In which three trivially amazing things happen
New Zealand zebra, NZ
I detoured on my long commute home to the doctor's to pick up a script, except I forgot they close at 6pm instead of 7pm on a Friday. So to lift my spirits in preparation to resume the arduous journey, I stopped at a cafe, and while I was paying for my cheese scroll my old church minister came in (and it's just a couple of days before she's heading overseas for three months at that) and we had a quick catch up. And I know, Christchurch is a small world, and I know, statistics, but there's still something about these incidents: that today was the day I went to the doctor's, that I happened to work late, that I just missed a connection, that I decided on food, and decided on that cafe in particular, and meanwhile she had her own series of incidents leading her there. It's just kind of amazing that our life is made up of a series of incidents, even if that's kind of the definition of life.

Also, nearly home now, the bus shelter had a box full of books (and photo frames and crockery and VHS tapes) someone was sharing with the world. I grabbed a couple of Nancy Drews because I never read them when I was a girl and I feel like I should have instead of or at least as well as all the boy-protag equivalents. And then I was thinking how no-one used to do this - leave boxes of books at the bus shelter - until I did it with a box of BookCrossing books a while after the quakes. And if this is the legacy I leave to the world, it's not a terrible one.

And also, for anyone not on Twitter or who missed it there, I'm crowdsourcing some data collection for a research project into open access and conference papers. (It basically involves googling for 2000 conferences. A couple is somewhat fun, twenty is doable, 200 is a nightmare, 2000 is a half-year's RSI-inducing work. So ideally I'd get a thousand people to do a couple each.) A bunch of people retweeted and a couple did a couple, but then tonight I noticed a good colleague-friend had done a whole pile. So I'm still going to have to be obnoxious in prodding all my acquaintance (prod, prod) but I think it will validate my decision to go this way instead of to give up and work with a less ambitious dataset. And it is going to be an awesome dataset.

(Oh by the way apropos of nothing, does anyone want to spend 10 minutes googling to Do Great Science?)

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In which she is awesome and would like to know how you are awesome today
New Zealand zebra, NZ
I go through phases. There are Reading All the Things phases, and Writing Every Spare Half Minute phases, and Sewing Sewing Sewing phases and Teaching Myself Latin Yes Again I'm Using A Different Textbook This Time phases.

I recently found myself in a lull between phases but it's important for me to keep achieving things or I start feeling guilty for being useless and then I get the blahs. I find it easier to prevent the blahs than to get out of the blahs so try to pay attention when I feel the urge to sit on my couch and read fanfic for too many days on end. Fortunately they don't need to be spectacular achievements: doing the dishes often works.

This most recent lull has lasted longer than usual though so although I've read/written/coded almost nothing in my spare time for weeks, I have:

  • cleaned and tidied like my entire house. Not actually my entire house, the spare room is turning into storage and there are Certain Cupboards, but definitely like my entire house. (Much of this was achieved while watching Star Trek Next Generation on the laptop or I'd have been super bored.) The floor is cleared and cleaned! Mopped even!

  • done so much gardening. Spring is awesome, you put seeds in the ground and they start growing food! (I have asparagus and lettuce and celery and silver beet and spring onions, and am working on courgettes and pumpkins and tomatoes and bok choy and lemons and strawberries.) On the downside, other things propagate themselves by root and next minute you've got a forest of plum shoots and ivy. Over the last couple of weekends I've been sawing down and rooting up eight years' worth of plum-and-ivy growth. The ivy goes into the green bin to be dealt with Elsewhere, the plum growth gets cut up to as much as possible go back on the garden. The parts I've achieved look awesomely tidy!

  • sewed the handle for a carrybag back on! This is an awesome grocery shopping-sized rugged zebra-pattern bag which I've had for ages and the handles broke once but Mum fixed them, and then I carried too much in it and it's been sitting around broken for possibly years and now I can use it again!

  • started going to a regular "speaking Māori" date with some once-strangers! My first week I started off all "What is kupu how do I reo???" and then after an hour I was talking to them about my Master of Library Studies research project. Really badly but communication was happening! Similarly today actually (ended up talking about my current research into open access and conference papers). I need to learn more kupu. Also more grammar but especially more kupu. I might start writing a diary.

  • invented a dessert. I'm working on the name but something like "Jellytip slice" / "Jellytip cupcakes". First you make a base out of biscuit crumbs and butter. Cool it. Separately make jelly but with half the water, and cool that until it's starting to set. If you don't cool it enough then when you pour the jelly on top of the base, the jelly will sink in and the biscuit will float up and it'll still be delicious but it won't be what you wanted. Then you put them back in the fridge. When completely set, you melt chocolate and spoon a thin layer on top of the jelly. This is the part I was most nervous of failing but it's really easy; don't dawdle about smoothing it out but you're not really on the clock even. Then back in the fridge until dessert time. Cut up / remove from muffin cups and serve with vanilla icecream. My friends approved of it last night. Their 4.5 year old son refused to eat anything but the icecream but that's normal for him and meant more for us.

