Monthly Archives: February 2012

Employment, or, 101 tips for a seamless interview, part one

now hiring: one alt text writer. interested? comment

Note: I got the job, though. Guess playing up the ‘quirky scamp’ angle works, even if the job is catastrophe insurance!

Hah hah hah

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Filling bars, or, how a system of meaningless points modifies my behaviour almost constantly

As always, Penny Arcade communicates my own actions and feelings more succinctly and hilariously (yes, that is a word, thank you) than I ever could.

It started, years back, with XBox Achievements. Basic concept: complete a goal in your game, and be rewarded with an Achievement. That little ‘plink’ and the name and value – value – of your achievement pops up for all to see.

Yes, value, because of course each achievement is worth a certain number of Gamerpoints, with more challenging achievements being worth more.

You can’t opt out, and almost every game has achievements for finishing a level or whatever, so you can’t help but get them. And then you start thinking. “oh! There is an achievement for killing 20 villagers. There’s another for killing 25000 zombies! I can do that.”

And then, you are lost.

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Instrumental Debut

A huge metal instrument, tubes and vibrating bars. I play. A side door opens. A man slips through, carrying something. He makes no effort to be quiet. He scans the stage, focuses on me. He stares. Glaring spotlights wink out, leaving me alone in an island of light.  My solo. I sit, close my eyes, focus on the notes and the movements of my fingers.

The solo ends. I sit back, relax a little, my brain defocused, the muscle memory piloting my fingers through the harmony. I scan the rows below. Hard to see much but the whites of their eyes. No sign of the fellow now, not even lumbering under the bulk he carried. I wonder idly if he has been ejected for blocking the view.

A soft twanging sound. I look down quickly, checking all the parts of my instrument. I am aware of the myriad high-tension sounds which can indicate a critical failure. Nothing wrong. The harmonic twang again. I glance around, my hands still playing my part. There, in the wings. Out of sight of the crowd, but only a few metres from me, here under the lights.

He stares. He shifts his weight. He almost lunges onto the stage, stopping himself at the last moment. My fingers stumble, I miss a note. He moves his hands across his instrument again, producing the same off-key discord, barely audible of the sound of the orchestra and my own deeply resonant tune. I look up, catch up, my fingers flying. The conductor shoots me a glance and I resolve to ignore the fellow in the wings, to concentrate on the piece and my part in it. I have no interest whatever in learning of this fellow player with his broken instrument. What interest is it to me, what help could I give? Each is tuned to its player – nobody else could produce any usable sound from it. Nobody else could understand its feel, its unique harmonics. It’s strange enough that I’m here at all – this piece was written for a different player. I’m just on call, filling in.

Inevitably a realisation rises at the same time as the swell of the music. My thoughts are cleared while I focus on the complicated and scintillating motions of the finale. Though my sound can’t be much like that of the player I’ve replaced – who (of course) is the one standing  almost close enough to reach – I do my best to follow the music, adding the unique sound expected of a player like me. I have no desire to overshadow the fellow I’ve replaced, but the piece needs the full use of my clumsy, beautiful instrument to succeed. I can sense him there, though, his stare boring holes into the side of my head, his body practically vibrating. Continue reading

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February 6, 2012 · 5:01 pm

On eating animals

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about eating meat.

I like meat; I eat it almost every day, and have for almost all of my life.

I know a few vegetarians, and lately I’ve been talking a lot to someone who recently went full vegan. She has provided me with a number of arguments in favour of an animal-free lifestyle. It’s something I have avoided considering too closely in the past because, well, I like meat. And eggs, cheese, milk, honey…

This is also difficult to write about without coming across as defensive at best, and small-minded and contrary at worst. One of the biggest arguments I’ve seen against eating meat recently is that it’s bad for you and bad for animals, but the business behind it is huge – and proportional amounts of money and effort are spent on making sure that people prefer it. I can understand that, too – it’s the same for a lot of products, and it does work (cigarettes, alcohol, diamonds…). Most arguments I’ve heard recently are in the ethical, animal-cruelty vein, so that’s mostly what I’ve considered. If you don’t eat meat because you don’t like it, that’s cool!

Here is why I eat meat:

  • I feel that, up to a point, there’s an inevitability to large-scale farming ventures. Not to deny the cruelty of many factory farms, but I think that with a little effort you can eat meat which didn’t come from animals which were cruelly treated. Completely aside from the fact that meat from ill-treated animals tastes worse, free-range chicken and eggs are available everywhere, and I’m happy to pay the higher price. Here’s ecoeggs’ Chook Cam where you can take a look at the hens.

