Sunday, 14 August 2016

3 Days Of Peace And Bloody Fast Internet

    It's a rite of passage that has returned to prominence in recent years, the Youth Of Today like their hippy grandparents attend outdoor music festivals. They go and camp for three days in a quagmire, acquire assorted ailments and parasites, have half their stuff nicked, suffer appalling toilets, and get horribly sunburned while listening to poorly mixed and distorted music.

    At least, this is what we are led to believe when listening to the survivor tales.

    As a member of the generation for whom festivals were not a mainstream activity I have to admit I didn't know what to expect when I attended my first similar event last week. It's important to note though that this was not a music festival but a hacker camp. Several thousand assorted makers, hackers, and other technically inclined people camping in a field in Surrey for four nights, surrounded by a dizzying array of talks and presentations, and all bringing along their own creations to show off to the rest of the community. Every structure on site from the largest marquee to the smallest one-person tent had mains power and super-fast internet, and every hackspace, user group, or other organisation had its own section of the campsite. The toilets are best forgotten but the showers were rather good, the catering was passable, and there was plenty of beer and cider on tap. I made a good call by bringing along decent bogroll and a Dettol spray.
    To find yourself among many thousands of your own community is liberating. You can drop seamlessly into conversations about things that elicit blank stares from the average Joe: how to optimise the efficiency of a coupled-inductor flyback converter for example, or whether an electric monowheel could be practical transport.
    I was pleased to bump into more than one person from this community on the site as well. As I write technical articles in the maker sphere my name is not unknown, but though I'm in no closet I suspect most readers have no idea I'm trans. Attending this event had something of an outing about it, as there was no place to hide. So a group of us ended whiling away some time around a smoking BBQ, talking about anything but being trans. Which was in itself quite refreshing.
    It's something I now understand, why old hippies still go on about the Isle of Wight festival or Woodstock. I've got a major case of festival withdrawal, and so have all my hackspace friends. It's another two years until the next one, that's going to be a long time.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Mid life crisis

    Seasoned readers may have noticed a slowdown hereabouts in the last couple of months. This isn't the usual progression of bloggers in this sphere going hell-for-leather at a transition goal and then dropping everything like a hot potato when they consider themselves "done", instead it's a mark of how much I have going on at the moment. I'm holding down three jobs at once, a full-time electronic design contract, writing technical articles, and servicing my own electronic business. The good news is that this means I have some money coming in and I should achieve my immediate aim of having a year's reserve in hand should everything dry up, but the bad news is that it's left precious little time for anything else. This isn't the only thing that's suffered, there are several other projects that have gone on hiatus as a result. No doubt when the contract is over things will return to normal.
    In a few months I'll have another birthday. Not a particularly special one, but a point at which the feeling of an inexorable slope towards 50 becomes palpable. This isn't something that I find welcome, I have no need to hang onto some wild and crazy youth but I can't escape a disappointment that there is so much I have not managed to do. I've written of my need for a family in the past, now that is hanging over me in an ever more pressing way. Ten years ago when I was married to someone who turned out in the end never to have wanted a family in the first place there was always a sense that it might have happened tomorrow, now I can't escape the feeling that tomorrow is here and nothing has been done. Where the last twenty years have gone and what I have to show for them is a mystery.

    Staying alive I guess, an achievement in itself.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

