Thomas Covenant – Unbeliever

I finished.

Last week, after reading through my many Melbourne journeys for work and many weekends over coffee, I finally closed the tenth volume of the Thomas Covenant series. And to be frank; I am feeling a little relieved to be done.

This series of books revolves around Covenant; on paper the most unlikeable antihero imaginable. Filled with self-loathing, anger and numerous anti-social traits. An author, diagnosed with leprosy, wife lost, child taken, universally feared and despised.

The stuff great stories are made of, clearly.

I vaguely recalled reading some or all of the series when I was much younger, which prompted me to give them another comprehensive shot since the last book was only released in 2013.

The first three books in the series are a trilogy released from 1977 to 1979, and they are unambiguously great, albeit somewhat bleak and challenging in parts (note: trigger warning for rape if you decide to read it). But I would strongly recommend not to read beyond, because the second trilogy and the last four books are increasingly fainter copies of the original. Which is a shame, because after the first three books I really wanted the remaining seven to be of the same calibre.

The first trilogy has a very memorable list of characters; Lord Foul (the antagonist) has some wonderfully evocative and malevolent mono/dialogue, the Lords struggling to recover past knowledge without despair,  the Haruchai warrior race with a very demanding personal ethic. And Covenant throughout balancing his struggle with self-loathing, uncertainty whether his experience is even real, and transcending his own limitations for a growing investment in the people he wrongs along the way.

Even knowing about “clench racing” (look it up!) and noticing the tic more as a result didn’t diminish the strength of the storytelling.

The great thing about the second trilogy is that it cleverly uses the fact that time flows faster in his fantasy alternate reality than in our real world to have 10 years in Covenants life put him 3000 years into the future in this alternate reality. A chance to create a completely new setting for the world, a new challenge, a new iteration of the struggle with lord Foul. What diminishes it though is the fact it turns into ever more fantasy-travel-porn… gratuitously labouring from one side of the world to another to get object X to challenge foe Y in increasing order of challenge. Grinding is no more fun in books than it is in WoW.

Add to this the fact that he has a somewhat painfully whiny companion in Linden Avery along for the ride. I understand what she is for, and intellectually the exploration of her personality is interesting enough… it just doesn’t make for very entertaining or relaxing reading in any other way than as an intellectual exercise.

And this is where the last four books become ever more dreary. For starters Covenant doesn’t appear until the third book at all; it’s all Linden all the time, crumpling into herself in despair over the challenges in front of her, setting herself progressively less lofty goals until she basically dooms the world when she brings back Covenant. It feels like her role was more to drive the story to such a deep crises as to challenge Covenant sufficiently to fix it all again. Add to this a veritable constellation of bad guys all trying to do them in at the same time for differing agendas, and add more travel-porn into the mix, and it feels like the only person to whom the story must have been enjoyable was the author.

The only reason I didn’t give up before the end?

I was morbidly curious to see how the author was going to get himself out of the knots he was setting up. Yes. I meta-read, not so much the story as the author. Also… spoiler: Deus-Ex, a million times. Ugh.

In short: I heartily recommend the original trilogy… just pretend nothing else happens after it. Lord Foul is defeated. He never recovered from the damage done by Covenant. You’ll save yourself several months of increasing agony.

How to make Holidays Work

Being on “leave” between jobs has been an interesting experience. I don’t think I’m too bad at letting work go while I am on leave; I may promise myself to keep track of email or to get a report done, but that is typically wishful thinking.

By the time I am two days in, work “doesn’t exist” anymore.

Which is why I was so surprised that after finishing my last job it took less than three weeks for me to feel more relaxed than I had ever been during leave in the 11 years at the job.

I can only attribute this to the fact the little voice in the back of my head realised this time it really didn’t need to remember anything. And I realised; when I am on leave there is always that part of me that runs through a little mental list of things I need to remember because I am going to need them the day I return to work. Shutting that off makes more difference than I ever would have believed.

I’m not sure there is a concrete lesson in this. I don’t think forgetting everything about one’s job over leave is really an option, but maybe there are ways to get more mileage out of this effect in an ongoing job as well.