I am now about to go to bed on time so while I'm sleeping it's your turn: in what way have you been awesome recently?

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Favourite short stories for October
books, read

“Swan Lake for Beginners” - by Heather O’Neill

A sweetly absurd tale about cloning ballet dancers.

Variations on an Apple - by Yoon Ha Lee

The Apple of Discord, alternate timestreams, and a city.

These two go together:

eyes I dare not meet in dreams - by Sunny Moraine

About the fridging of women, and a resistance to it, and does it make any difference?

Let's Tell Stories of the Deaths of Children - by Margaret Ronald

On the fridging of children. And the forgetting of old goddesses. And temptation and the lies that support it.

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In which she knows what happened to your hoverboard
New Zealand zebra, NZ
Forget your goddamn hoverboard — where's my utopia?

Every now and then someone writes some screed that seems to presuppose that science-fiction began with Star Trek or Campbell and that the movement to include social themes is destroying the genre. This is a patent nonsense: firstly because the genre is flourishing; secondly because social themes were always part of those stories; and thirdly because Campbell and Star Trek were mere johnny-come-latelies to a centuries' long list of illustrious foremothers.

But the fake geek guys don't actually care about the history of the genre. All they care about is what they read and saw when they were growing up. That's why the catch cry among the current generation is "Where's my hoverboard?" They saw Back to the Future Part II, they imprinted on the hoverboard like a newborn chick on its mother and, ever since, that piece of cheap technology is all they want of the future.

What this doesn't take into account is that hoverboards don't come from nowhere. Someone, or more likely some team of people, has to create them. Back to the Future Part II has no interest in exploring this. It's not the kind of story that delves into social themes; it's the kind of story that knocks a woman unconscious and leaves her in the alley to keep her from interfering in the men's adventure. So it simply has our white male hero steal the hoverboard from a native of the time period and proceed to trash it.

Star Trek, though it was (self-)consciously interested in social themes and depicted the future as a utopia, wasn't much more forthcoming on how its technology or that utopia developed. Which came first, the replicator or the society with no need for money? Zefram's warp drive seems necessary to meet the Vulcans and enable humanity's next step of societal 'evolution'. It's never spelled out and there are a few counterpoints — the Prime Directive at least seems to recognise that technology isn't a panacea — but by and large the general impression, imbibed by the generation raised on the show(s), is that if we get the technology right, society will fall into place.

This isn't entirely unfounded: technology can greatly improve quality of life. Birth control, immunisations, water filtration, solar power and cellphones have, together and severally, incredible transformative power. But it's not the whole story. We still need to figure out how to get our hoverboard.

And this is something that the ovular works of science-fiction took an intense interest in. Whether their utopias were reached by the imagination, a polar vortex, a dream, or time travel, they didn't want to just revel in cool technology (although they did that) or the fantastic adventures it enabled (though they did that too). They wanted to know How do we in the present get some of this? And the answers were based in social justice.

Suffrage, says The Blazing World. Education, an end to early marriage, and keeping men secluded in mardana, says Sultana's Dream. Physical and mental training for women, suffrage, prostitution reform, and farming, says Men's Rights. Free and universal education, class equality, parthenogenesis, and eugenics, says Mizora: a Prophecy.

Yes, eugenics; no, these authors were not perfect. (None of us are: we can but keep striving for it.) But they were right about extending education. The more people we educate, the more people can contribute to advancement of society, knowledge, and technology. Like science-fiction, computing was literally founded by women, and we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are today without the integral contributions of LGBT people, of people of colour, of people with disabilities.

But our society doesn't make it easy for any of these people. In the news recently have been the stories of women who left astrophysics because a prominent lecturer at their university harassed them and countless others for years with impunity. The same happens in science-fiction fandom. It happens in computing. And it happens in engineering. People who don't meet the cis-het white male standard get chased, sidelined, and ignored out of the field.

So where's our hoverboard? Let me tell you: it was supposed to be created by a team of engineers who met at a conference and discovered a shared passion and a mutually complementary set of skills. But in our timeline, none of these people are in the field any more. Maybe they got shot at the École Polytechnique. Maybe they got arrested for building a clock. Long story short, if we want a hoverboard we're going to have to take our DeLorean 30 years back in time and fix whatever went wrong.