... Shake it all about

    It's been a tiring month hereabouts. Yesterday was Independence Day if you believe a few right-wing politicians, the day we finally threw off the shackles of the European Union or condemned our country to a relentless slide down the plughole of history depending on who you believe.
    What is certain is that we've had two months of a barrage of lies. Economic doom from both sides, all of which was based on very tenuous mathematics. And Project Fear backfired hugely, as the real issue turned out to be the marginalisation of an underclass for whom the EU had only delivered lower wages, uncertain job prospects and non-existent housing. Remain took working-class Labour voters for granted as they always do in the corridors of power, and those voters had the temerity to do so The Wrong Way.
    I voted Leave, though I see it as nothing to crow about. My position didn't change over the campaign, I was concerned about the disconnect and alienation from the Grand Project, and how it was benefiting the elite and leaving everyone else in the dust. And I am glad to see that my fellow swing Leave voters turned out to be neither bovver-booted fascists nor wealthy pensioners, but ordinary voters at the bottom of the pile. The EU failed them miserably, and "More Europe" wasn't the answer.
    So now we're in the period of hysterical political bloodletting that always follows a shock result. Things will settle down, and eventually we'll all realise it's business as usual. They will still be desperate to buy wings and engines for Airbuses, and sell us BMWs and Renaults. And the fevered dreams of the far right won't become a reality as all our Polish, Czech, and Romanian friends won't be frogmarched off to Dover and dumped on a boat for France.
    Instead I think that the EU will inevitably contract. It has manifestly failed to benefit so many of the people it is supposed to serve at the grass-roots level, and we will be just the first of many countries who retreat from it. I don't think the result will be a break-up of a cultural Europe and I think something closer to the Europe we used to have pre the Maastricht treaty will emerge from its shadow.
    There is a tendency to portray the EU as the be-all and end-all of the continent. It's not, it's simply an attempt at political union that hasn't worked very well. We've not left Europe, we've simply pulled out of one of its greater follies. This is not the end, it's simply a new beginning.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Land of the Free (to be an idiot if you want to be)

    It's that time of year again, when I have to spanner the Wreck through another MOT test. This time it's new shock absorbers - relatively easy - and a rust hole under the accelerator pedal - relatively hard. It's a car worth the effort, I keep telling myself.
    So we're sitting agog on this side of the Atlantic, watching the nutcases on the right wing of American politics in a race to the bottom over who can make the most idiotic pronouncements over who can use which restroom. It's a fit of pique after losing their fight against same-sex unions, they somehow imagine hordes of randy teenage boys are queueing up to don skirts and invade the ladies' loo and they alone can assume their shining armour and ride in to protect the Women of America.
    Except it's all rubbish. They've never been in a ladies loo themselves so they obviously aren't aware that it's just a loo. No beskirted teenage boys queueing outside, no boudoir of earthly delights, just a loo. And a sink, and a working hand dryer if you are really lucky. They probably know more about the intricacies of cricket scoring than they do about the ladies loo or transgender people, for if they did they wouldn't be clamouring for laws that would force buff and hirsute transmen back in the their precious ladies'. Perhaps like Queen Victoria who was supposed not to have believed lesbians existed, they think transmen are an urban legend. Fortunately our trans brothers have risen to the attack with a fantastic series of protest pictures of themselves accompanying their female friends into the Holy of Holies.
    We've had stories of women who don't quite meet onlookers ideas of gender norms being harassed on their way to the loo, as well as transgender people being barred. Given the calibre of the ban's proponents it's probably only a matter of time before one of them reaches for his constitutionally authroised firearm and  starts popping off rounds at all and sundry.

    America, land of the free to be an idiot if you want to be.

    I grew up near a USAF base, so I grew up around Americans. I know them - at least those who joined the USAF - to be the salt of the earth, exactly the kind of people you want as neighbours. I have many American friends, who I know to be as sane and reasonable as anyone else in the world. Particularly over the last decade and a half as America's wars have not exactly endeared them to the rest of the world I have defended Americans and the United States of America in many a heated argument, often to an unbelieving audience.
    The trouble is, the more of this kind of story comes over the Atlantic, the less easy it becomes to defend the place. It's become a trope, that non-Americans say "Only in America" and mean a completely different thing from what Americans mean when they say it, well this is one of those moments. We know that these kind of stories are deeply embarrassing to the many millions of Americans who do not share those politics or live in those particular states, but from a distance the actions of those who do hold those views serve to tar the collective with the same brush. I've seen this in action, in the surprise of an American lesbian from California attending a British LGBT event and being treated as though she had narrowly escaped the clutches of a repressive regime.
    It's probable that the right-wing nutcases don't care how those on other continents view them. After all, we're foreigners, and their news outlets have gone to extravagant lengths to ensure they only ever see foreigners as Bad People. This is a pity, for we're also the foreigners who help their economy every time we use an American product, even when it was made in China and had its tax paid in the Virgin Islands by an American corporation. If you look upon every silly season story from the lunatic fringe of American politics as representing another sale for a Chinese brand you wouldn't have heard of a decade ago, it becomes something they should care about a lot.
    Meanwhile our American transgender friends are having to face the daily fear of something as simple as going to the loo. And all the European outrage from people like me at their predicament isn't going to help them. For that they'll need the rest of America who aren't on the far right to come to their aid. Are they up to it, or will they just walk by on the other side?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

In, out, in, out...

