South Park Self

Day 68: snowflakes

ah, Dear Little Students. This afternoon's gem: cannot log onto the student database, because she's forgotten her login details, therefore massive panic about submitting a curriuclum change form by today's deadline. Is emailing me from her university email, which... uses exactly the same username and password as the student database. I have gently pointed this out.

The advertised deadline for this curriculum process was 4pm today, which means that for the last 45 minutes my email has been dinging quietly at intervals as last-minute submissions hit the database and it alerts me to the need to go and process them. Yay.

I console myself, and hopefully you, with pictorial evidence of Pandora's successful domination of Codsworth.

When I was at school I was very fond of the Professor Branestawm books, by Norman Hunter - about an absent-minded inventor with five pairs of spectacles and a tendency to improbable and frequently histrionic inventions. (I cherish in particular the malfunctioning knitting machine which tried to knit a clockwork train. I've always wanted to try). The books had a rather charming line in offbeat and rather slapstick comedy - the earlier editions had illustrations by Heath Robinson. One mad adventure has the professor inventing a baby-burping machine, which runs predictably amok in the children's ward, until the machine is halted in its rampages by a Matron described as "considerably on the large side", who slips in some vitamin ointment and sits down on it, whereupon the machine "gave an agonised squeal, and went flat". I have had, shall we say, those particular phrases revolving gently around my cerebellum since the first time I caught Pandora smugly posed as above. She is also, alas, somewhat on the large size. Perhaps it's fortunate that Codsworth is actually already flat. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 65: small amusements

Today I discovered that Codsworth doesn't charge if you've taken his dustbin out, as his butt then sticks into the air and he can't hit the charger connections properly. HOWEVER! Should Pandora, for example, in pursuit of her ongoing campaign of Dominating Codsworth, choose to sit down firmly upon him as he reclines on the charger in a butt-in-air posture which honestly makes me think of the slightly dodgier kinds of explicit slashfic, he will make sensor contact and announce "Begin To Charge!" in his female Japanese voice, causing Pandora to leap, startled, about a foot vertically and leave in a Marked Manner. But the connection is now made, so he's charging happily. Symbiosis! it's a miracle of life!

Winter is upon us, it bucketed with rain, on and off, for most of yesterday and into this morning. It's cold and damp and the garden is full of blown-about leaves. The cats are somewhat disgruntled and evince a tendency to try and climb under my duvet, but I am very happy. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 61: scenes from a robot invasion

I am charmed enough by Codsworth that he's busy vaccuming again, although strictly speaking only certain parts of the house need it. (He is doing so without benefit of top hat, alas, as he knocks it off when he goes under furniture. I think I need a bowler hat decal of some sort). A few minutes ago I wandered into the living room to find no visual evidence of Codsworth but the sofa whirring busily to itself, interspersed with intervals of maddened chirping, demonstrating that (a) in defiance of probability Codsworth actually fits under the sofa, making that bit of floor probably the cleanest it's been ever, and (b) the inevitable under-sofa stash of cat toys includes that chirping cricket slightly maliciously gifted to me by philip&jo when they couldn't take Theodora continuously playing with it. I have also discovered that, if not strictly supervised, Codsworth attempts to eat electrical cable, which I can't see going well for anyone concerned.

On a similarly slightly robotic theme: I think this orchestral arrangement of "All Star" is being played by a music programme rather than an actual orchestra, giving it a faintly mechanical quality, but it still severely rocks.

This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 45: lockdown as linguistic rot

I am still slightly flabbergasted by how much being in lockdown basically suits me: I don't have to go anywhere or talk to anyone other than the odd Zoom meeting, in most of which I sit quietly and play a personal game of "faculty self-arsepipe-insertion bingo", and I am really perfectly contented noodling around the house playing The Witcher and poking the garden and chatting to the cats while making odd forays into baking or randomly elaborate meals just because I can. I am not going stir-crazy because the internet, and therefore the world, is in my head. But it is having its inevitable side-effect, which is a noticeable drift into linguistic ham-fistedness. Because, apparently, if one hasn't held a conversation in a while, how does one word, anyway?

