Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Year Of Teh Tranz

    2015, if you believe the Chattering Classes, has been the Year of Transgender.
    By which they mean, there are some famous and very gender-conforming people they can safely talk about without straying too far from of their comfort zone. From Caitlyn Jenner through a host of TV shows sporting token one-dimensional transgender characters to Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl, the transgender narrative has been packaged up in Cellophane like a Barbie doll, something for daytime telly and newspaper colour supplements.
    The trouble is, it's a very synthetic transgender narrative. Transition is instantaneous and successful, and transgender people are achingly cisnormative. Nobody ever has problems accessing healthcare, and nobody faces discrimination in their employment or personal life. The transgender drinking game has never been played so often.
    It's not been all bad this year though. It's taken about four decades, but the world has finally realised that the ravings of radical feminism on the subject of transgender people are hate speech. Germaine Greer and her ilk have finally become persona non grata, and in particular her resorting to ever more hate speech upon receiving that news has propelled those views more firmly into the cold.
    Meanwhile though the reality of life for the unseen majority of transgender people who don't have their own reality TV show or write for the Guardian remains pretty bleak. Poverty, violence, employment discrimination, awful access to appropriate healthcare, the list goes on. If you happen to be a transgender person who isn't white-skinned it gets about ten times worse, the list of casualties read out on Transgender Day of Remembrance drives this point home.
    So while it's great that we are less often the target of Richard Littlejohn style tabloid hate speech or the butt of Little Britain style offencive comedy, don't make the mistake of thinking we've made it because we've moved to being daytime television sensations. There is still plenty of work to be done, and progress is not being aided by publicity-seeking starlets, celebrity transitioners or attention-grabbing journalists.

Friday, 25 December 2015

And ti-i-dings of comfort and joy

    A small English parish church in a wet late December is not the most comfortable of places. Our distant ancestors cared more for Godliness than they did for comfort, those pews are hard.
    So there I was earlier today, joining my sister and her brood this morning for the Christmas service. Still here, seemingly never having moved anywhere or done anything.
    I can't honestly say this last year has been the best of my life. The culmination of 18 months of bad stuff in my professional life, still missing Mrs. J, and finding myself blackballed by random parts of my previous social group. That's a lot of aftermath to deal with, people are shit sometimes.
    But then again, from another angle things might be said to be coming together. Through my local maker community I've found a peer group, I've built a small start-up that's starting to look as though it might succeed, and HRT has turned out to be something of a blessing. Finally I might be able to cease needing antidepressants, which can only be a good thing.
    It was something that was a worry, what might happen after HRT. What if it didn't work, what if it made things worse? When you have a lifetime of society telling you you're wrong about all this stuff you can't shake off a thought that it might not fix everything. This is irrational and as it turned out wrong, but when you've staked so much on it that's a big deal.
    Early next year I go to see the endocrinologist, at which point I'll be given a heftier antiandrogen and a revised oestrogen dose. When I see my doctor to collect the resulting prescription I might just feel happier about asking him to refer me to the gender clinic again. This is working, and I want it to continue.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

A cold Saturday afternoon in a British city

    A Saturday afternoon in late November, in a British city. A square off the main shopping drag. It's blowing a freezing cold wind, and a slight drizzle. A hundred people are standing in the rain, some are holding placards. They're chanting anti-war slogans to the indifference of the passing shoppers. The usual crowd of random political fringe members are trying to push their pamphlets, newspapers, and petitions. It's all pretty harmless, for a movement that likes to think of itself as shaking democracy to the core they don't merit the attention of a single member of the constabulary. A very British protest.
    That was my lunchtime, for what good it'll do. The Great and the Good want to bomb some foreigners again, because last time they did it it didn't quite work. This time they'll do it differently you see, but they'd better hurry up or they will miss the chance to get in with their bigger mates on all the fun. We and a host of others in cities across the country were standing in the rain in the forlorn hope that it would influence the choice of our MPs on Monday - whether to walk into the "No" lobby or the "War criminal" lobby. Not a chance with my MP, she's a member of her party's faithful and she'll do as she's told.
     I would have never thought thirty years ago that I'd attend an anti-war demonstration. But back then the only war my country had involved itself in my lifetime was the Falklands, and that was a lot more cut and dried than the succession of messes we've seen in the last 15 years. The justification is probably less shaky than it was for Tony Blair, but the aftermath this time is likely to be no less messy. My fifteen year old self should have had a chat with some of those WW2 veteran teachers I mentioned in my last post, had I thought of it.
    I have a host of friends who are working with different organisations trying to provide aid to "The Jungle", a patch of heavily polluted and foetid waste ground near Calais, France, that has become home to six thousand people over the last few months. They want to stow away illegally on trucks and trains to the UK, the UK doesn't want them and the French REALLY don't want them. Some people call them migrants, some call them refugees. Nobody wants them to be there, least of all them.
    The awkward trouble is though that they are there. Walking through raw sewage, sleeping through the Northern European winter in festival tents and dodging CRS tear-gas canisters lobbed into the camp from the nearby overpass. You won't see the truth on the news, coverage so far has been either all about jolly refugee life charging mobile phones from generators and buying curry from improvised shops or else living in the lap of luxury pampered by Government handouts and gullible charities. The truth is one of a nascent shanty town straight from the worst slums of a developing country, in a corner of a prosperous Northern European country in the grip of winter. There will be disease epidemics redolent of the Middle Ages, there will be Mafia bad guys running the camp as a no-go area, and eventually there will be a media blackout as the French send in the troops to wipe away what will have become a national embarrassment.
    The people in the foetid hell of the Jungle come from many countries. Most of them come from the countries we have spent so much time bombing over the last fifteen years or so. We didn't fix their countries, we made them worse.
     And now our idiot leaders and their idiot Opposition want to do it all again. Really?