It occurs to me that perhaps during the transition of a promotion would be a perfect time to take a break, since that’s the closest to an opportunity to forget the job; just prior to picking up a new one. But still, I doubt I could convince the voice that I really do not need to stress about remembering everything else about the company.

Or maybe I should try the same trick that works for sleepless nights: writing down what I am worried about forgetting. When you write the thoughts milling through your head down, sleep has been shown to follow quickly. Maybe a special “holiday notebook”, note down everything to remember and then stop thinking about it? And don’t plan on doing anything work related at all of course!

Or as a last resort… maybe resigning and getting re-hired around every break is a way to get the same effect ultimately… bit of a leap of faith though.

Sad Display along M7

I had been taking some shots along the M7 for a photo-editing experiment I am planning to do next. Time to learn my new tools (long overdue). I almost didn’t notice this sad bunch sitting along the cycle path.

I have no idea what they are waiting for exactly, but it looks like they have been there for a while without shelter. I hope their ride shows up soon.

It looks like they have been waiting for their ride for some time
It looks like they have been waiting for their ride for some time

My Love/Hate for Bill Maher and his Show

I have a love/hate relationship with Real Time with Bill Maher.
(full episodes freely available on HBO and iTunes)

There is much to love; often he has a great combination of people on his panel from both sides of the political aisle, he doesn’t shy away from topics if they are difficult, and often the serious part (with jokes) at the end of his “New Rules” segment closing the show is incredibly well written and brings interesting or clear perspectives to hot-button topics.

For example, on over-arming the police:

Gun rights in America:

Religion and Atheism:

And terrorism/warfare:

And yet… he also annoys the hell out of me more than occasionally. When it comes to science and reason he is a big fan; as long as they unequivocally agree with his perspective. But sometimes when he talks about chemical additives, he gets a little trigger-happy when a guest is trying to make a nuanced argument. Science is sometimes nuanced; sometimes you might be right, but the evidence isn’t in yet… and until the evidence is in, it isn’t science… sorry. Sometimes the evidence might contradict you, and that is tough to swallow, but you cannot sit on a high horse on climate change the one moment, and then be a disbeliever when it turns out that not all chemistry is evil. In for a penny…

The other theme that makes me cringe is when he paints every Republican with the same broad brush. He likes to talk about how he respects serious Republicans, but for some mysterious reason the ones he gets on his show are never those. It reminds me of the West Wing episode where a moderate Republican makes a point (to Josh from memory): if you don’t work with moderates, only radicals will be electable.

I’m as left-leaning as they come… but if you cannot have a respectful disagreement with someone who holds a principled view not your own without yelling at them, I can with 99% accuracy tell you who the radical in the conversation is. Hint: it’s not the person you are yelling at.

That is not what bothered me most in the most recent episode of his show though.

He had a predominantly left-wing panel, with Carly Fiorina the only Republican. She clearly was too careful for this episode. Possibly presidential ambitions have something to do with that. And I know very little about her principled beliefs, so maybe she chose her silence wisely.

One thing I wish she had jumped on more forcefully though was the purposeless sexism at the table at one stage. When presidential candidates came up, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren were mentioned on the Democratic side, and it somehow segued into a tasteless joke about a double ticket and Bill asking Salman Rushdie “What Happens in your Fantasies?” to which he thankfully said nothing.

She somewhat timidly tried to make the point that she was the only woman around the table trying to point out the obvious, but it seemed that nobody got her hint. I have also noticed that women panelists on his show are much more prone to being talked over than their male counterparts. And political macho-culture is no excuse here, these are not weak or timid women that just allow it to happen. They just get ignored.

This is a popular show.
Predominantly about politics.
Women are in politics.
Sexism is a real problem.

And bad taste is just bad taste. It wasn’t even anywhere near a clever joke.

And then towards the end of the show when Jay Leno decided to hug him and tell Bill everyone loves him… clearly longer than Bill was comfortable with (Bad Jay! No Consent!)… he snapped back with a “Get Off me Homo”… which is not the first time he’s used a slur like that either.

I am conflicted.