I have noticed my emails becoming incoherent at times, there have been two occasions in the last few days when I've sent something I could swear was carefully written, and have had immediately to send a clarifcation and apology when reading back my own words. I had to trundle out to the dentist on Friday, as my annoying crown had done its usual party trick of stashing bits of food under the tooth (usually meat shreds, causing moments when vegetarian actually seems like a seductive option) in such a position that no amount of flossing would dislodge them and the pain levels were actively preventing me from sleeping - the lovely dentist man had to pop the crown off and clean underneath, and kindly skimmed the surrounding teeth to close the gap before popping it back, hooray, no vegetarianism necessary. But there were three separate occasions in the dentist trip which I made some comment which seemed clear enough as I spoke but was completely misunderstood, and in retrospect I can completely see why, the statement was kinda loose and drifty. Framing thoughts for verbal statement clearly needs practice, particularly if you're me and tend to shape ideas mentally on a fairly geological time-scale, which is why I prefer to write them.

Anyway. Tooth now sorted, and possibly I should try and blog more than a couple of times a week, because at least that forces me to compose sentences. And the lovely dentist is also a spectacle-wearing lifeform and gave me useful tips on how to futz with a mask to reduce the glasses-fogging effect (answer: rigid wire nose-piece, and twist the ear loops so the mask gapes very slightly on both sides, allowing another path of escape for all that warm, moist air). So we are, if somewhat incoherently, ahead on points. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 39: minor terrors and side effects

The major terrors of COVID - actual COVID, COVID side effects, death, food shortages, economic collapse - are all a bit distant to those of us in my fortunate position, but the minor terrors will get you every time. See: car battery, yesterday. Today I braved Uber and hit Rondebosch to get a prescription filled and buy the next two weeks' worth of groceries, and... um. This mask thing. It's bloody horrible.

Problem one: I don't like things on my head, I get claustrophobic and a bit panicky. I don't wear hats, I did fourteenth century in the SCA so I didn't have to wear smothering veils (I trained myself into a very light circlet by sheer bloody-mindedness), and traditional Muslim is right out for a variety of reasons only partially related to my rampant and incurable atheism. Having something on my face is awful, even the swanky, shaped and pleated, nurse-approved mask I ran up over the weekend; I feel compressed and trapped and desperate even before having to deal with the sound of my own breathing.

Problem two: masks are not designed for people who, owing to really weak vision and bumpy eyelids which preclude contact lenses, have to wear glasses. Wearing a mask, your glasses steam up with every breath you exhale, even with the glasses over the top of the mask. I bumbled around the supermarket panicky from face-coverage and double panicky from not being able to see a bloody thing because of the misted glasses. My heart started racing and I got all lightheaded, which I realised after a bit was because I was unconsciously holding my breath so I could see enough to buy the products I actually wanted rather than those immediately to their left, or in a different aisle entirely but with the same approximate colour of packaging. It was not, shall we say, my favourite shopping expedition of recent times.

But there are some pleasant, minor side effects. Either regulations have relaxed a bit or Checkers is a lot more laissez faire than Pick'n'Pay, because they sold me a giant bottle of organic kelp-derived plant food without so much as an eyelid twitch, so I can druid slightly more effectually. And the Uber guys offered the usual pleasant chat, making me realise that taking an occasional Uber and tipping generously is actually something I can do for them, I can afford it, and they're really struggling with no-one going anywhere. (It's apparently a bit better since Friday, as the opening up of food deliveries appears to have been leaped upon by a stir-crazy populace and everyone is getting takeout). And, finally, I clambered out of the Uber with my two bags of groceries, and promptly stopped short outside my door to swear heartily because I was fogged up and couldn't see, and my nice neighbour came out to see if he could help, and it transpires he has a battery charger and will cheerfully charge mine for the next time I need to go anywhere. Which won't, mercifully, be for another week or so. Because I'm exhausted. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 38: the penalties of insufficient exercise

I have successfully not left the house for two reasonably pleasant weeks, work irritations and general global angst notwithstanding, but today I planned to go and pick up a prescription. Which was not entirely simple, because our current lockdown rules require that you wear a mask in public, and it's taken over a week for me to flog myself into hauling out the sewing machine and constructing one, which in the event, when I did finally reach a critical gumption mass, took me just over half an hour and wasn't onerous. Apparently on some subconscious level I really don't want to leave the house.