No DeLorean time machine? Well, in that case maybe we'll just have to settle for fixing the things that are still going wrong in the present.

So first we need to build our social justice utopia and then we'll get our hoverboard. And a lot more besides.

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In which she concedes to Christmas
Stressed, stress and confusion
Someone's opinion piece in the newspaper suggested that we could stop shops starting Christmas too early by inventing a Kiwi seasonal holiday to celebrate around about now instead. She then created and elaborated on one but I'd tuned out because:

a) we already have two seasonal holidays around about now: as much as I dislike the importation of Halloween it is very much a thing, and as much as I'd prefer to commemorate Parihaka on the 5th of November than celebrate Guy Fawkes, that is very much a thing too (albeit its commercial aspects are somewhat more circumscribed by law). And

b) the existence of these holidays has demonstrably done nothing to prevent shops starting with the Christmas already. The instance that particularly horrified me the other day was walking into my local supermarket through the gauntlet of Halloween, and a few minutes later walking to the checkout through the gauntlet of Advent calendars.

Halloween then Guy Fawkes then Christmas, I ragetweeted.

And then yesterday morning, when I went out to pick some lettuce for my lunch sandwiches, I discovered that the Christmas lilies are poking their weird anenome heads out of the ground among the remains of the daffodils.

So, fine. The garden has spoken. Christmas is coming.

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In which the nor'wester brings all the things to her yard
New Zealand zebra, NZ
Patches of high pressure get trapped over Australia for a long time. When they're finally released they zip south-east over the Tasman gathering moisture; hit the Southern Alps and rise, dropping all the moisture on the West Coast; then roar across the Canterbury Plains picking up heat, dryness, and grass pollen. This tends to make people grumpy.

Tuesday night a particularly strong one rolled in and in subsequent days I found:

  1. Summer: we didn't get spring this year, just a short summer, then second autumn (we didn't really get winter this year either), and now summer again. It was as hot on Wednesday as many of the warmer days of midsummer.

  2. A large green lemon: right in the middle of my lawn.

  3. All the straggly birch branches: the neighbours have a birch. I hate it because every time the wind blows, its branches end up littering my lawn. These aren't like boughs, they're twig-thin but make up for it in length, perfect to hide in the grass and screw up the lawn mower. I've never seen so many on my lawn as I did on Wednesday.

  4. A rubber door mat: I took it to the neighbours but they disclaimed all knowledge. Currently it's hanging over my front fence in case someone recognises it but I may have to bin it.

  5. A fledgeling: at first I thought it was very dead. I turned it over with a stick and saw its chest moving rhythmically. It was, however, in fact very dead. I turned it back over with the same stick.

The other yicky thing in my garden at the moment (that was not however brought by the wind) is the warm slime that my huge pile of lawn clippings is turning into. Fantastic mulch. Such slime.

Less disgusting things include asparagus, lettuces, and all the silverbeet. I also detect tiny baby plums, and various other fruiting bodies are putting forth preparatory buds and leaves.

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In which she finds out which cattery not to book next time she goes on holiday
cat, hugs
Ordinarily I get my sister to catsit when I'm out of town, but a full week after booking the holiday I realised that since my sister would be coming out of town with us, this wouldn't be practical. (In the event she didn't come with us because she was sick, but that didn't change the unavailable-for-catsitting status.) So I booked a cattery.

It was a very quick process, involving basically a telephone conversation. I was fluttery at the absence of formalities because I was expecting them to require a deposit if nothing else, or even to get a copy of Boots' vaccinations before the fact. But they were unconcerned so I figured I was just anxious at leaving Boots in a cattery for a week and a half knowing that last time I had to take her away from home during earthquake repairs she hid under the motel bed for three days, and so she was going to hate a cattery.

Now one reason I chose this place was she offered pickups and dropoffs, which is helpful since the bus website suggests they don't carry pets. So at the appointed time on the evening before leaving on holiday at oh-dark-thirty I awaited her arrival. And waited. And waited. Trying to keep Boots inside and yet not stressed all the time. So I phoned and apparently she'd forgotten. Illness or something; okay, there's a lot of nasty stuff going around here at the moment.

So it's fine, she rearranges her evening and turns up with her daughter in the backseat, and I hand over Boots and her food and medicines (both her regular food/medicines and her post-minor-dental-surgery food/medicines, along with an instructional schedule) and so forth and am all helicopter parent while the cattery woman is all "I've got this". We confirm the date and time she'll drop Boots off post-holiday. She gives me her card and asks me to drop her an email so she can send me some photos to prove Boots is enjoying her stay.

I sent her the email, mentioning my email access would be intermittent. Two-thirds of the way through the holiday (which was otherwise lovely, I may or may not blog about it separately) I realised she never so much as acknowledged the email.