    Summer is slowly making an appearance, as seems to be traditional I'm kept indoors with a contract through the nice weather, and the country has descended into the silly season of a referendum on Europe.
    Where do I stand? Mild Eurosceptic. I like being part of Europe, but hate being part of a centralised European superstate. I think the whole edifice is likely to crumble anyway sooner or later and any economic stability we think we have is an illusion created by our addiction to unsustainable debt, so I doubt the outcome of the referendum will make much difference in the long term. I think that outcome will be a very narrow victory for the "stay in" crowd, but I'm certain whichever way we vote everything from freak weather to the England footy team losing will be blamed upon it.
    Where I'm becoming increasingly annoyed though is as I listen to the politicians and all their mates holding forth on the subject. It doesn't matter which side they are in, all I hear are the worst kind of fear politics. Lies and made-up statistics presented as the truth, at the same time as accusing the opposite side of being the one peddling fear. All with a straight face. The "in" crowd would have us believe the four horsemen of the Apocalypse will descend on our economy if we vote "out", while the "out" crowd tell us the same will happen if we vote "in".
    I start to wonder just how different a world they live in, up there in the London Bubble, but then again I start to despair of those around me. Every morning my feeds are full of people on both sides of this debate seemingly taking it all in without question, apparently able to see the lies from the other side as what they are but taking their own side's lies as Gospel truth. Yes, it's fine to be on a particular side and it's fine to have a pop at the other side, but come on, are they all really that stupid?
    One thing is for certain whichever side you lie on. Europe is in trouble, and it's not just because of the UK referendum, the Syrian refugees, or even the Greek bailout. If Europe has gone wrong it is because of decades of disastrous mismanagement by politicians seduced by the Brussels gravy train, furthering the project to the detriment of the people in their countries at the grass roots level to the extent to which they have become alienated and dispossessed. There is no quick fix to this problem and it is not a case of everything being OK if we just keep taking the pills and move on to the next stage of integration. If it's not the UK it will be any one of the other countries, either through a far-right election win or an economic collapse. The only way that Europe will be fixed is if it reconnects with those people at the grass roots so that they agree that it is working for them rather than against them, and that can be done either from within the EU or after its collapse.
    The question is, whether any politicians have either the courage or the competence to admit it.


Saturday, 30 April 2016

WLTM...

    Hurty teeth, not getting enough sleep with the lighter mornings, not having enough time for anything any more.

    That's the reality of pulling in a bit of contract work. I mustn't complain really, it's a really interesting project, and though my business had reached the point at which it could support me anyway it's always good to do something that brings in extra money.

    It was something I'd always thought I'd do at some point, set up an online dating profile. I did a lot of research to pick the right site to avoid TERFs, and to decide what categories to select and what info to put in it. It's never been something I've looked at before, some people certainly put all their wares on show. Had a long chat with my friend who could give me her experience of doing online dating as a lesbian, a bit different from my path but still interesting. She and her partner hit it off so well in the first instance because their profiles had pictures of them outdoors walking  rather than trying to look like low-budget porn stars. Very good turn of phrase, this particular friend. Damn, she's taken, and probably wouldn't be interested in me anyway.

