said I was going to do. Certainly I expected performance to improve once I installed the new drive, but holy fuck. Can't determine how much of the performance bottleneck was the hard drive having to spin up and down and how much was Windows 7, but the combination of an SSD and Lubuntu starts my colossal lumbering raster graphics editor in about ten seconds. BRB, going to go see how many fonts and plugins it takes to push that to twenty.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

At this point, I am thinking I might just skip letting my roommate play with his drive cloner and go straight to the part where I install Lubuntu on the new SSD.

The various not-Windows operating systems generally let you make what's called a LiveCD or LiveKey, which is essentially the OS on some kind of portable media. They generally start with a menu that gives you the choice between using the OS off the optical disc/USB drive, or installing it to the local hard disk.

I have LiveKeys for both Lubuntu 16.10 and RemixOS 64-bit. The trial for RemixOS is a little unfair; it saves absolutely nothing, not even for pretend, and is almost telepathically fast, so it's clearly running off a RAM drive. I can get it to boot to an "installation", as it's designed to run off of a portable drive, but it's deeply unhappy about being confined to USB 2.0, and an I/O speed of less than half the 10Mbit/s it wants makes it unusable. It's got some quirks; notably, it assumes I'm on a tablet, so the multitouch scrolling wants me to drag the contents of the screen up and down, as opposed to the regular computer method, which drags the aperture instead. There's probably a way to change it, but I've no idea what it is. If it ran off of a local SSD, I think it would be perfectly content.

The Lubuntu LiveKey happens to be on a thumbdrive with an access LED, which goes blinky-blinky from time to time, so it is actually using some kind of disk cache when running from portable media. (I assume a LiveCD configures itself to use a RAM disk for cache. Otherwise it would get very confused when it couldn't put anything on the scratch pad.) It's effectively running off of a very small, very slow SSD. I can see the local HDD, and open things off of it, but otherwise it doesn't spin up at all. The computer generates so little heat that the fan has pretty much been idle the whole time.

What's particularly interesting is that this is also almost alarmingly fast. I get reasonably good performance out of the Toshiba (Satellite A205, release date 2007; 1.30 GHz dual-core Celeron/1GB RAM; network name: Maleficent) running a lightweight Lubuntu install with XFCE graphical shell. Maleficent doesn't particularly like maintaining two dozen Chromium tabs under a full-screen HD YouTube stream while I fool around with GIMP on the other monitor, but neither does anything fall down go boom. The amount of grumbling I get, in fact, is roughly the same as I get putting that load on the ASUSTek (RemixOS seems to think it's a K54C, release date 2011; 2.20GHz dual-core B960/4GB RAM; network name: Natasha). Which means the main bottleneck here is not the hardware, it's fucking Windows.

I am not a power user. I don't do a whole lot of real-time 3D renders or video editing. I'm not a big PC gamer; nothing on my Steam account is less than 10 years old, and the most processor-intensive games I run locally are on emulators, where I coax a pile of computer parts worth maybe $20 into pretending to be a 20-year old, $200 Playstation. The single worst thing I do to the actual brains is probably work with large print-resolution raster graphics in GIMP, and I abuse the RAM by using Open In New Tab... by default for days at a time.

[And actually most of the gaming is on the Kindle Fire now. I find 7" a nice size for getting a game and the control overlay on the screen at the same time. It's plenty smart enough to be a PSP, a handheld which itself was smart enough to run PSX games in emulation. Supposedly there's a working PS2 emu out there somewhere. The only downside is that emulators eat battery like a scientifically-engineered battery-eating thing. So does Pokémon GO!, and everybody loves that, so I think I'll cope.]

Unless you are rooting around in a terminal window -- pun unintended, but spared in edits for being apropos -- all of the major OSes work pretty much the same. You communicate with the computer the same way you order food in a foreign country: Find a picture of what you want and poke at it until your server gets the idea. The window/icon metaphor has been the fundamental basis of every GUI since they were invented at Xerox PARC. They may be arranged slightly differently and stashed in different places, but at the end-user level, all computers do the same stuff now. Once upon a time, when the architecture was much more obvious to the schmuck at the keyboard, the various kinds of "microcomputers" were tuned for different things -- Amigas were known for video, Ataris and the Speccy were good at games, PCs descended from boring business computers, etc. These days, all of the working software runs at such a high level of abstraction that what the machine is optimized for is not down to the brand or build, but to the amount of raw computing resources you've shoved into the case.

There are two reasons all of my preferred software is free open-source stuff, and the less obvious one is that I don't want to fucking learn everything three times. Programs like Libre/OpenOffice and Sigil are not written for one platform and ported to others; they're written in high-level platform-independent languages and compiled for different operating systems instead. (The interpreter and compiler you use to write it are dependent on your OS; the language itself is not, although if you really want you can still tune it to quirks of specific architecture.) The Windows, Mac, and Linux forks are compiled off of the same master build, so all three versions work exactly the same no matter what kind of computer you're on. It's especially obvious if you use GIMP for Windows. Windows applications are supposed to keep all their child windows inside a containing parent window, but this by tradition, not necessity; there's nothing in the operating environment enforcing it. And in fact GIMP for Windows uses the Mac/Linux paradigm of letting all its toolbars and palettes float all over the damn place, completely unconnected to the window that holds the working image and the master menu bar.