    It sounds awfully hollow to say "Not in my name!" But somebody has to.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Remembrance day

    This week we observe Remembrance day, in which we remember those who have fallen in our nation's wars. The day itself is the 11th because that was the day the First World War ended, but the nation chooses to have its main event on the Sunday preceding.
    When I was much younger, Remembrance day was an intense and quiet affair. Everybody over about fifty years old had fought in either or both wars if they were a man, or had likely served themselves or lost a loved one if they were a woman. People who had lived through the War, even those who were children, were marked by it, and it showed.
    I consider myself lucky to have had the last of that generation as my schoolteachers. Aside from a few enthralling anecdotes they had a perspective on education their successors lacked; there was a sense that their mission was to leave the world a better place than they found it.
    The last First World War veteran died a year or two ago and those of the Second World War are starting to become thin on the ground. And as their ranks have been depleted the nature of Remembrance day has changed, not necessarily for the better. What used to be a bitter national reminder of senseless slaughter that we should never forget lest it happen again has slowly become a celebration of British patriotism, that kind of patriotism that dare I say it borders on nationalism. The act of remembering the senseless slaughter has become subsumed in an orgy of banner-lowering and Being Seen To Be There. Politicians scramble to be the first to sport a poppy, and to snipe at those they consider might have less of a True Remembrance than they do. Pacifists are scorned, as being Not Quite British Enough.

    Somehow I feel we lost something along the way. Maybe we left it on the main street of Wootton Bassett.

    Perhaps it's a reaction to the awkward fact that the last war we got involved in was just a bit dodgy. Battling the Nazis had a moral justification, but with dodgy dossiers and George W Bush we comprehensively let down the soldiers we sent to die in the heat of Iraq. Bitter remembrance of senseless slaughter gets a bit close to home for those in power when they are the ones who obediently trooped into the War Criminal Lobby behind their then party leader.
    Or maybe it's the post-war generation's tendency to sanitise the past at work. For them The War was One Great Big Adventure serialised in countless comics, Tommy Atkins always won the day, and never had his guts shot out by a German Schmeisser. Perhaps their parents didn't talk about it enough in the 1950s, it could be again I was lucky to encounter that generation when they'd had time to come to terms with it.
    One of the most committed, eloquent, and convincing pacifists I have ever met spent his war in the nose of a Lancaster bomber. He was a bomb-aimer, he pressed the button on those thousand-bomber raids over Berlin, Hamberg, Essen, and Dresden. He saw his friends die in shockingly large numbers, he saw the effect of area bombing on British cities and he saw after the war what it had done to German cities. He wore his poppy with pride, not to glorify conflict but to remind the world of its horrors.

    I don't know about you, but every year since he passed away I've followed his example.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

On gender recognition

"It's perfectly legal to be gay, but only if we put you on this secret government list of gay people".

    If I ever need to explain UK gender recognition certificates to a Muggle, that's how I do it. There is usually a shocked moment of incomprehension, then the penny drops that something they considered to be a perfectly reasonable identification requirement is in fact a bit sinister, not to mention rather unnecessary. I don't think there's a gay person alive who'd be happy to be put on a government-held secret list of gay people, and when put in those terms it becomes rather unreasonable to expect the same of a transgender person.
    They're funny things, gender recognition certificates. You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get the evidence for one, pay a rather steep fee, then convince a panel of cis people that you're trans enough to require one. All for a bit of paper that it's a criminal offence for someone to ask to see, the right to a reprint of your birth certificate with your correct gender on it, and your name on that secret government list of transgender people. And the idea was that it also put you in the right jail if you commit a crime, though that last point's taken a bit of a battering this week. The trans woman without one who was sent to a men's jail came out for her appeal and then went straight back to a women's jail. Yes, the subject of my last post didn't get let off on appeal, common sense prevailed, and she's back on her diet of porridge. Girl porridge.
    So we're left with a new birth certificate as the main prize. And if that's one which some people among our community consider to be a big one, then good for them. I just can't say I'm one of them.
    What gender recognition certificates really do has very little to do with us. They exist as just one more Thing To Appease the Panicking Cis People Who Can't Handle the Idea of Trans People. If we bend over backwards to appease them, we're rewarded with a dog biscuit, oops, I mean shiny bit of paper. 

    Sorry, I'm all done with sit-up-and-beg tail-wagging, I want to get on with my life.

    Funnily enough, there exists a fabled land in which gender recognition is as simple as deciding how you want to be recognised. No panels, no secret government lists.
    Where is this place? The Irish Republic, a short ferry ride to the west. Has the world stopped turning on the Emerald Isle since they passed this enlightened law? Have cats married dogs? Hardly. Instead they're just getting on with their lives, just like we should be.

    Wish it could happen here in the UK? You could always petition the Government about it...

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Finally listening

    Every now and then as you observe the trans community's path through the world, you become aware that a watershed moment has been passed. A few years ago we had one when we held a vigil outside the offices of the Daily Mail following the death of Lucy Meadowes, bashing us in the way they had became something tabloids couldn't do without censure.
    And the last few weeks. The Parliamentary Women & Equalities Committee holding a wide-ranging enquiry into transgender affairs, and the noted feminist Germaine Greer facing the threat of a no-platforming at Cardiff University over her views on trans people. When she angrily pulled out of the event and launched an astonishing hate-speech diatribe on the matter there was none of the chorus of defence from feminist worthies we've come to expect, instead she finds herself a pariah, damaged goods.

    It's almost as though a switch has been flipped, and people are finally listening.

    Of course, it's not all plain sailing. One of the absurdities of the gender recognition system is laid bare as a trans woman sentenced to twelve weeks for assault finds herself heading for a male prison because she doesn't have a gender recognition certificate. After tens of thousands of signatures on a petition the latest news is that she's likely to be granted an appeal. The word is that she may escape a custodial sentence and have some form of community punishment instead. The Ministry of Justice is so anxious to dodge the prospect of a trans woman in a female jail without a gender recognition certificate that they're prepared to forgo the sentence altogether. Good news for her, but isn't the point of equality that we should be treated the same in all situations as anyone else? Shouldn't she just serve the time in a women's jail? I'm not sure "Embarrass the MoJ as a trans woman criminal, get let off" is a message I want to come out of this.

    Still, at least people are expressing outrage. A decade ago they'd have been a metaphorical pitchfork waving mob yelling "Burn her!".

    I await the Women & Equalities report with interest. I'm not holding too much hope though, as a friend once said to me: "Politicians take our rights away, we get them back in the courts".