 

  • It’s good for you. Probably not with things like cheeseburgers and triple-caramelised pork belly, but meat is a good source of nutrition. Again, not to say that other foods aren’t, but it can’t be denied that regardless of its origin, meat does have nutritional value. Except maybe the plastic deli ham and McDonald’s ground beef-related food items. Moderation, as with most things, is the key: trimmed steak, lean chicken, fish… not cooking everything in oil and serving it with fried starch objects helps too. I’m the first to admit that my diet is not as healthy as it could – should – be, but meat isn’t inherently unhealthy.

 

  • Here’s a controversial one: I don’t have any ethical problems with the way food animals are farmed – in most cases. I am against battery chicken farms, but I’m happy to eat a free range/cage free chicken. I don’t find the slaughter of food animals, when done as intended, to be particularly cruel. However, I know that it doesn’t always go that way, and I am in favour of increasing protection against mistakes and poor practices which do result in unnecessary pain. I suppose as a previous owner of chickens, I feel more strongly about battery farming than about cattle farming, for example. I do know from experience that a chicken is happy if it has food and water, somewhere to scratch, and dust to bath in. They are simple animals with simple needs. Those who know me personally are already aware of my attitude towards chickens (ie that everyone who has the space should own at least a couple), and really, if everyone had a couple of chooks in the backyard, the battery industry would die out and the world would be a happier, more chicken-filled place. Which is a plus for everyone.
  • Building off the inevitability thing I mentioned earlier – it seems like such a cop-out, but there you have it – I think that humans are, in an evolutionary sense, omnivorous. Like a lion has claws and fangs, and cows have grinding teeth and four stomachs, humans have big brains, opposable thumbs, and tools. We shape our food chain to fit our numbers, tastes, available resources. We’re animals, just like the lions and the cows, but our personal attributes allow us to modify our habitat (ie, the entire planet) for our purposes. To kill the ramble: it’s natural progression. It’s not pretty, and we can do better, and we will do better.

Alright, this is a huge minefield, and like I said, it’s so hard to write about without coming across as defensive, or even of attacking a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. I understand almost all the reasons I’ve been presented by it, and I suppose this post is really just me finally outlining (for myself more than anything) why I eat meat and why I’m okay with it. Turns out that I recognise the bad stuff while still standing by the good – there’s progress to be made, and I’m all for helping to make it, but I just can’t see veganism as anything other than a lifestyle choice.

One thing I am genuinely excited about on this topic is in vitro meat. Currently it’s not feasible for mass production (according to that wiki article, it costs around one million US dollars to produce 250g of meat), but technology is always on the march. Ideally – that is, ignoring the issues with genetic modification, growth hormones, etc – the cheap mass-production of nature-identical animal muscle tissue would solve a lot of problems. And be kinda cool.

Anyway. Comment! This is a tough one and I’d like to know what other people think.

 

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Remember Cloudstreet?, or, I read a book almost as old as I am, which everyone has already read

Tim Winton’s famous and critically acclaimed 1991 novel has been common in high school curricula for years. Somehow I missed it though, and after a few abortive attempts in my youth, I finally read it. Only twenty-one years after it was first published!

The story follows two families – the Lambs and the Pickles..es – who are forced by separate accidents to move from rural areas to suburban Perth. They end up living together in a huge, rambling house on Cloud Street, seperated down the middle. We see the various family members deal with growing up, growing old – each in their own ways, each with their own problems to face.

The rough Australian dialogue – Carn! – took a little getting used to, as did the almost punctuation-free style. This aspect brought to mind Cormac McCarthy, who is quoted as saying that he doesn’t like to “blot the page up with weird little marks”. The lack of weird little marks definitely adds a certain gravity to the proceedings. I guess there’s something about quotation marks which makes the speech seem more natural to read, somehow. Without them, some conversations, intended to be light-hearted, seem unnecessarily heavy. This works fine for McCarthy’s books, but in the case of Cloudstreet added to the shadow of doom that seems to lie across most of the proceedings.

In the end, though, it’s all about family. For such a bleak setting (objectively it isn’t so bad, but post-war Perth comes across oppressively dry and scant), the book ends up being quite uplifting, optimistic even. We are shown – at some length – that people are fundamentally okay, despite their flaws and failures. Terrible things happen to some people and nobody is sure what to do or how to be happy, nobody is left unscathed or even totally sure, but there is always somebody to lean on. As much as any of our lives do, really. I don’t know if anyone can be sure that their life is on the right track; certainly I’ve never felt that certainty, that confidence that I’m making the right choices and taking the right paths. Cloudstreet made me realise that life really does just roll along, and you steer it as best you can. Sometimes doing basic good things are the only way to go, and down that road lies… happiness?

