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I rode a motorbike for the first time today. (Not as an operator; as a passenger.)

In the dark.

Quite aside from the complete and utter lack of ANYTHING protecting you from the entire outside world, there's something rather terrifying about being on a motorized vehicle that small and not being in control of it. I don't know that motorbikes involve any more leaning-to-steer than regular bicycles, and perhaps less (at least at the speeds one uses on poor dust roads in the dark, when it's cold and the driver has not protective gear other than a jumper (not even hair to keep his head warm, poor guy; I was very grateful for the scarf and gloves shoved in the pocket of my fleece), I don't think about the leaning when I'm riding a bicycle, because at this time it's second nature to me, but it's much more obvious when someone else decides about the leaning and you don't know when it's going to happen.

Also making this more fun, I'd never met the guy before tonight, and probably wouldn't recognize him in the daylight unless he was wearing the same jumper. (Not that I had any doubts about the character of someone Monica enlisted to drive me home, but . . .)

And, of course, there was the fun half-hour or so of getting on the bike, the bike failing to start, discussion about "Wamana battery" and "Brake fluid Kabotu," standing around outside in the dark and somewhat chilly, watching the guys pushing first the one bike (and it failing to start) and then the other bike, taking the other bike off around the block, the other bike not starting, despite a few hopeful coughs, dumping cooking oil in the goodness-knows-what of the first bike, Monica's husband hopping on the bike, eventually the distant roar and headlight illumination of that bike ("It's his, and he knows it better").

Conclusion: Motorbikes seem more temperamental than cars, but also more persuadable.
3rdragon: (Default)
So, two-plus inches of knitting after turning the heel and progressing onto the foot of my sock, I'm suddenly suspicious that I knit one less pattern repeat on the leg of the second sock than I did on the first one. Actually, I'm almost sure of it, but I'm holding off on ripping it out until I can go home and compare the two socks.

*sigh* I was so proud of myself for how far along it was.

. . . and I had tally marks and EVERYTHING. But apparently four is too big a number to count to.

Dear internet, please post this.
For that matter, because continue to have enough of a trickle of life to distract me for the next two hours.
3rdragon: (Default)
Am I glad to see you.

Long story short, yet another disadvantage of un-air-conned server rooms is that if you don't shut the windows and it rains over lunch, it can rain on the equipment. But so far as I can tell, things seem okay (there is internet, the lights on the wired routers are flashing, and my Moodle server has booted to the login screen).

So that was fun. But I was very glad not to have been the last person out of the building before lunch (so the fact that I usually don't shut the windows when I leave for lunch was not an issue), and very, VERY glad to see the polkaspots login screen.

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"You wretched swine. Did you come back from the dead or something?"

Said in a completely deadpan voice, as if this were totally normal. And I'm pretty sure the movie is supposed to be realistic.
3rdragon: (Default)
This is a new one.

"You'll be my lunch-ee, you'll be my supper, ah-ah, very delicious . . ."

I don't think that it makes it better that one of the verses is something about "want you to marry me," or "want to marry you."

I think that this song would disturb me less if I heard it in the context of my SSFFS friends, rather than my Zambian neighbors, because then I could just assume that it was ironic, or intended to be disturbing and creepy, or something. As it is, I'm suspicious that it may be intended to be a serious love song.


1 November 2011 08:57 am
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Downloading Ubuntu Server. It's 682 MB, and the low end of my download speed is 6.6 KB/sec. I have seen it get has high as 200 and some KB/sec, but mostly it's hanging out somewhere between 10 KB/sec and 150 KB/sec.

Abraham says that I should start downloading now so that when the guys get here, I can give them the installation CD. I should've started when I arrived at work (and the network was marginally faster). Maybe then it would've been done by lunchtime. Although considering that the current estimate is over ten hours, maybe not.

Oh, the joys of internet in Africa.

In good news, I actually have work to do (albeit 'start this download and then wait until it finishes') and there is electricity and internet, and I'm on the second-to-last row of my Laminaria.
3rdragon: (Default)
Did you learn to macramé when you were a kid? Where/how/from whom? Could you still do it?
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Dear bank Contact US form,

It would be really nice if you would tell me what characters are illegal, especially since I took out the parenthesis and question marks and hyphens. I guess my original submission had two apostrophes, and the complaint I just submitted didn't.

But it's a really bad sign when I try to submit a question about why I can't access my account online from Zambia, and wind up submitting a complaint about the way the form works because I can't figure out how to make my actual problem boring enough to talk about.