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Oh it must be so nice...

    "Oh it must be so nice to live out in the country!" they say. I don't quite know what they really mean when they say that. It's an aspiration thing I guess, when they say that they're thinking Darling Buds of May, an extremely bucolic never ending summer.
    They don't think about the moment the countryside slides from autumn into winter, when the first winds come howling in across the North Sea from the Urals and the gold of the retreating season turns into the rotting vegetation of the next. They probably aren't considering the gelatinous mud that pervades every moment outdoors either, nor are they contemplating the crushing loneliness of life in a settlement where you rarely interact with anyone else.
    The fact is, it is nice to live in the country, but not in a way anyone who is whisked from Chelsea Tractor to centrally heated des res and never really comes into contact with the place at all will understand. It's nice to have a mental map of miles of countryside with a detailed knowledge of where the good blackberries are, where you sometimes find mushrooms, or where you can find a pear tree unexpectedly growing in a hedge. It's also nice to have a store of hidden places, small turnings from the beaten track into which you can fade away if you want to avoid being seen, corners you've known since childhood that are magic even in a cold and damp October.
    With the advancing winter comes something I remember from years ago when I last lived here year-round. Your life shrinks to the domain that remains comfortable, so the horizon moves a lot closer. And with that comes that loneliness I mentioned: for the first time in years you find yourself caring about TV schedules.
    I have to move on a bit, but I don't know how. I remarked to a friend a couple of weeks ago that I hadn't really realised how much my travails over the last two years - my mother's death, departure of Mrs. J, my problems at work - had affected me. She said it had been rather obvious to those around me, I had a period of losing interest in life. I guess you could map it here, count the number of posts by month over that period.
    I don't know how to move on really because I haven't moved on in myself as much as I'd like. Losing a partner is something I'm not sure how to get over, I'm certainly not there yet. But even if I was, how on earth could I move on? Dating? Wasn't really something I cracked back in the day, I can't honestly see it being a success now. What do I even want from it anyway? All I ever wanted was to settle down and have a family, something which seems a very distant possibility at the moment.
    I'm spending my days at the moment building a small business. An abrupt right-turn from my original business model into my training as an electronic engineer, and making some electronic stuff for a living.
    So how's about this for a pitch, I'm in my 40s , live at my parents house which is miles and miles down bad roads, and have a small business that's yet to make any money to speak of. And I'm looking for a relationship.
    I can see them falling for that in droves, can't you?

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Indian Summer

    One of the sweetest things we grow here is a pear, a variety called Fertility because its pollen will fertilise all other pear varieties. My mother I think had the idea that we'd have more pear trees in the orchard than in fact we ended up with. Its pears are small and they don't keep, but they are juicy and very pleasant to eat. I've spent today doing a bit of cooking with these pears, and have reduced a jug of very sweet and sticky pear syrup and used the resulting pear pulp in a cake. If you've never used apples or pears in baking, you should give it a try.
    We're enjoying an Indian summer here in Southern England. The nights are drawing in and there's a suspicion that frost can't be far away, but the days are bright and sunny with temperatures warm enough to wear a t-shirt, if not to make you sweat. It's summer's last hurrah before the descent into damp and cold, mud and rotting vegetation.
    So this'll be my first full winter at my parents place in quite a while. At home most of the time as I'm working for myself and conserving my money, the rural idyl can become an oppressive prison of crushing loneliness if I'm not careful. I should be used to it after forty years, but I remember the period when I came back from university and felt as if my life had been cut off. I'm not without friends locally so it's not all doom and gloom, but sometimes a rural winter can be hard going.
    In a couple of weeks I'll be off to Cambridgeshire, my friend C's newborn is to be baptised. If we're lucky the Indian summer will still provide, but it's more likely to be a thick tights and boots kind of day. Welcome really, what with no longer working in an office and that it's been so long since I went to anything like this I've not had the excuse to dress up for ages.
    At least I've not reached that point of any rarely-worn nice clothes I own having become unfashionable.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Day After Tomorrow

    A friend of mine has a date with a surgeon next week, down in Brighton. Not that surgeon, because my friend is having his top surgery. And I'm giving him a lift down there because I have a car and the flexibility of a self-employed person, and he doesn't.
    In a way that particular trip will be a little challenging. Not because the M25 is a particularly scary road or because Brighton is a difficult place to drive around. Or even because the Rollerskate's engine met its end there. No, it's because it's that hospital, the one where as well as FtMs getting their top surgery a significant number of UK MtF people including quite a few friends go to get their GRS done.
    I have never been speed transitioner. I've met people who see GRS as the Only Thing That Makes Them A Woman, and in some cases ignore the other far more important aspects of transition to their ultimate detriment. I have another acquaintance who had her GRS in the last month or two at the earliest possible opportunity for instance, over whom I have serious concerns about the competence of the psychiatrists who signed her off for the procedure because I don't think her Real Life Test has been as real as it should have.
    Instead I have always reserved an open mind about the procedure. It's always been something I can only qualify for at some time in the distant future, so I've concentrated instead on getting on with the job in hand. Living the life and all that, why make any decisions now. In my mind better slow and right than quick and wrong.
    So back to next week.  And next year, and the year after that. What was something I'd safely be asked about in the far distant future has become something a bit closer. I'm not quite sure I'm ready for that.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Uncle Sandor's Buick

