the cynicism you still cling to in the name of your lost battle against mediocrity

the walking-shadow, or, why I learned to stop flaming and love 4chan

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there’s only two ways this can end and in both of them you die.

Last night I had my weirdest TF2 related dream yet. I dreamed I was looking at the Valve TF2 blog, and they had posted something just like the Halloween update (which had a number of seemingly unrelated-to-TF2 pages featuring hats and with links to even more TF2-unrelated pages which eventually gave you a hat). Except instead of being the memoirs of an unfortunate 19th century industrialist on the quest for Gravel, it was a set of medieval-themed fantasy things, in a TF2-esque style (a king that looked like Saxton Hale, various knights being manly, along with over-the-top Ye Olde drivel) but (again) seemingly unrelated. And it was massive. I went through a dozen pages, finding man hidden links and opening them in new tabs (I dream in Firefox 3, with adblock).

They were much more weirdly specific, intelligence-report styled medieval/fantasy things. A diagram of a crown. An autopsy report on a dragon. All interesting, all with loads of finicky detail, all in a very TF2 style and with a TF2 logo at the top, but I still couldn’t see what the hell they had to do with my FPS of choice. I opened what I saw was the last tab.

It was the Runescape world map, accompanied by a giant trollface.jpg superimposed over it. Then I woke up.

Apparently I’m being trolled by my own subconscious?

Then we all went to see Avatar. I liked it, despite hating individual aspects. Fuck your Noble Savage cliches. You need the Indians to be boringly perfect lithe blue catpeople with ever-perky boobs (oh-so-coincidentally covered by beads and feathers for the moral guardians) and big anime eyes whose closeness to nature is backed up with standard SF Treknobabble nonsense (not in itself a bad thing) for them to be sympathetic; you need them not to be regular people whose “closeness to nature” is baseless superstitious tribal gibberish tinged with psychotic savagery. They’re boring and perfect and completely unsympathetic. If there were blue people who wanted guns and booze and acted like flawed disgusting humans, if you ever saw them dying of curable diseases, or suffering beneath hereditary leaders and repressive misogynistic society (at least hinted at) rather than being universally smugly convinced that their way is flawlessly perfect and being portrayed as being right… maybe some of them would have a bit of bloody character and the actual humans wouldn’t have to be laughable caricatures of military-industrial complex evil living in a laughable caricature of a military/industrial complex to even be the villains. Sod holier-than-thou noble savages, sod guilty revisionist lies. I’d wade through a sea of dead blue babies to get my hands on unlimited room-temperature superconductors.

But Avatar is a good film, even though it’s based on a stereotype that never existed and nothing about it ever really soars. In the same way as the LOTR films, despite having the Generic Fantasy setting, board-flat characters, black/white racist morality and generally predictable plot, were utterly fantastic, Avatar is good entertainment.

It was in the execution. Not the effects, because any retard can blow the GDP of Zimbabwe on CG and their film will still suck – but the execution, the whole damn film, every scene was done well, with a consistently high quality of… everything. Flat and boring as the characters were, there was no point at which they weren’t reasonable as the parts they played; terribly long as the film was, there was no scene that was wasted and useless (except the second Tame the Critter scene, that can go to hell.) Nothing broke suspension of disbelief (oh, apart from armour-piercing arrows and birds bringing down cargo-lifting helicopters with dead weight, but that’s sheer nitpicking). At its best it was good concepts done gorgeously; at its worst it was bad cliches done well. But still, screw noble savages forever.

inb4 Avatar 2, in which blue people come to earth and realise that they are Not So Different, and Avatar 3 in which blue people and pink people unite against a common, faceless and thus completely evil foe.

But the question is – bugs or robots?

You are like the Cyclops of Greek myth, except you are Scottish AND I HATE YOU.

Okay. Welsh holiday didn’t go exactly as planned.

The positives:
– Battered Black Country chips in Ludlow on the way were entertaining.
– Hovertexts about the Demo/Soldier War update were delicious.
– Bought a snazzy new raincoat in Betws.
– It’s a beautiful country.
– We met fun people.
– Bacon.
– I am home and warm.

The failures:
– Upon arrival at Frongoch, the heating and electricity were both out. The electricity didn’t get better.
– Call from Nathan just before losing signal. Auntie Susan fell off her bike. Already… it’s unpleasant but accurate to say “emaciated” from overwork and anorexia, she broke basically everything and was airlifted to hospital in London.
– No signal – phone or internet – in the Llanberis valley. But we knew this already. Not helpful.
– Mount Snowdon in winter is murder. Frozen waterfalls are gorgeous. But not easy to climb. Took the Miners’ Track and gave up fifteen metres into the serious ascent, at about the third mile of the track.
– Having a pub lunch in “The Saracen’s Head” in Beddgelert, got a call from, of all places, the University of Birmingham telling me my wallet had been found. In Betws.
– Driving back from Porthmadoc/Portmeirion (as magical as ever), with sudden snow covering the roads, Dad crashed the car hard into a wall with all of us inside.

Daisychained power strips from the single functioning socket next to the boiler allowed for basic essentials (kettle, fridge, toaster, laptop), though there was a constant squabble of phone chargers. After fifteen minutes of back-and-forth phone calls with Debbie of North Wales Police and the answerphone of PC Mark Warmsley, eventually arranged to pick my wallet up from the camping shop I’d left it at. After which, while following Mum around Betws on a fruitless hunt for trousers, saw a large policeman who turned out to be PC Warmsley. Thanked him. He was a cool guy.