No love,

3rdragon: (Default)
My really-not-at-all-boss (who nevertheless is the person with the clearest ideas for what I'm supposed to be doing here) has told me that he wants the Network Operations Center to look futuristic, science-fictional, like a space ship. Because what LinkNet, what Macha Works, is doing here is as much about the idea of what technology can be in Zambia, as any of the actual implementations.

So my question to you is, what does the future look like right now? If you had a huge budget, how would you build something that looks like a space ship? What about a modest budget?
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Actually, there were a bunch of photos from last summer that I intended to post, from the bread that I made to the "circus tent" fabric that earned me a couple hundred dollars and temporarily took over the entire first floor of my house. But I'm in Zambia and uploading pictures takes a long time, and and and I'm not going to do it.

But one thing I do want to post, which pictures have already been updated, is a series of photographs I took in New Jersey, the day after a big rainstorm, when we walked along a trail that had been closed the first three days of our trip due to a forest fire. The album is probably still too heavy on the more strikingly burned pictures (one of the things that surprised me is how un-burned it was, actually), but the swaths of charred soil make for more interesting pictures than the slightly browned undergrowth.

One thing that surprised me was how beautiful I found it, in an odd, moonscape sort of way. My mother said that it was beautiful in the way that ugly babies are "beautiful;" they aren't actually attractive, but you can't stop looking at them. But I think it was more than that. I'm accustomed to associating greenery with beauty, but this partially burned landscape was, in its own way, beautiful.

Forest fire remains in Wharton State Forest


29 August 2011 11:02 am
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Ubuntu is clean and friendly. I think I like it.

Of course, I've been using it for all of twelve minutes, which isn't really enough time to figure out how it's annoying, but at least I don't sit down and find it immediately annoying, the way I do with Vista and Seven.

Not all of my keyboard shortcuts work, and I need to readjust to ctrl instead of cmmd. But you can tab to checkboxes and check them with the spacebar!


24 August 2011 06:44 pm
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I'm here in Zambia. We've spent the past four and a half days at MCC headquarters, being oriented, getting over jet lag, and preparing to go to our various assignments. A, who's in the city, is being dropped off with her host family as I type, and the rest of us, all heading for Southern Province, leave tomorrow morning. I won't get to Macha until Friday, though, because the other two get dropped off first, so arriving tomorrow isn't feasible, considering travel times and the fact that we'll need to do a certain amount of set-up work in every place.

I mentioned on the other blog that I'll be cooking for myself. Setting up a household requires an incredible amount of stuff.

I have a new phone, too. It's the fanciest phone I've ever had, and it's going to drive me crazy. )

Long story short, I'm just really glad that I'll have a computer and access to the internet, and won't need to use my phone all that often.

Things are going pretty well, though.
3rdragon: (Default)
I think that working on the Ridiculous may be spoiling me for reading. At least, some reading.

I started Michelle Sagara's Cast in Secret this morning, and it's not bad, but some of the literary devices are clumsy, and I notice. Perhaps clumsy isn't quite the right word. Some of them seem so transparent. Descriptions, infodumps, settings . . . I've noticed this with other books, too (although I'm noticing pretty strongly with this one). Not everything, but more than I used to. I've become more sensitive to the technical aspects of writing, now that I do more of it myself, and I'm more aware of when someone is handling them suboptimally. I don't know if I would have noticed the weaknesses in this book if I'd read it a year ago, when it was first given to me. (Maybe I would've. Some of them feel pretty obvious. But I wouldn't have noticed as much, and it wouldn't be such a trial to my suspension of disbelief.)

I am hopeful than there's less of it when she's finished setting the scene and characters. I hope so. I only have four paper books with me, and I'm much more inclined to be dubious of one of the others than I was of this one. (When your mother, who doesn't read sci-fi, says, "Hey, Miriam, this is sci-fi, you might like it." . . . )
3rdragon: (Default)
But it doesn't seem to have happened. Instead, I'll just point out that I'm leaving for orientation today, and leaving the country on the 19th. Wish me luck.
3rdragon: (Default)
What with the whole PREPARING TO GO TO ZAMBIA thing (I leave for orientation on Thursday), this is an issue of relevance for me. A printout of this webpage is going to live semi-permanently with my knitting stuff (and I'm not sure that I won't buy an extra set of Size 1 needles at the yarn store on Wednesday, just to be safe, in case someone decides to confiscate mine, or they break, or something.