    Stephanie Plum is one of my weaknesses. If this leaves you none the wiser, she's an accident-prone bounty hunter from Trenton, New Jersey, and she's the heroine of a long-running series of books written by Janet Evanovich. It ain't high-class literature by any means, but it's entertaining.
    A long-running thread in the Stephanie Plum novels is her inability to hold on to a succession of comedic junkyard cars. She's had them stolen, blown up, burned out, the works. And when she loses a car she always spends a while driving her family's spare car, an immaculate 1953 Buick formerly owned by her deceased Uncle Sandor. This car is indestructible and tirelessly reliable, yet she hates it as it's a behemoth in the way only 1950s American cars can be and it represents her failure to hang on to a car of her own.
    I don't share Stephanie's attitude to the Buick, I'd rather like the option of a '53, portholes and all. In fact I'd probably run it as my daily if it were mine, after all it has supernatural levels of reliability. But if Stephanie has Uncle Sandor's Buick, I have the Wreck. For most of my adult life it's been my spare car, and in times of car trouble it's been my only car.
    So with the Rollerskate suffering an embarrassingly terminal failure I've been relying on the Wreck for the last six weeks. It's nice to be bimbling around the British countryside in a five decade old car for a while, but truth be told it does get a little old. Double-declutching, brakes from another era and a touchy choke that means on the first twenty minutes of a journey that the engine doesn't like idling get to you after a while.
    A replacement for the Rollerskate has come courtesy of an elderly neighbour. The Barge was cheap and timely, but not the car I'd have chosen. A twenty year old large estate car with a somewhat agricultural diesel engine, from some perspectives it's faultless. Well maintained and a model with a reputation for reliability I can see it'll be like the Buick, a car that refuses to die.
    The Rollerskate was the only car I've ever bought new, and probably will be the only one I'll ever buy new. It could be repaired for a hefty price and I'll hang on to it in that hope, but I suspect I'd be better off finding another of the same model and using it for spares. It's another chapter of my life over, another piece of What Went Before severed. It's silly to upset myself over a car, but this one represents more than just transport.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A brush with mortality

    A first for me this week, being admitted to a hospital. It all escalated rather quickly.
    From the dog having one of her infrequent ex-rescue-dog-returns-to-feral moments on Sunday and sinking her teeth into my little finger, through it going septic despite a lot of antiseptic cleaning out, a local NHS First Aid clinic, the hospital outpatient hand injury clinic, and finally two nights on a ward. Surgery under local anaesthetic to open up my hand and clean out the infection, lots of dressings, antibiotic jabs in the middle of the night, the works. Back home now, antibiotic pills, a return on Friday to check up on its healing.
    We are accustomed to modern medicine, it seems routine, mundane even. Truth is though this was something that could well have killed me a hundred years ago. People still lose digits and even hands, as my surgeon pointed out it's no laughing matter.
    So, a brush with mortality. Guess it had to happen, sooner or later.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Trans eye for a queer guy

    Enough people to fill a medium sized football stadium, packed into a park in Brighton. A parade of buses, lots of stalls selling "interesting" merchandise, huge disco tents, and bands. The Human League reduced to sounding like a Human League cover band, and Fatboy Slim looking very much as he was at his peak. Two more names ticked off the "Yes, seen them" list.
    Yes, it's Brighton Pride. I was there with my friends yet again to hand out trade union stickers and wave (literally) the flag for workplace representation.
    I've been to a few Prides in my time. Most recently when I've been working the event, either for the union or for the Dawn Skinner Fund. This one though was the biggest by far. It's one of the biggest in Europe, and about the only thing it shared with last weekend's stay at Cobham Services was that all of human life was on show. Sometimes rather too much of it at once, but it was a gay Pride event.
    Aside from Brighton's Clare Project, not much trans representation. Gay and lesbian subcultures were very much in evidence. Drag queens, looking as over the top wonderful as always. Given my recent post on drag and the trans community, very welcome as far as I was concerned. And lots of comically bad crossdressing from our gay friends too. Not drag, nor aimed at us, just young gay men having a good time and sticking two fingers up at convention.
    I was reminded of the TV show from a few years ago, Queer eye for a straight guy, in which a team of gay men sorted out the style disasters of hapless straight men. Perhaps the trans community should provide style makeovers to novice gay crossdressers as a public service. Such gems as "It helps if you find a dress on which the zip will do up", or "£10 novelty flight attendant outfits don't even look good on 20 year old girls, put it back".
    I think we could be onto a winner, don't you?

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Trans Pride Brighton

    Last Saturday was Trans Pride Brighton, the UK's less out-there and more serious trans Pride event. The juxtaposition of Sparkle's Manchester Las Vegas with Brighton's provincial charm shows the two sides of UK LGBT culture.
    I was down there for my trade union, handing out stickers and workplace rights booklets. Somewhat medicated, I'm in the middle of an atypical facial pain episode. Met a bunch of old friends, Jane, Lucy, and Paula, had rather a good day in the sun. Appalling music but good paella, that's the way of prides, innit.
    On the way home with my two Swindon friends in the car, everything stopped working. In stationary traffic in Brighton, under the Banksy kissing policemen. It is as if the engine has seized, with a full complement of oil and no low oil pressure warning, and an intact cam belt. Something tells me this ain't going to be cheap.
    So we got to see a succession of flatbed recovery trucks on the way home. And Cobham Services on the M25 for a couple of hours, as the recovery company sent a vehicle with too few seats. All of human life passes through Cobham Services.
    My nice reliable modern just became an old car.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Life's a drag

    It's obviously the trans silly season, or something. News comes from Scotland, that Free Pride Glasgow are banning drag queens from their event. It seems that drag is deemed to be offensive to we transgender people. This follows on from a similar story a few months ago, the NUS LGBT conference voting to condemn drag and cross-dressing for the same reason.
    If that wasn't bad enough, a particularly nasty word has started creeping into the conversation. "Transface". It's meant as I understand it to evoke the word "Blackface". You know, minstrel shows, and they were bad, and we're suffering the same sort of outrageous parody, right?

    Wrong. As I have pointed out in the past, if you think it is appropriate to equate a transgender issue with one of African American history then you urgently need to learn a bit of that history, and then shut up. Start with Huckleberry Finn. You aren't helping transgender people with such comparisons, in any way, shape, or form.

    So let's take a look at drag. And let's compare and contrast a drag act with something that is genuinely offensive to transgender people.
    Drag is a very long-established part of gay culture. Long established as in the word appears in print in the 19th century, and probably in non print use long before that. Drag queens are famous for exaggerated portrayals of natal women, and for musical and comedy routines on that theme. Take a look at this video from UK TV for example: Paul O'Grady's outrageous alter ego Lilly Savage.