I dislike the way he comports himself on a show that is otherwise an interesting exchange of frequently well-informed perspectives. I dislike that when there is so little good political debate available he makes it so hard for me to watch his show without feeling dirty afterwards. But as he says; it is his show, and he doesn’t have to listen if he doesn’t want to.

Most of the time it is no worse than other panel shows.
But when it goes wrong,…
…every once in a while…
…it makes me want to curl in on myself.

I’ll probably keep watching like an addict looking for his next hit… but I will keep a hot shower and a stiff drink on stand-by.

Sand, Morocco, Distressed Cat and 2 Cellos

A soothing week for sure. With a thumping rock ending.

I managed to catch two nice sunny days down the coast past Nowra. I walked about 25km along the waves listening to my podcasts; I got some weird looks, and I felt a little guilty that I wasn’t just focusing on the rushing waves. But I had a 5 hour episode about the first world war to listen to, so clearly… something.

It amazes me how relaxing I can find being away from my internets (within reason).

I have also noticed a very interesting difference in how this holiday feels. There a fundamental difference between a holiday after which I have to return to the to-do list of work items that are still on my plate, and this holiday that is more like a full reset in that regard. Even a week in I already felt completely unburdened of thinking about work, where earlier holidays I’d still have that partition in the back of my head keeping track of the things I had to get back to and how much longer I could afford not to think about them. It’s a bit like trying not to think about a pink elephant.

On Friday Abbey and I did something very different on our holiday down the coast. We went to a Moroccan cooking class. Due to some stroke of fate I got “stuck” with making the ice cream for our 3 course meal. I almost said something, but I decided to just roll with it and politely nod to all the ice-cream-making instructions. I also learned to make a few other interesting bits and pieces as well, so it wasn’t just ice cream all the time.

And tonight we came back to one very distressed cat.

Amber had managed to get locked in the top-side of the house where there was no food or water; I cannot even recall us closing the in-between door, so maybe she got in a fight with Obie and he closed the door on her? Luckily it was only for a few days, but she was still very sad/upset/glad-to-see-us … some extra water and nutrition and she’s back to herself already. Now there is just the little matter of her improvised litter-tray to deal with :/

And tonight the week got topped off with 2 Cellos … it is both exactly what it says on the tin, and completely different from what you might expect. Try YouTube. Imagine Cellos getting abused in different ways and then add-on thumping drum beats. It felt like they were trying to pre-emptively re-start my heart. Great fun.

Definitely a full week, so now for a little quiet back home.

My Campaign Monitor Adventure – Update

My new year started with some updates on the job front.

On Sunday I received a very friendly email from the CM OPS team. It’s time for me to pick the hardware I will need for my job.

Well… need … I should say want.

One of the coolest benefits of working here is you get to choose your own computer setup! You are free to choose anything [ed: my highlight] from Dell, Lenovo or Apple.

To give you an idea, the other members of the Development Team are using Dell and Apple laptops, mainly running Windows with some using OS X.

Also, let me know if you have any favorite keyboard or mouse brand so we can order that, too!

I’m too sensible about my needs to see how far “anything” stretches… but based on my experiences so far, I have no doubt that if I make a cogent argument for a Dell Precision M6800 with i7-4940MX, 32GB memory, Nvidia Quadro K5100M, 17″ Multi-Touch screen, 1TB RAID-0 SSD, and dual 24″ monitors, at $6,747.87 it would be there waiting for me on day 1.

Not that I’d want RAID-0 anywhere near a Dev machine, or that I’d feel comfortable with that much power overkill in a laptop. I bet the battery would be flat in the blink of an eye.

And then this afternoon, Niclas (the recruiter) gave me a quick update on the move as well. It sounds like the CBD office will be ready somewhere between mid-to-end February.

I guess that means another 2-4 weeks off if I want… oh… the horror!
I checked to see if they have room for me to commute to Sutherland for a few weeks if I go stir-crazy from my time off, and that was fine too. So I guess I’ll weigh up pros and cons to make a call by February.

All in all, they have been very flexible and accommodating with my nebulous starting date of “When You Are in the CBD“, which I appreciate greatly.

Now, back to Dell to pick a more sane set-up.