Which, apparently, my techno-jinx recognises, because I finally hauled myself out of the house this morning, after the regular Sunday morning hangout session with jo&stv, and... the car made the nasty choked whirring noise of a totally flat battery, and wouldn't start. Which is inevitable, I've been hearing that exact noise up and down the road all week as neighbours who, like me, haven't driven in a while, made the same discovery. (Said sound effects have been interspersed, from Friday onwards, with the ecstatic yapping over-excitement of neighbourhood hounds permitted, since lockdown went down a level, their due and just walkies for the first time in a month. I swear on Friday they were going down the road at approximately two minute intervals. This just in: Nation's Hounds Officially Stir Crazy).

But the car battery is an interesting tactical problem, actually, because it must be so common. I am hoping madly that car mechanics are an essential service and still operating, because, my hyper-prepared possession of jumper cables notwithstanding, I really don't think any of my neighbours, under the same restrictions as I am, will have car batteries any better charged than mine. Which means that said car mechanics are going to spend the rest of lockdown wafting from client to client with their happy portable charger thing, rescuing us from the inevitable effect of all this sedentary staying at home. Lockdown: inevitable physical decay, both human and mechanical. I should possibly take the car for a run when I've achieved actual function. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 33: the fundamental interconnectedness of all things

I am in the throes of remote orientation and remote curriuclum advice simultaneously, which is at the very least preventing boredom. It's also keeping my blood pumping as I patiently answer email queries whose answer was contained in the announcement I have just sent out and which was quoted in the query. Yelling and shaking helpless fists at the sky are cardio, yes?

I keep having email exchanges with colleagues where they apologise for a delayed response and refer to the difficulties of working from home in the midst of small children. And every time, I reply to reassure them that I get it, it's fine, I am facing the very different challenge of isolation, and I really think I have it easier than people with young families. Even despite the clear and present danger that not leaving the house for two weeks at a time may lead inexorably into my becoming a crazed, feral hermit, or at least even more of a crazed, feral hermit than I already am under my routine non-epidemic conditions of extreme introversion.

But I was thinking about it at 1am yesterday, which is where random insomnia bloody landed me after two hours of sleep: this epidemic may have been enabled by our globe-spanning travel technologies, but its quarantine lockdowns are also enabled by our equally globe-spanning communications tech. I am not alone. I have a high-speed fibre internet line and a cellphone contract. I am in contact with colleagues and students daily, and have check-ins with friends and family via WhatsApp several times a week, plus Skype and Zoom and hangouts, and weekly gin dates with Vi. I have kitties to pet, and with whom to hold conversations out loud, as for instance now, when Pandora has climbed under my desk and is headbutting me lovingly in the calf.

And more than that, I am through Tumblr and Twitter and this blog plugged firmly into a global community of experience. I am watching people bake bread and homeschool kids and rant at the government, and lose friends and family to the virus, and exchange jokes and wry insights and mad lockdown self-entertainment memes, and support each other and commiserate, and record sports commentary on their dogs and play videogames as performance art, and deliberately set out to entertain each other and make this whole horrible experience, in some small way, more human and connected and bearable. The manifest iniquities of various governments aside, this epidemic has demonstrated over and over again that at heart the vast majority of humans are communal, and mutually supportive, and pretty decent, really. We make the best of things, for ourselves and each other. We are tanking our own economies and employment by staying home, and we're not only doing it out of love for our fellow humans, we are doing it good-humouredly and creatively and in mutual support.

Sometimes I like us. It's nice to know it's possible. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 29: administrative travails

I have spent the week running online orientation for our students' remote learning. which has been... challenging. Because we are in post-apartheid South Africa, which still has massive social inequalities (although, under late capitalism who doesn't, frankly?), and there is absolutely no way that a significant chunk of our students will have access to the internet or laptops or bandwidth or data in sufficient quantities to make remote learning easy or even possible, even before we get to the skills problem. (The very flawed survey they did a week or two back says that something like 30% of our students don't have suitable access). I keep having to deal with emails from students in rural areas who have had to travel from home to borrow a friend's phone in order to have either the data or the connection to send email, and are panicking about the absolute impossibility of learning online under those conditions.

And the whole thing has been complicated by my Cherished Institution, which is huge and slow and complacent, and has woken up to the exigencies of the situation like a particularly somnolent leviathan several hours after the alarm clock has given up beeping. Wits had data plans in place for their students ten days ago. We have spent the week rushing to roll them out, having pasted them in hurriedly when it became apparent that zero-rating certain key sites was insufficient, while frantic appeals mount in my inbox. We have sourced laptops for students who need them, but those are also only going out this week, and again with the desperate emails, and it's only for SA students, so international students are sitting in shitshows like Zimbabwe absolutely abandoned. Communication has been bad, reponsiveness has been bad, I really think the institution is floundering in the crisis.