    The important point is that while we are not intended to be under any illusions that Savage is anything other than a gay man underneath the make-up and wig, we are also not intended to be under any illusion that as a character she is anything but a natal cis woman.
    Now, compare and contrast Lilly Savage with this portrayal from another UK TV show, Little Britain. Here we have another man wearing female clothing, but this time it's very specifically a portrayal of a transgender person.

    Straight away you can see the difference between a drag act and an offensive portrayal of a transgender person. Paul O'Grady as Lilly Savage is entertaining and non-threatening, David Walliams as Emily is deeply unpleasant.
    I've been to quite a few Prides over the years, and seen more than a few drag queens. Being significantly taller than most gay men I've seen with amusement their reaction to a trans woman who can look down on them. I've even got one or two gay friends who have been known to put on a wig and a spangly dress from time to time.
    In all that time I have never seen a drag queen come close to the performance you see in the Little Britain sketch above. Plenty of awful singing, but that's only offensive to musical purists.
    There have been times in the past when the worlds of drag and transgender have intersected. There have been times when drag queens have stood alongside us. To now go after drag in a misplaced attempt to protect us from offence is misguided in the extreme, not to mention highly offensive to the drag community.
    After all, it's hardly as if there aren't enough real instances of transphobia, is it?

Monday, 20 July 2015

Mae'n anodd

    So many things in life are difficult. Getting it right with your loved ones, turning an idea into a business, staying healthy, staying sane, staying trim, learning Morse, even as you might guess from the title, learning Welsh (The double-d is pronounced like the "th" in "heather", by the way).
    You can't succeed at everything you try. Sometimes the things you fail at are real belters, things that profoundly affect the course of your life, other times they're pretty minor, things that while disappointing aren't going to make much difference.
    So I've had a few wins over the last month or two, and this week it looks as if I'll have a fail. Not serious, at the product level rather than the enterprise level. Something I've put some effort into may well not come off. It brings to mind one of the things that differentiates Silicon Valley startup culture from UK startup culture, over there business failure is seen as valuable experience while all too often here it's seen as a stigma. This has certainly been valuable experience, and it's fortunate that it's come in a way without too much collateral damage.
    Yeah, it's difficult.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Grumbling about the weather

    I live in an oddly unprepared country. Here in the UK we have the occasional heatwave in summer, and we sometimes have cold snaps in winter. It rarely dips below -5 degrees Celcius in the winter and summer temperatures in excess of 30 degrees are considered exceptional. In other words, we have a temperate climate as befits our being surrounded by the sea. Just about right I'd say, but I would having grown up here, wouldn't I.
    We're oddly unprepared though, because for a place that gets a lot of weather it doesn't seem to take much to shut us down. Canadians laugh at us in the winter when our airports close for 10mm of snow, and I am guessing people from the Tropics do likewise when our mild heatwaves cause our railways to grind to a halt.
    So it is today, that with the mercury barely hitting 30 degrees, we're throwing in the towel. That's it, everyone's off to watch Wimbledon.
    It's good, no longer working in an office. I can put on a summer dress and sit outside in the shade of a pear tree with a laptop and a cool drink, and I'm working.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Black or white

    Things have kept me away from the news of late. One or two depressing stories including a deplorable Daily Star piece, and a lot to do in the real world.
    One story you'd have to be on Mars to miss would be that of Rachel Dolezal. An American black civil rights activist who turned out to be a white woman with a deep tan and an Afro haircut who had reinvented herself as a black woman. So many ways to put a foot in it, where do I start?
    I look at this story from an odd position. I'm white. Pasty white, the way you get with several decades of British winters behind you.
    But my ancestry? In the 1790s a woman from Jamaica appears on a marriage record in London, she's one of my ancestors. You can't tell by looking at me, but maybe you never met my grandmother.

    Well, there goes the country, doesn't it.

    It's interesting, contrasting the Received Opinion view of Black British history with my own family history. Mass immigration since the 1940s has now largely erased the pre-existing Black British communities, but there have been Black Britons since the Middle Ages and before. Received Opinion has appropriated the American story of slavery and a welter of racism, but the unexpected truth on this side of the Atlantic is that while there was institutional slavery in British colonies in the 18th century it was not legal on the British mainland. We have the case of Somerset v. Stewart to thank for that in 1772.
    So small Black British communities existed in cities across the country. Port cities, Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol, and London, my ancestor's city. These people lived normal lives, some were poor and some were prosperous, and some of them became part of the emerging Victorian middle classes. Their experience was not necessarily the same as the greater numbers of Black Britons who came to the country in the later half of the twentieth century.
   This isn't a romnaticised view of the past, it's my family history. I have little idea what life was like for my ancestors beyond those that were known to people alive in my lifetime, but I do know where they lived and who they married so I can tell they did all right in life.
    So it's odd for me, looking at Rachel Dolezal. A white person with black ancestry, looking at a white person with no black ancestry who pretended she had some. My life experience has as little in common with my 18th century Black British ancestor as it does with their counterpart today, but despite sharing that with Dolezal I have the ancestry she evidently craved.

    It doesn't tell me why she appropriated something as little hers as it is mine, but it does tell me that ancestry alone does not give you life experience.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Tripe and onions

    It's about 18 months since my mother died. It's funny, the way sometimes you'll happen upon something she left behind and it'll be so typically her to be as though she never went away.
    My mother came from the north of England. Yorkshire. God's Own County. And in a sense she never really left it. Yorkshire people are like that, they have a lot to be proud of. She impressed Yorkshire on me and my sisters as we grew up, my sister confided in me after the memorial service that she was in her twenties before she came to terms with the fact that she was from southern England and not Yorkshire. Funnily enough I had a colleague at my previous employer with a similar story, growing up in Germany with her German dad and Sheffield-born mother.
    So we grew up with Wensleydale as the King of Cheeses, heather honey and Whitby kippers. It didn't bother me in the way it did my sister, going to university up there allowed me to be at peace with it all. I know Yorkshire from all four corners, I've walked its fells and moors, bathed in its seas, sailed its rivers and driven its roads. But I'm at home in the lower greener hills of my own county.
    My mother's Northern tastes appeared yesterday, in the form of a pack of tripe I found in the bottom of the freezer. Dated 2011, but frozen solid and still good. Another taste from childhood, tripe and onions. My dad doesn't like it, so yesterday I was alone with my tripe and onions on toast. Probably not something I'll have that often these days.
    There we are then, another little piece my mother left behind, gone. It's stupid, being sentimental about a pack of tripe, of all things.

