Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Riding the little trains

    Transition is a funny business. You get on with your life, but at risk of stating the bleedin' obvious it's not the same as it was before. Sure, you go to work, do your shopping and everything, but your boundaries are a lot closer. It's a whole new set of social conventions to learn, so you watch your back, there are fresh dangers you didn't have to worry about before.
    Take my weekend for instance. A yearly outing for the Ixion motorcycling mailing list, for reasons too complex to explain we hire a train on the Tal-y-llyn railway in Wales and have a barbecue. A chance to catch up with a group of friends I've known for a very long time, and in a beautiful location. I even had a chance to use a bit of my rather halting Welsh, though I couldn't find anyone who'd sell me a bara brith (best described as the Welsh take on fruit cake) to take back for my colleagues.
    On the whole, not a lot to worry about. Among friends, and rural Wales is hardly threatening. But it was a first for me since transition, staying on a busy campsite full of families on holiday. Using communal washing facilities, being rather visible among a field of tents. What if somebody takes exception to me? One's imagination runs away with the thought of angry campers.
    In practice of course I was fine. I have no illusions about stealth but I don't present or behave in an unusual manner, and wrapped in a big stripey sundress on one of the hottest days of the year I found myself fitting right in. Chatting about the campsite badger - has a habit of raiding people's food - and even subject to a rather amusing conversation about the obsessions of menfolk for machinery. To my great surprise, I fitted in among complete strangers on holiday.
    OK, so my worries were groundless. But that doesn't make them any less valid, we all know there are people who get into trouble not of their own making. But as I drove home through the beautiful mountains of mid Wales I did come away feeling I'd extended my boundaries slightly. Which is yet another small step along the path of transition.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Give an engineer a machine tool

    I never expected to find myself in a difficult position post - transition at this particular employer. I'd better not name them, but I work for a large publishing company whose atmosphere and ethos as I experienced it over the three years before I transitioned gave me confidence that I could so it without worry. As I wrote a few months ago though it hasn't turned out like that.
    It's called constructive dismissal. Force a person to leave by undermining and marginalising them. And in my case it started a few weeks after transition and it's following the textbook. Even to the point that today I will have a new colleague who I find has been hired to do about half of the job I thought I had before I was marginalised out of it.
    It ain't going to work. With twenty years in tech startups behind me I've seen far worse and I've stopped running. Without going into too much detail, I will not go down without a fight. If the legal bill I can cost then weren't enough my job involves the mechanics of internet publicity, and I honestly can not tell the world that they are a good place for an LGBT employee to work.
    It's the stress and demotivation though that's the killer. Which brings me to the title of this piece. The machine tool in question isn't a lathe or a milling machine, it's my sewing machine. In engineering terms as a computer controlled device whose needle can move side to side as well as moving the fabric, it's a 2-axis CNC machine tool.
    So I've gone back to making stuff as a cathartic. In this case I'm doing it from first principles, making my own patterns to my own designs. In the past few months I've made several pieces and I have no shortage of future ideas. I'm still not good at doing zips though.
    Making things has always been my release. Software, electronics, furniture, you name it. And that I'm doing it so much now is a symptom of my work problems, until last autumn my needs were fulfilled by creating products. If you looked up my employer in the app store you'd find their most downloaded product is one they simply wouldn't have had I not come up with the idea, created a prototype, and bought it to market.
     I guess their loss is my wardrobe's gain.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The morning after the Thursday before

    It's been a busy few weeks for politicians, here in the UK. A local election, a Euro election, and a by-election. Normally both the cause for a collective show of apathy as the Opposition creams the Government in the local councils, a stodgy show of Party allegiance in the Euro poll, and a dramatic reduction in the share of the vote gained by the party of government in the by-election. And a tiny turnout, with most voters not caring in the slightest.
    Ah, those were the days! Long gone now, for this time the People Spoke, and they didn't speak the script provided for them. They elected UKIP in the Euro election, and this is vexing to a lot of people. The UK Independence Party that is, a party somewhere beyond the right wing of David Cameron's Conservative Party and famously described by him as "fruitcakes, loonies, and closet racists". I'll leave you to make up your own mind as to the accuracy of that assessment but speaking for myself I can't disagree with it. They are however trying to become the UK's 4th major mainstream party, and as such they have to be taken seriously whether you like them or not.
    So why did it happen? What changed UKIP from a one-issue pressure group minor party to a party capable of winning an election? Partly they are the beneficiary of lucky timing. The Euro crisis, the banking collapse, and the MP's expenses scandal for instance have all eroded trust in the established parties. But the biggest reason for UKIP's success as I see it lies with the open goal left for them by the mainstream parties on their core issues. Decades of not addressing the issues of immigration and EU integration caught up with them as UKIP became the only voice in town.
    In the aftermath we heard a chorus of shrill denunciations and excuses from those who couldn't quite believe how badly their chosen parties fared. Sadly they all seem to be under a delusion that there is no trouble in their own houses. It has become a concoction of ludicrous conspiracy theories or downright offensive views of the voting public. The BBC are somehow conspiring to give UKIP more promotion then their rivals, for example, or the electorate are all simply xenophobic racists who don't know what's good for them.
    A couple of decades ago when I was a spotty young student oik I spent a lot of time as part of a student radio station. In the years since I've pursued an obscure career in software, but among my friends from that period I have quite a few who became professional broadcasters and journalists. Knowing what motivates them in their jobs I think they would be highly offended at the suggestion that they favoured or promoted UKIP. Instead they've been doing their job covering the elections, and whether we like it or not UKIP are as substantial a part of that as the other large parties. In fact the coverage of UKIP in UK media has been anything but positive, with some newspapers going to extravagant lengths to find negative stories about them.
    If supporters of mainstream parties want to defeat UKIP, they simply need to effectively engage with them on the issues. Not by lurching to the far right, but by challenging the assumptions in question and owning up to past mistakes. UKIP don't see themselves as such but they are a protest party. People have voted for them because they are concerned about the direction Europe has taken, not because they are necessarily xenophobes.