But for your reference: http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/editorial_1252.shtm

It doesn't say anything about sewing needles or safety pins, though. Luckily none of my imminent projects need stitch markers, so I guess they can live in the checked baggage.
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Our dinner dessert guests guest Tuesday night (otherwise known as my tenth grade English teacher, her husband, and their adorable 18-month-old son) brought a bottle of coconut rum. Now, we haven't opened it yet, but I'm fairly certain that the only member of this household who might possibly be interested in drinking it is the one who's underage.

So what would you do with a bottle of coconut rum that you weren't intending to drink or burn in a bonfire to signal passing ships?
3rdragon: (Default)
I rather liked Silver Phoenix, aside from the weird reincarnation-love-story bit that didn't really make any sense. The sequel, Fury of the Phoenix, did tie up the things about the first one that confused me, but gained a whole new dimension of weird.

Perhaps I'm just not a fan of plotlines that rely on somewhat likeable characters transitioning into people who use creepy death magic without compunction.

Also, at one point they journey from pseudo-ancient-China to pseudo-medieval-Europe, but the pseudo-medieval-Europe people all have modern viewpoints, especially regarding sexual mores (also, they have fast food? What actual medieval community has enough paper to package food sold by street vendors in paper?), which entirely broke the story-world for me.

Overall analysis: The first one was fun but a little wtf at times. The second one was underwhelming.

Edited to add: I'm also getting a bad feeling from the way the author deliberately picked a non-European setting for her fantasy world, but when the characters visit a European-type setting, it seems more modern/progressive/normal. I can't imagine that it was intentional, but I don't like it.
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I've been looking at the Clarkesworld authorial discussion of epic fantasy, and through a somewhat circuitous but not entirely illogical route, have arrived at a question to ponder, which I now pose to you:

Do you think that a video game can be epic fantasy? Why or why not? Do you have an example?
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Have you read this article in today's Wall Street Journal about dark themes in YA fiction?

I'm really not sure what to think of it. I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of the unrelenting grimness in a lot of today's teen literature, and I never got into problem novels, even though I was a teenager at the time when they were flourishing. At the same time, these issues are there, and high schoolers have to deal with them, and to try to create a world where they don't exist seems to me as much an act of deliberate fantasy as any genre work. Which isn't to say that I don't love a good romp with Edward Eager or Elizabeth Enright. But Swallows and Amazons doesn't look any more like my life than Harry Potter does. And I would quickly lose patience with wholesome coming-of-age stories if they were the only fare available. Maybe the article isn't arguing that wholesome coming-of-age stories should be the only fare available. Maybe it's just bewailing the lack of them. But if that's the case, they aren't looking in the right places. The Penderwicks is about as wholesome as they come, even if the mother is dead. And George R. R. Martin or no George R. R. Martin, there's a great deal of tame, wholesome fantasy and science fiction available right now (one that comes to mind is Hilari Bell's Knight and Rogue, and another is Wrede's Frontier Magic).

I think my real issue with this is the whole "it's not censorship, it's responsible parenting" stance. On the one hand, I can understand the I don't want my kid reading that! impulse. Also the complaint that vivid depictions of cutting could be a trigger. But at the same time, that's still censorship.

I also find it really interesting that one of their recommended books is Fahrenheit 451. I find it less interesting that they've divided their "Books we can recommend for young adult readers" section into Books for Young Men (Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi; Peace, Richard Bausch; Old School, Tobias Wolff; Farenheit 451, Bradbury; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Hadon; True Grit, Charles Portis) and Books for Young Women (What I Saw and How I Lied, Judy Blundell; Ophelia, Lisa Kline; Angelmonster, Veronica Bennett; Z for Sachariah, Robert C. O'Brien; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith). Can't books just be Books for Young People? Or Books for People? And while I haven't read a lot of the books I just listed, the descriptions use a lot of words like "gritty" and "violent." And my memory of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, admittedly from a great many years ago, is that it was pretty heavy stuff.

Maybe part of my problem is that there are books available in just about whatever you're looking for these days. If you don't like the mainstream bestsellers, buy the stuff you do approve of and try to push publishers that way. And I still maintain that the best way for parents to deal with kids reading problematic books is to talk to the kids about what they're reading.


It occurred to me this week that I'm going to Zambia in a little over two months. Starting to freak out a little about that.

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