Monday, 11 May 2015


    Last week amid all the election excitement I took one of my periodic trips to the gender clinic in West London.
    To my surprise, I was discharged.
    This might sound like something of a disaster, but it isn't. You go there at my stage in transition for two reasons: psychological monitoring to ensure you're living in your assumed role and nothing's gone awry, and to see the endocrinologist. I get my endocrinology from a doctor at my local hospital whose experience in the field eclipses theirs so the second reason is redundant. 
    Unexpectedly then it seems my getting on with life has been such a success that I'm deemed not in need of their psychological monitoring. I must be sane, or something! As the psych said, there's no point my making the trip to London every six months just to tell them I'm OK.
    I was concerned lest I lose my place and be expected to start from scratch with them on my eventual return. It turns out that this only applies to the psychs, at the point at which I may consider surgery I have only to ask my doctor to refer me back to them and off I'll go. Let's see whether that turns out to be the truth.
    Behind the scenes I wonder whether health cuts are making them reduce their patient numbers by whatever means. It doesn't bother me as I don't feel I need their support at the moment, but I hope it'll still be there for me when I return.
    So, life. It's an important thing to recognise in this sphere, that not all your problems have their root in being transgender.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Morning After the Night Before

    So, Britain has voted, and unexpectedly elected a Conservative government with a wafer-thin majority. The Liberal Democrats have been reduced to the point of nearly fitting in a taxi again, and Labour has been all but wiped out in Scotland by the SNP.
    I spent all Thursday night in front of the TV. Watching the results come in and seeing Liberal Democrats and Labour MPs falling like ninepins, Conservatives winning in marginal seats, sometimes to their obvious surprise. Fascinating stuff to a news junkie like me, one of the most exciting elections of my lifetime. By the time I fell into bed at about half past eight all the predictions had been confounded and David Cameron was only waiting for the last few seats to see how narrow his majority would turn out.
    In my safe seat constituency the Conservative was elected with an increased majority thanks to the Lib Dem collapse. As I have explained before I am a tactical voter with the intention of ensuring as small a majority as possible for whoever is elected so while I did my bit it is only a matter of small personal satisfaction that by voting for the nearest challenger I reduced her majority by two.
    There are understandably a lot of long faces on the left of British politics. I join them in that I don't think this is the best outcome, but I don't join them in that I think it could have been a huge amount worse. It is true that David Cameron has an outright majority, but unlike his days under the coalition he will now have to fight for every vote. John Major, who had nearly twice Cameron's majority, once described his rebellious back-benchers as "bastards" for confounding his every move, and this will be Cameron's daily reality. As the inevitable by-elections erode the Conservative majority they will find themselves with very little room for manoeuvre. There are tales of James Calaghan's administration wheeling in MPs to vote in hospital beds, we're likely to see that repeated as desperation sets in.
    So no, the Conservatives won't have the freedom to enact some of their more barmy ideology any more than they or the Lib Dems did under the coalition. I'm sure they will do things that will cause consternation on the left, but every Conservative MP whose seat is in any way precarious will now have an eye towards how his or her record will be examined at the next election.
    If this election did anything, it highlighted the unfairness inherent  in the First Past the Post election system. Under FPTP the SNP have over 50 MPs from a fraction of the popular vote that the Liberal Democrats had with 8 seats, or UKIP and the Greens had with 1 seat each. We've got a Government elected by a minority of the people, and Opposition benches filled with MPs elected by a tiny percentage of the people. We will never get proportional representation from a FPTP elected government because, well, turkeys don't vote for Christmas, but FPTP has never looked more unrepresentative.
    Of course, PR would have delivered a significant number of UKIP members from Thursday's polling, making today's government likely to be a Conservative minority government propped up by UKIP on a vote-by-vote basis. One of the nightmare scenarios bandied about before the election. But I suspect under PR the result would have been significantly different, because FPTP encourages the protest vote. People in FPTP safe seats who know their vote is meaningless vote to send a message rather than to elect someone. Under a PR system since few votes are meaningless it is probable that this lack of a protest vote would have produced a significant difference in second and third-placed parties.
    So here we are, with (thanks to David Cameron's Parliament Act) a fixed five more years of Conservative government on a wafer-thin majority. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Democracy, we trust

    It's election time again here in Blighty, and it's all looking a bit messy.

    Just for fun I took a look at my post from five years ago before the last election. Back then I took  the line of a plague on all their houses, and I can't say a lot's changed.
    So let's recap. In 2010 the election resulted in a hung parliament. The Conservatives had a few more seats than Labour, but neither party had enough to govern outright. The previous Prime Minister tried and failed to form a minority government by tempting the Liberal Democrats and a mixture of smaller parties, so our Government became David Cameron's Conservatives in coalition with Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats.
   Since then we've had a lot of economic turmoil and a lot of austerity. Savage cuts to Government services, some of which have been very unpopular. The Liberal Democrats have been blamed by everybody for the mess - from the Left for letting the Conservatives in, and from the Right by not letting them go far enough.

    Would you believe it, in a post-banking-crisis world, the above represents one of the more stable and prosperous European countries.