The kind of physical calamaties which the characters suffer – maimings, near-drownings, crushed by a train, bitten by a cockatoo – reminded me of a story my grandfather told me one Christmas. He was always very secretive about growing up in Surrey Hills in the 20s and 30s, and anyway was prone to fabricating most of his stories, so his past remained a mystery. He did tell us that when he was about nine, there was a fellow in a nearby street who’d fallen out with his wife, had kicked her out of the house. To prevent her re-entering, he’d hooked up the fence and gate to the power lines. One evening my grandfather and some mates had headed around there, intending to jump the fence and take some of the apples growing in this fellow’s yard. Needless to say, one of my grandfather’s friends was electrocuted to death. He never mentioned it again and would ignore questions when pressed. I never found out if it was true.

Anyway, Cloudstreet is worth a read now if you never did in high school. I don’t know how well it’d stand up if you did, though – according to my research, studying a book in any capacity will induce a lifelong disdain for it in 99% of cases. My mother – an english teacher – is giving her Year Nines The Road this semester, so I hope that breaks the cycle.

I got the usual sense of accomplishment and inner peace that come from reading something a classic – so few of them really grab me. But, as I mentioned earlier, that sense of optimism comes home at the end and really ties the whole thing together. Sappy as it may be, Cloudstreet reminded me of the importance of family.

 

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a letter to the bad times, or, an unsolicited view into my psyche

 

In these times it always seems that the best thing to do is just lie down (perhaps stay in bed; or maybe just on the ground, wherever one happens to be at the time).

 

Of course for a modern man or woman this course of action is generally indefensible (bills, rent, a powerful need to eat sometime in each month all submit a draining action on the funds of the individual. These needs more or less necessitate some kind of job – the nature of which is a more or less direct anathema to lying quietly in the corner)

 

At these times one is (generally) aware of what is happening. However, the very nature of the beast makes resistance very difficult. Often, self-talk will become viciously negative and self-deprecating. One may feel that in this state – moving through the world though s/he may be – one’s presence is unnecessary, or bringing everyone down, or outright causing irritation or even anger. And this may, in fact, be true! But the point here is that it is difficult or even impossible to tell accurately. Loving and supporting friends and family – those who would most like to help, who would be the most coveted people under normal circumstance – may be pushed away. The individual may feel that their situation is hopeless, or perhaps the condition may manifest a near-universal sense of irritation.

 

So afflicted, the individual may snap at folk (well-meaning or not) or become silent, surly, avoidant, or even aggressive. Often these outbursts immediately bring on a sense of regret, shame, guilt; which, in turn, feeds into the feeling that the sufferer is selfishly ‘inflicting’ themselves upon others.

 

This cruel spiral can continue unabated quite effectively. Feeling low, flat, bad- this makes one feel like they should stay away from others (so as not to be a downer, or simply because one prefers to be alone). Doing so, however, makes one feel lonely or forgotten. Not doing so causes the above guilt. Truly this is the essence of depression – often (without outside intervention) it is simply a no-win situation.

 

Frequently the episode can be made worse by the shame and guilt at failing to ‘just get over it’. While sometimes it is definitely possible to buck up and carry on, this isn’t often the case. It isn’t due to a lack of willpower or support but simply due to the self-defeating nature of the thought processes involved.

 

In essence depression is an insidious illness, by nature rapidly eroding the very techniques one would normally use to defeat a bad mood (self-confidence, conviction, cheerfulness, sense of purpose). An episode can quickly get out of control. It can be very frustrating for friends, family and loved ones as they feel powerless to help – or are treated as an annoyance – or the individual may be trying so hard to ‘be normal’ that the concern and support is ignored. Even the knowledge that this is all occurring creates a feedback loop of negative thoughts and affect.

 

It is beyond the scope of this publication to present specific treatment. All the author can offer is his own meandering experience – but the importance of speaking to someone, should you feel anything like as described above, cannot be overstated. Do some research, if you can. Tell yourself (constantly) that it’s not something normal, to get over, but an illness which can be treated. Literature agrees that the best combination is often medication and therapy. Try to remember that you are not a total piece of shit and that someone cares about you (no matter how much our brain tries to tell you that it’s not true).

 

Take the little victories; celebrate every success, no matter how trivial. Tell yourself over and over, that you can get through it. You’ll feel like you’re lying, but keep it up. Human minds are fundamentally pretty dumb. They believe what they’re told (even if it’s them doing the telling). Resist the urge to be depressed by how easily influenced your thinkin’-organ can be.

 

I know that if you, dear reader, are feeling this way right now, there is a slim to zero chance that any of this will help at all. All I can say is: you are not the problem. Your stupid, treacherous brain is the problem. It has an illness – an illness for which treatments do exist, with what can be almost miraculous results.

 

Finally, remember, no matter what, no matter who: you are never, ever, alone.


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