My particular situation has been complicated by the need to do curriculum change remotely, except that the registrar's office wants students to submit forms through the student database rather than by email, which is fine except that they have spent the last week and a bit assuring us that yes, they'll set it up and explain the process, and then not doing that. While the emails from frantic students desperate to drop courses pile up in my inbox. Are you sensing a theme here, with the inbox? I am doing a shitload of cut and paste, mostly placatory generalities and exhortations to be patient.

This all sounds rather dire, but actually mostly the orientation has gone well, I have assembled a kick-butt team (mostly grad students, because heaven forfend actual academics should actually put in any time) to reply to student queries, and the sites are nicely designed by the university's online teaching team. But I have started yet another Stardew Valley game, because Witcher 3 keeps making me do things I don't want to, and apparently I need to have a small corner of my life in which I can advance with measurable progress and which is absolutely under my control.

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South Park Self


So, that cockroach/beetle problem? the one I thought I'd sorted by lifting the hob and spraying the swarms to hell and gone? Yeah, not so much. There have been increasing numbers of cockroaches on my counter top over the last week or two, and I have been completely unable to work out where they're coming from.

Today, in the midst of troubleshooting the inevitable glitches occasioned by our remote teaching orientation sites going live, I trundled into the kitchen to make my third (fourth? fifth?) cup of tea (it's been an intense morning), and was somewhat miffed when my spanky blue-glowing glass kettle suddenly died just before reaching boiling point. And in the course of trying to work out what had tripped (the plug, all the plugs, the multiplug, my sanity, the nature of reality), I picked up the kettle base, and about FIFTY MILLION COCKROACHES of assorted sizes ran madly in all directions.

Which is bad, obviously they've been cowering in the warm and eating the wiring, little sods, but what is worse is that I yelped sharply and beat the kettle base on the counter a few times to dislodge them, and about FIFTY MILLION MORE rushed madly into the distance, presumably wailing and rending their garments. And I did it again, and about THIRTY MILLION MORE swarmed out and made tracks, shouting revolutionary slogans about oppressive landlords. And by the fourth or fifth iterations of increasingly wild and frenzied bashing, it was only two million or so tiny black ones who were fleeing, plus a quantity of black dust which I suspect is chewed plastic, but they were STILL COMING! I have clearly disturbed not just a complex and enlightened beetle civilisation with a commendably diverse species profile, but the high-tech research facility in which they have constructed a small pocket universe, because there is no way in hell that many beetles fitted into a kettle base that's only a centimetre thick.

I have now beaten the kettle base into submission, sprayed it in fifteen different positions with evil chemicals, wiped it down, bashed it a few more times for luck (yielding one struggling, poisoned straggler and a quantity of black dust, oh god what if it's Thread spores?), cannibalised an ice cream container lid to make a plastic disc which I have glued firmy onto the underside of the base with contact adhesive so they can't get in, little buggers, got a bit high on glue fumes, reassembled the whole thing, reset all the plug trip switches, and successfully made myself a much-needed cup of tea. I would like a medal now. It should say "PROUD OPPRESSIVE LANDLORD" and show a cockroach, mortant, feet to chief. Also, aargh.

My subject line is, of course, Barry Hughart, who offers the only possible response to seething hordes of clearly evil beetles in a time of plague.

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South Park Self

Day 24: random thought for the day

You know, in an internet age where "going viral" is an everyday and commonly understood term, you'd think that the average person would have enough awareness of the idea of spread and scale to not make bloody stupid decisions about their behaviour when the virus is, in fact, real.

The US situation is making my hair curl. My current theory is that Trump is, in fact, actively trying to kill people; I just think he's thinking of the victims as "not his voter base", i.e. "black". And that's going to bite him very hard in the butt, given that it's his asinine MAGA supporters who are clamoring in large physical crowds for the relaxing of lockdown in the few states that are actually being sensible.

Further thought: the coalitions of sensible states who are co-ordinating their responses so as not to infect each other is creating blocs which neatly mirror the starting point of any number of sf stories which imagine America split into separate countries. This is simultaneously horrifying and profoundly satisfying.

Virtual hugs to anyone in the US or UK whose government's responses are making them want to beat their heads against the wall.

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