    So the result is that if last time was one of the most significant elections of my lifetime, this one's going to be a real nail-biter. The Conservatives are under attack on the right from a resurgent UKIP, while Labour are under attack in their Scottish heartland from a rampant SNP led by one of the UK's most capable politicians. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrat vote is set to collapse, as all their supporters vent their fury over the coalition.
    I can't say I join the chorus blaming the Liberal Democrats for the mess. They weren't in power when its seeds were sown, and as for governing with the Conservatives I think Nick Clegg had no choice but to go with the party holding the most seats. He would have been pilloried for propping up an unpopular minority Brown Labour government. To anyone blaming the Lib Dems for Tory excesses I simply say this: imagine Cameron without the Lib Dems.
   That said though, I can't say I want to choose the Lib Dems. I feel that some of their policies are dangerous and unpalatable. Take a mansion tax for example, a policy they share with Labour. Sounds wonderful, bash the rich! And it would be so, were it not that it is a wealth tax with a fixed threshold. This means that like inheritance tax which was originally introduced for the super-rich but now applies to most people whose parents own a house, they won't change that threshold and within a generation we'll all be paying it. Regressive taxes are a definite no-no when it comes to my vote.
    So, what about Labour? Yet again, that regressive tax. Sorry Ed, you just don't get it. If you want to tax the rich, close all the tax loopholes and really get tough with tax dodgers, don't just make stirring sounding speeches and sneak in taxes that'll catch everyone!
    To be fair to Ed Miliband, I have more time for him than his predecessor. He's been portrayed disgracefully by the gutter press, and I think the world wouldn't end if he gained the keys to Number Ten. I just don't think it would get much better. Behind him are still the same bunch of idiots who stood behind Tony Blair as he took us into the Iraq war and waged a devastating attack on our civil liberties. Not something I want to spend my vote on.
    As for the Conservatives under David Cameron, last time I talked about them in terms of 'them' and 'us'. The Conservatives of Margaret Thatcher and John Major were elected trying a lot harder to be about 'us' rather than 'them', in Cameron's case the priorities seem to be entirely reversed. Critics will say they've gone after the poor and needy to pay for the disastrous mistakes of the super-rich banks, and to be honest it isn't hard to agree. David Cameron isn't a Prime Minister for the likes of me, he's one for his rich mates.
    Which leaves me as an English voter with the National Health Action Party, the Greens, and UKIP. The NHA party look ever so reasonable in their leaflet, but perhaps fortunately they'll never be given the opportunity to show just how badly their plans might work in practice. The Greens meanwhile are just as nutty and dangerous as ever. Having lived in a city with Green councilors I've seen this first-hand, they are a clueless and spiteful disaster when given any power.
    So, Nigel Farage's UKIP, nestling somewhere in the mid-teens in the polls and expected to have a few MPs. Somewhere to the right of the Conservatives, having hoovered up most of the former Thatcherite wing of that party along with assorted fringe members of the political spectrum. Prone to constant gaffes as candidates reveal their racism, homophobia and ignorance, anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-lots of things it seems. As a mild Eurosceptic I should be interested, but they're just far too nutty for my liking. Dangerous, even.
    All the pundits predict a parliament more hung than last time. Fewer Conservatives, the Lib Dems fitting in a minibus, and Labour decimated by losing most of its Scottish seats to the SNP. The so-called nightmare scenarios include a Conservative government propped up by UKIP and the right-wing Northern Irish parties, or Labour propped up by the SNP. Tomorrow night's going to be interesting.

    So what about me? I vote in a safe seat. So-called because in our first-past-the-post electoral system the majority of seats never change hands even if far more people vote against the sitting MP than for them because the vote against the incumbent party is split between other parties. So in effect my vote is pretty meaningless even in this closely fought poll, the best I can hope for is a significant dent in the incumbent party's majority. All I can do is vote for the party most likely to come second, for then the first-past-the-post majority is effectively reduced by two.

    Other than to say that I won't be voting Green or UKIP, it's safe to say then given the above that I'll be holding my nose as I do it.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Dah-di-dah-dit, dah-dah-di-dah

    This morning, a big brown envelope from the postman. Inside, from the UK radio regulator OFCOM, a reissue of my amateur radio licence that I let lapse in the '90s. And there I was protesting about not regressing into my childhood!
    It's interesting, coming back to something I last looked at twenty years ago. I'm doing it for very different reasons to my teenaged radio hobby, this time it's because my local hackspace has some radio amateurs and I want to join in.
    A lot has changed in the world of amateur radio since the 1990s. Gone are morse tests to use shortwave bands, and we have a whole load of new frequencies to use. My licence is now a "full" licence and my callsign is now nearly 30 years old, enough to be considered venerable.
    And I've changed too, in more ways than the obvious. I tired of old gits yakking away at each other back then, and I'm not sure I want to venture back into that particular fray. Amateur radio can have rather an old-fashioned culture at times.
    So what am I going to do with it besides talk radio with the hackspace crowd? Probably what I always wanted to do back in the day but only achieved partial success at: build my own kit. There are still corners of amateur radio where you can push at the boundaries of what is possible, it's not all a slightly rarified version of CB for older men.
    All this has got me reaching for the soldering iron, see the picture. There's another thing that has changed since the 1990s, computerised circuit design tools that are easy to use!
    Building stuff though, it's an escape. The receiver prototype in the picture may one day emerge as a more polished design, but I don't really need it as I still have my trusty 1980s-vintage communication receiver. So why bother?
    You need something to keep yourself in touch with your worth.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Blood on their hands

    Another week, another set of Media Trans Sensations. In the USA it's Bruce Jenner, over here it's more froth from the ever-self-publicising Paris Lees. Jenner has come out in a media frenzy to publicise the inevitable TV series about his (he has for the moment retained the male pronoun) transition, while Lees is further ensconsed in her role as the UK media's Pet Transgender Person.
    The general public now knows all about transition y'see. It's a sanitised version in which there are no impediments on your way to any treatment, nobody suffers any consequences, nobody has depression, and of course you come out of it looking like a dolly-bird. It seems now that the media can no longer pick on us they are choosing to smother us in Human Interest.
    A week ago an inquest was held into the death of a transgender person who had been hit by a train last November. You might have heard of her: the Scrabble champion Mikki Nicholson.
    Mikki committed suicide after suffering much public harassment for being transgender. Her case is sadly nothing unusual, I am sure readers will be aware of many others.
    So I'm afraid that Jenner, Lees, Maloney et al are tainted for me. The media who are patting themselves on the back for being so inclusive and sensitive have blood on their hands. They are the same scum who fomented an atmosphere in which it was acceptable to push people like Lucy Meadowes and Mikki Nicholson to suicide, and now they're acting as though none of that happened and they're the Transgender Person's Best friend.