So late last night I got home (and dreamed of cats and medicines), and this morning at the appointed time I expect my cat to be returned to me. Yet the appointed time passes with no Boots. Still no Boots. So I ring again, and get voice mail on both landline and cellphone. I continue ringing and leaving messages throughout the day. At 4pm I'm literally putting on my coat to get the bus and find out what the hell's going on when I finally get through to her.

"Oh yeah," quoth she vaguely. "I wasn't sure whether it was today or tomorrow. I think I was expecting a phone call."

Nope. A) I was always clear about the date. If she wasn't, she should have written it down when she specifically told me she was diarying it. Or emailed, at any point. Or phoned, ditto. B) We specifically agreed that Boots would be dropped off at this particular time. C) If you're expecting a phone call maybe you should actually answer one of your phones.

So anyway, we agreed a new time. Then followed two more calls to determine which cat carrier is Boots's. I-- I would have expected her to have been keeping track of other people's property herself?

Apparently not. Because when (with both daughters in the back seat) she drops Boots and supplies off (and a new excuse: she was being audited today so busy all morning) I discover upon unpacking (after she's driven away) that I am further missing not only Boots's food dish but also the collar from around her neck with the magnetic nametag that lets her get in and out of the house.

I've taped the magnetic cat flap open, and found a substitute food dish, and left a polite message on the answerphone saying no rush (because those kids do not need to keep getting dragged around) and just leave them in my mailbox if I'm not home (because I'd actually just as soon not talk to her again); and not saying that I'm not yet feeling any great rush to pay my bill either (those magnetic tags are not cheap).

Online reviews for this place are all positive. Probably most people wouldn't run into these problems as they'd pick up and drop off themselves, so no waiting around and they could point out the cat carrier, missing collar, and food dish at the same time, sans drama. But, wow. This is one business card I'm keeping in my stack just so I can scrawl never again all over it.

(But Boots is now home! And exploring everything. Yes, Boots, eat the business card with the dollar figure and bank account number on it so I can legitimately say "My cat ate the bill," that would be awesome. No? What if I accidentally spill deliciousness on it? Aw, fine.)

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In which she flies by moonlight
New Zealand zebra, NZ
It was a full moon tonight as my plane took off from Wellington. It was also partially cloudy. So as we launched into the air over the sea, the water was dark except for bright patches like irregularly shaped floodlights. It was quite stunning.

And then.

We climbed up through the clouds. And as I looked out into them I started seeing patches speckled with faint lights. At first I wondered if I was imagining things because they were too bright and orange and copious to be stars. Then I realised of course we were banking to the right and what I was seeing was the city as we spiralled up over it.

And then.

We came up above the cloud. Masses of it were thick and dark, but some stretches were thinner and glowed orange from below; and here and there still were patches clear to that dew-specked spiderweb that night makes of a town from above. Handfuls of city scooped up and suspended to be seen by a window through this ethereal medium.

The rest of the journey was uneventful, until we reached Christchurch with clear skies and a descent that involved about 300 degrees of a circle around the entire city. O my city!

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Favourite short stories for May
books, read

Clarkesworld Magazine - Science Fiction & Fantasy : An Evolutionary Myth by Bo-young Kim

Brilliant, sensawundaful, take on evolution and ontogeny repeats phylogeny set in the Goguryeo dynasty.

Hunting Monsters by S.L. Huang | The Book Smugglers

A sweetly dark story with hints of Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and a slantwise Bluebeard.

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In which she is healing
New Zealand zebra, NZ
The neat thing about healing from a significant injury is that pretty much every day you gain awesome new superpowers. You just wake up in the morning and bam! you're Steps Into Underwear Without Leaning On Dresser Woman!

Other recently acquired superpowers:
  • walking downstairs with only one foot per step

  • walking without a walking stick (thank goodness: I was turning into Quasimodo with the strain it put on my shoulder)

  • standing on one foot for, like, six seconds almost

  • bending my foot when walking so some of the weight goes on the toes (but not too much because there's still more bruise-matter than muscle around there) thus reducing my limp

  • running for several metres to catch the bus

  • and as of today, getting into and out of my sturdy ankle-boot without completely unlacing it, using a shoehorn, and/or feeling any discomfort at all

There's this lovely moment in a recent Once Upon a Time episode where Gold has been stuck outside Storybrooke without magic and (I don't think this is really a spoiler, it was always narratively inevitable) he finagles a way back. And as, limping with his cane, he crosses the border, he just straightens into an easy stride and flings his cane off into the bushes by the road. So much empathy with the black-hearted villain in that moment: it's a wonderful feeling.

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