   So, I've picked my site, got my nice outdoorsy photo, and figured out what I want to say. And done absolutely nothing. It's a big step to set up a dating profile, but it seems it's an even bigger one to give up on your wife even when she's given up on you.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

It pains me to say this

   There's a very old and very stale joke that goes along the lines that the Inuit have fifty different words for snow. It's probably based on highly dubious source data and belongs in the dustbin of history, but at least it's spawned the much funnier joke in the linguistic community that the Inuit have fifty different words for "Visiting ethnolinguist".
    I sometimes feel as if I have fifty different words for pain. I've probably mentioned this before, but I have a periodic chronic pain condition. Atypical facial pain has something to do with a malfunction in your facial nerves, and its effect is that the slightest nerve stimulus is amplified a million-fold and appears as a sensation of intense pain. I'm extremely lucky on two counts, in my case it responds to painkillers and other medication, and for me it's a periodic thing, I get attacks that last for a week or ten days every few months. Some people have it continuously, and for others it doesn't respond as well to medication.
    How you judge the annoyance of something depends on your level of exposure to it. I'm pretty relaxed about noise from trains and other machines for instance, because I grew up under the approach path for a fighter airbase. Sorry people, a high-speed train is quiet compared to a Phantom in reverse thrust. So it was a pleasant surprise last year when the mutt sank her teeth into my hand and I was warned by the surgeon who cleaned it out that it would hurt when the local anaesthetic wore off, that my pain tolerance was pretty high. There I was, sitting with my arm held up in a padded sling, wondering when this pain was going to turn up in my gently throbbing hand, eventually realising that the gentle throbbing *was* the pain. When the time comes that I head to Brighton or Charing Cross hospital for *that* operation I'm hoping the chronic pain experience will stand me in good stead in that way.
    So what are those fifty words then? Not quite fifty, but entertaining as I come off the pills for my latest attack to recap. There is the "Pliers", in which someone with a monster pair of gas tongs has your gums in a death-grip. Or the "Hot needle" in which amazingly the white stuff on your teeth hurts. That's dead, it's got no nerves, it shouldn't be possible! Pain's funny stuff. It's probably the "Full jaw" that's the worst though, the one in which everything on one side of your mouth is turned up to 11. Very weird, the pain stops abruptly right at the centre, the other side is absolutely normal.
    In fact, that's the silly thing about AFP, there's nothing wrong with you. If your teeth hurt the doctor says go to the dentist, the dentist says there's nothing wrong so you go back to the doctor, then the doctor scratches his head and labels it atypical because he can't find the fault. You get given a box of carbamazepine space-out pills, and get on with your life. In my case a week later it's all gone, and I'm left wondering when the roulette wheel of hurty mouths will next come up with my number.
    One thing about having a periodic window into the world of chronic pain has taught me is very important though, I take it seriously in other people. There is a certain type of unpleasant person who imagines everyone ill is malingering unless they are (a)them, (b)have cancer, or (c) are a wounded serviceman. I think a periodic shot of AFP would do some of them a bit of good.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Visible

   It came rather unexpectedly, in a comment from a troll on an online article I wrote for a technical publication. My name, but in inverted commas. Oh here we go, someone's figured out I'm trans. Wake up at the back there, no doubt next we'll be treated to the earth-shattering news that Elton John is gay, or that Barack Obama is black.

    It's difficult to be outed when you are already out.

   With a withering riposte at the ready I waited for the chorus that never came. perhaps I was imagining too much in it. Was I being too sensitive, had the troll meant it that way? Not that it bothered me significantly.
    It's not been a good few weeks for we transgender people on the other side of the Atlantic, what with the far-right nutters that have taken over the discourse in their presidential race and the rash of "bathroom bills" that are in reality thinly disguised hate-speech designed to criminalise us for simply being who we are. Face it America, it doesn't look good when Iran is more liberal than you on an issue. My troll sitting in the gloom of his parents' basement probably thought his angle would be a profitable one, perhaps he should see some of the world.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

On the nature of activism

    A few weeks ago I gave a presentation to a course run by my trade union. It was a diversity course, and I was there to tell them something about transgender people.

   Groan. The dreaded diversity lecture, we must all be nice to trans people, box ticked, move on.