There are a few compelling reasons for sticking with Windows if you're running a business or an institution. If you've got any specialized software that runs only on Windows, you kind of need it. Most people are familiar with it, so you don't have to give all your employees a crash course on the many and various uses of apt-get and why you do not type sudo anything unless you have a damn good reason. There's also the stability of having your OS supported by a giant corporation with a 24-hour helpdesk and upper-tier technicians and some sort of independent existence that you can sue the pants off of if for some reason they make your computer burst into flames.

I need to perform specific tasks more than I need to have specific software, and all of my shit is A) junk by current standards, and B) way out of warranty even if I didn't constantly void EULAs by tinkering. I really just need something that functions as a computer. I might have bought a Chromebook the last time I was on this merry-go-round, except they topped out at 13" and I'd go blind trying to do graphics work on that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Hi! Uh. Happy new year? I meant to write something serious and contemplative days ago, but then the garbage disposal broke, taking out the drain to both the kitchen sink and the dishwasher. While Tom was in the middle of draining and cleaning a 90 gallon fish tank.

And then the internet broke. Well, I say 'and then'. The internet has been intermittently broken for months now, because this neighborhood appears to have been wired for cable in about 1974 and then diligently ignored. There was no way to get Comcast to believe it was their equipment and not ours until we had submitted roughly 978,378 support tickets, at which point they generally dispatch a tech to shut the customer up. I don't know what exactly the issue was, but once we got someone out to look at the outside of the house, they fixed it in like half an hour.

The actual computer is not broken, but that's mainly because I haven't gotten around to it yet. I know various and sundry people who work in IT and inherit a lot of equipment from forgotten supply closets, and one of them just handed me a 128GB solid-state SATA drive. This is brilliant and would already be installed, except that I have an Asus. It's not a particularly terrible computer, but they do not ship with system discs, which means I have no media from which to reinstall Windows onto the new drive. (It's supposed to have a "restore partition". This is one of many pieces of shovelware their computers come with, and Google will give you a zillion examples of it not working.) In theory, if you've paid for a copy of Windows -- which I did -- you can download installation packages direct from Microsoft; in practice, Asus is one of the manufacturers who ships their Windows computers in a pre-activated state using bulk-bought OEM keys, which will not work on a regulation copy of Windows. I have the key, it's just useless.

Microsoft's suggested solution is to give them another $120 for a fresh copy of Windows. Asus's suggested solution is to give them $50 for burning a CD-R with their OEM Windows package on it and shipping it to me via arthritic snail. My suggested solution is for all of them to eat a large bag of dicks, because this computer cost me $300 as a refurb four years ago, and both of those figures are many times what it is currently worth.

Tom is for some reason dead set on convincing me to clone the original drive onto the SSD and then force-upgrade it to Windows 10. I would happily nuke everything and run the hardware on Marshmallow, which is stupid-crazy fast even on this thing, except that about half the software I need is available "only" for Windows/Mac/Linux. (For the record, the minimum installation list is: LibreOffice/OpenOffice suite, GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Sigil, VLC, and a web browser in which Flash actually works.) I unearthed the spare laptop from the depths of the closet and it's now running Lubuntu 16.10, which is perfectly fine for a dual-core Celeron.

I may just hand Tom the stack of supplies and tell him that if it's not back to functioning as a computer with 48 hours, I'm just going to stomp the drive and put Linux on it. Normally I would break out in hives at the prospect of handing my working computer over to someone else and possibly getting it back in need of a good hard formatting, but honestly, I've gotten to the point where there is nothing on the local hard disk that cannot be replaced. A lot of it would be annoying to replace, because it would involve spending most of the weekend going through the "Google, download, install, reboot, install, reboot..." ritual D. C. al fine. But most of it's just cluttering up the data partition because I got tired of having to hook and unhook external media drives to find music and video.

Everything important is either on an external HDD or crammed into a cloud drive somewhere or another. Admittedly, I'd be completely hosed if Google ever disintegrated, but so would about 200 million other people, so I don't think shouting at me would be a priority. The main thing that used to drive me batty when changing computers was that the browser would forget all of my obscure passwords, and that no longer happens -- saved logins go with your Chrome profile, which goes wherever Google is accessible. And if Google isn't accessible, I can't see why I'd need any of my logins anyway.

My main problem with letting other people tinker with my computer is that I need something to do things on. I think I've reached equilibrium in that regard, now that the mobile devices are actually smart enough to handle email and YouTube. I'm currently sitting in the middle of a heap of screens: the Windows laptop, the Lubuntu laptop with external monitor, two completely different kinds of Kindle, there's a phone in here somewhere, the DS is on charge and the 3DS is currently running Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, because I am an addict and Moggie is one of my most faithful enablers. There is no longer any one function confined to a single machine, so even if I have to take the computer away from my roommate and install his least-favorite OS all by myself, I won't ever be stuck incommunicado.

Frankly, the number one upgrade the Asus actually needs is a keyboard on which all of the keys function reliably the first time you press them. I am absolute murder on keyboards, being as I loathe having to scrawl things out by hand, and type absolutely everything. Touchscreens just make me want to murder everything else. I can get the Fire (and the BlackBerry, when it works) to guess what word I want next, and I can get Swype to guess the word I want now, but I can't get any one keyboard to do both of those things, never mind do them in more than one language at a time.