Car’s front left wheel pretty comprehensively screwed, machine undrivable though nobody hurt, getting it repaired/recovered is a steadily unfolding drama. Holiday cut short at great expense in train/taxi fares, abandoning our bulkier luggage in Frongoch like a frosty Dunkirk. Family scattered across the country – me and brothers home, mum to London to visit Susan, Dad still in Wales to unscrew things.

But still. I’m home.

“I won’t lie to you, Bidwell, we are in a LOT of trouble here.”

On Monday, you could tell it was an essay deadline day from the way every last computer in the Library had one student on it trying to print things out and one student looking over their shoulder to see if they’d finished yet.

I am deeply, deeply unimpressed with University IT. Running Office 07 is annoying as it is. Running Vista – on max graphical settings – is unforgivable. Because of the utterly pointless bloated crap freezing up the mid-spec university computers, I spent a total of ten minutes quietly cursing the machine before I got a printout. I probably would have gone down to IT and shouted at them had I not needed to sprint up to the History office and hand my stuff in.

For the last seminar of the term, it was so foggy one could stand at the base of the clock tower and still not see the top. Stuart’s assessment of my Somme presentation and general Focused Study performance used the phrases “great enthusiasm” and “rapid development”. All very ego-boosting.

Louis said of a frosty Friday morning a few weeks ago that War Studies folk seemed a cut above the average glassy-eyed history student; more enthusiastic, better motivated. That might just be egotistical exceptionalism. It might be a shared feeling that having picked such a ridiculous niche subject we’re damn well going to excel at it. But in comparison to what I’ve seen of people on non-WOR courses… it applies. For me, returning to education is a fresh new experience after a year of un-stimulating, basically pointless work and mindless squandering of spare time. It’s different, it’s something worth striving for, and best of all it’s fun. But for a lot of people, it seems that university is a logical stage they’ve been expecting all their life, just another continuation of boring spoon-fed schoolwork, and they feel no urge to apply themselves any more than they did at school. I mean, satellite photography on the Somme?

That gap year may have been a really good idea after all.

Final week’s expenditures: £27.31
Total outgoings this term: £488.87 living & £275 EP Report – £763.87
Average: £40.73/week. Unless I’ve miscounted weeks or something.

we’ll have a storm now, and an earthquake if you like

Gather round me, all ye sinners, and hear the tales of The Redoubtable Beast, my noble steed, and the maintenance that nearly brought us both low.

Rear brakes had been so worn down they were grating metal against metal for a while. Right. Better replace them. I already had brakeblocks! Simple. My shiny new Allen keys, brake blocks, all good.

…except wait, these nuts are solid, and it’s the nut I need to get at, rather than the Allen key things. Also, one of the little nuts holding my mudguard on had fallen off. Right.

So I decided on Friday afternoon for parts purchasin’ and bike maintainin’. After Stuart’s seminar, cycled up to Selly Oak; realised I hadn’t brought my wallet. Hurr. Rode home for lunch and recriminations.

Went up to Halfords again, bought the mudguard nut, a cheap stamped metal multispanner thing, and some oil for my chain and gears. Went home and got out my Allen keys and brake blocks. Okay, the cosmetic stuff first. Detach light mounting and old rusted bell. Done! Done! Attach mudguard. Done! So far, so good. Brakeblocks. Twist. Strain. Oil. Twist. Strain. Why isn’t this coming off? Multispanner thing was completely the wrong shape and couldn’t get at the nuts, a real spanner was needed. Cycled down to the Bristol Road hardware shop and, with the aid of an extremely helpful hardware shop man who didn’t mind me taking the spanners out, got a 10mm spanner that would work. Cycled back home uphill in the gathering darkness, using front brakes only. Okay, time to get these blasted blocks on.
Yeah, except even with the right spanner and the right leverage it still didn’t work because everything was rusted shut. Even worse, on putting the cantilever brake assembly thing back together I realised I had lost a critical nut.

Despair.

Sarah recommended a bike shop in Selly Oak, who weren’t open on the weekend; I intended to visit on Monday, but had a sudden case of essay fatigue and upon returning from disability assessment collapsed in bed and didn’t get up till nine in the evening.

Disability assessment thing: exam arrangements arranged, special tuition offers offered, and grant request sent off to DSA, who should be scheduling their own needs assessment with me sometime soon, though they apparently have an immense backlog of paperwork. Everything bright and shiny, just need to talk to Caterina at the start of next term to make all things clear to her.

Today I cycled up to Selly Oak for hopefully the last time this term to see if Selly Oak Cycles were as good as Siz sez. And they were. Fitted my brakeblocks, replaced my lost nut, and gave me a chocolate when I returned from Sainsbury’s to pick it up. For £5, half of what I’d spent on tools and bits in my own failed attempts to be handy. Service with a smile. I thanked them and promised to return next time I had any bike problems. Since I seem to have developed a flat tyre on the way back… this may be quite soon.

Essays are in. The assessed Military Revolution one for Stuart is, I think, good. The formative Strategic Air Power one was written almost entirely from own knowledge with references from unhelpful books fudged in around vague statements at the last minute, and while I think it would be a truly fantastic A-level essay it’s probably not going to do well now that I need substantiated statements. But essays are now Over, and an weird feeling of relief has settled over me. I’ve actually done some serious work this term, and it feels good.

Awesome final seminar with Rob Thompson today about the causes of WW1. Every single seminar with him (except one on WW1/interwar theorist Basil Liddell Hart, which turned into a debate on Korea of all things) turns into an argument about WW1, so this was a fitting end to a term of great seminars. Next term: Gary Sheffield, premier UK military historian.

Tonight: Worsoc social at The Old Contemptibles, apparently to be attended by a number of our academics, including Rob. This was the draw; if it were just war nerds in a pub in town, I probably wouldn’t bother to come.

Expenditures for last week: £35.06