   I was particularly anxious not to do the tick-box diversity lecture, I believe it does little to help the cause of minorities. So instead I spent an hour talking about intersectionality and a wholistic approach to diversity, with some reference to the experience of transgender people because as I said it was the only reference on which I could talk with authority. Heaven knows there are enough people who will presume to talk for other groups.
    The lady running the course introduced me as an activist. It jarred with me somewhat, for as I explained I seem myself in that context as a rank-and-file member who has been radicalised by her experiences. There are plenty of real activists to be found in that environment, but theirs is a much more political zeal than mine.
    But what is activism? In the context of working for fairer workplace rights or complaining about a bank it's not a case of choosing to be an activist but one of doing what is right. Activists in my book go looking for causes, in my case the cause came to me.
    The world has a dramatic oversupply of self-declared activists - particularly of the armchair variety - and I have no desire to be one of them.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Pay to play

    In my inbox this evening, an email form a New York literary publicity agency. Wow, I must be going up in the world! I open it up, give it a read.
    Someone's written a book with relevance to the transgender community. Looks a bit American-centric, but go on. They want me to write a review for them, how lovely! And they'll send me a copy if I get back to them! Hey, where do I sign up!

    If you haven't seen the inherent problem in what I have just described, I had better explain.

    I have worked in and around the publishing industry for nearly all of the last quarter century. Since I graduated, in fact. I have mostly worked at the technical end of the business, in CD-ROM publishers, computer games, a spell working for a very large technology company whose services you use every day, and finally years on the electronic publishing staff of a name with global public brand recognition in the book world. Along the way, I've written stuff. Most of that stuff has been technical documentation, some of it has been technical documentation for customers, and quite a bit of it has even been public facing work for my employers aimed at the Man Or Woman In The Street. And now I'm a self-employed wrangler of electronic gizmos and large bodies of words I find myself also a paid freelance journalist writing for a popular technical publication. So you might say that aside from my writing for fun here, I also know my way round how the publishing business does its work.
    Here's how it happens. The author writes a book, but with a few exceptions they aren't up to getting it printed and put in the shops themselves. They therefore go to a publishing company, a big organisation with the contacts and resources to pay for printing thousands of books and getting them in the shops in the hope that they'll sell. There is usually a lengthy process of talking to agents and many companies who reject them, but let's assume they find a publisher.
    The publisher wants to ensure that there is a hunger for their book and people will buy it, so they hire a publicity team. Either they have their own, or they hire an agency. A lot of money changes hands, and rather highbrow parties are thrown for literary journalists and similar wordy people, for whom a lot of wine and canapés are provided. A *lot* of wine.
    The journalists then go away and write their reviews, and depending on the quality of the free wine they might even be good reviews. They are paid anyway, their newspaper proprietor sells lots of copies of his paper and needs to ensure that there are journalists on the staff to drink the wine and write the stories so people will keep buying papers.

    You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. That's the way the world goes round.

    Why have I spent three paragraphs telling you the bleedin' obvious, you ask? The point I want to get over is that like all businesses the publishing business runs on money. Sometimes, if they sign a Harry Potter or something, Obscene amounts of money. And generally the people at the top of the publishing tree get extremely rich, even if the fresh-faced English graduates at the bottom of the tree who don't work for them in technical roles don't, but that's another story.
    So to go back to my email above. Someone's been paid a lot of money to buy wine and canapés for florid journalists of the type who wear bow-ties, but zut alors! there are no transgender people among said florid gentlemen of the Press who can talk authoritatively about this book.  What can we do! they cry, before realising that they can probably butter up a load of transgender people and hoodwink them into doing the reviews for free. Then they can keep all that wine money - and who knows, maybe even the wine! - for themselves.
    A book review isn't something you just dash off in an instant like a two paragraph blog post. Hell, it's something that takes a lot longer even than a lengthy diatribe blog post like this. You have to read the book, understand it, get to know any of the author's other works, maybe get some understanding of the setting, and you haven't yet written a word. Then you have to craft the piece, set a thread that draws the reader in, engages and caresses them before delivering your punchy conclusions. You're selling that book if you like it, and you want the punter to want nothing more than to buy it.

    I ain't doing that kind of work for free, and neither should you.

    Perhaps I should try it on them: I have a computer module to review, but hey, you use computers in America so you'll want to write my review for me so I can collect the cash for it, won't you. Won't you? Er... Hello?