     Screw 'em I say, and screw anyone whose desire for self-publicity is so strong they're prepared to forget all that and get into bed with them. They don't speak for me, and never will.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Goin' home

    My sister thinks I'm regressing into my childhood.
    She's come to this conclusion because I've moved back to my parents house, a place she detached herself from about thirty years ago by moving up north but which I who have always stayed in this corner of Southern England have retained a connection with.
    It's odd, moving back in when you're in your forties. It's not the same place of course. My mum's gone, it's just me and my dad. Plenty of small farm stuff to do, same trials of rural existence on the edge. At times it can seem rather isolating. Rather important then that I can escape to my local hackspace when I need a peer group.
    Meanwhile, bashing away at the startup. Sometimes working on a startup can seem a pointless task when you're developing a product without customers yet. I have a fairly hefty computer upstairs that is completely maxed-out processing text, the odd thing is though while it's doing the job I am at something of a loose end except for maintaining my political corpus. I can only wait for it to finish its mammoth task.
    Data-mining huge bodies of text for a living can sometimes produce unexpected diversions. Remember the Enron scandal? As part of the legal aftermath of one of the biggest corporate frauds in history the company's emails were subpoenaed and are thus in the public domain. The resulting corpus is of huge value to social and linguistic researchers because it offers a rare chance to study relationships and language at a large corporation. When I added it to my pile of text I found myself reading the mailboxes of some of the main players. Like stage magicians spinning plates on sticks, desperately trying to preserve the image of stability as the whole ship went down. Uncomfortably familiar to me, at several points in the past I've worked for companies going under, though fortunately not due to fraud.
    Moving has in a way brought closure; no longer having the flat in town with all its comforts but also its spectres. New doctor with whom I'll have my check-in appointment next week, though I'll be lucky if I've received a note from my endocrinologist by then.
    So yeah, childhood. The past is another country, and not one I want to return to.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Women's Hour, 1975 edition

    Just when you think things are getting better, back it all slides.

    On Radio 4 Women's Hour this morning they were looking at women's issues facing people in ethnic minorities. They're very passionate about balance and free speech on Radio 4, so in the studio they had a black feminist to talk about her experiences and a pasty white bloke from the Far Right party who was there to tell the audience about the Jewish Plot, and how everyone not like him should be Sent Home.

    Sounds pretty implausible, doesn't it. And you're right, I just made it up. The BBC would no more have a member of any far-right party on Women's Hour than they would have a two-hour retrospective on all the good works of Jimmy Savile, with special emphasis on his work with children. Oh, wait...

    Unfortunately though this morning's Wonen's Hour did have a piece on the reported rise in British children seeking help with their gender identity issues. So who did they have on, perhaps a child psychologist speaking as an expert on the medical aspects of dealing with young gender identity patients?

    Nope. Not a chance. Instead they had a radical feminist in the studio, and turned the whole thing into an unsubtle go at non-cis gender identities and at gender identity help for children.

    Sadly for them they had rather put their foot in it before a second of audio had hit the airwaves, by trying to get a non-binary activist to come on to prop up their anti-trans agenda. Perhaps that should serve as a bit of a sign that you're going astray, when you're trying to put together a programme and the people you approach won't touch you with a bargepole? Not if you're the Women's Hour team it seems.

    Women's Hour has always seen itself as an institution at the heart of feminism. It has often produced very interesting and good quality radio. My spoof about the fascist talking on an ethnic minority piece was a spoof only in the fascist, they have been unafraid to tackle issues which other programmes would prefer to push under the carpet.

    But you can only remain at the heart of something if you stay in touch with it. It is pretty obvious that the Women's Hour producers' hearts lie in their youth in the 1970s and 80s rather than the second decade of the twenty first century, and that they have sadly lost touch.

    I probably share several definitions with my spoof fascist above. I'm white, British, middle class. But I would not take him at face value for a radio show just because I share that with him. It's a lesson the Women's Hour producers should take to heart: just because someone defines themselves as a feminist doesn't mean they're someone you'd want to be seen associating with.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Language Spy

    At the developer conference I wrote about in a previous post, I had the usual name badge on a lanyard round my neck. Under my name: "Language Spy".

    A significant number of the people I talked to assumed it was my job title. Pity, that, as it's the name of my startup.

    Some time in early February I moved on from the place I called work for four and a half years, gave notice on my flat, and set to coding. As a dotcommer I never move away from the startup mentality, so to me it seems like the most natural thing in the world to be doing.
    I'm a geek-of-all-tech-trades, but I work in the language business. I came to it via a very convoluted path through electronics, computer games, the web, and then search engines. What I'm doing now builds on one of my fascinations, hobbies, and side projects of many years standing, the statistical analysis of large bodies of text. I gather huge amounts of language, tell my computer to make observations on it I couldn't possibly do myself, and then write code to render the result in a human-readable form.
    I've got several products in the pipeline, but my first is live on the web and involves time-series political data. If you want to know which of the party leaders is making waves in the UK election campaign, or which of the 2016 US presidential hopefuls is most affected by whatever banana skins Fox News toss at them, it's the tool for you. I am waiting for the general election with interest, because it'll allow me to test my theory that I can use corpus data to call the result.

The URL?

    I kinda wish I had adopted it as a job title now.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Almost the only girl in the room

    If you visit the loo in a department store before Christmas, there'll be a queue in the ladies a mile long, and no queue in the gents. Truth be told it's a situation you'll find any time, but never mind, it's a cameraderie thing.
    There's one place where the situation is reversed though. Visit the loo at a software developer conference and the queue for the gents is five miles long, while the ladies is just walk right in and pee.
    Yes, I've been milling around with about a thousand geeks and learning about cool new software tricks in a cavernous warehouse-turned-Evangelical church that hires itself out on weekdays for relatively Godless geeks to hear their technological prophets impart their pearls of wisdom.

    One thing had changed though since the last dev conference I attended. The first thing the organiser opened with was a statement of a code of conduct.

    This is an important and welcome change, and it's one that has its roots both in developer and startup culture, and in a couple of stories that made the news last year.
    It's probably safe to say that the majority of software developers are men. And it's probably also safe to say that the majority of software developers who work in the startup scene are young men. There has therefore historically been something of a macho culture among developers. It's even spawned a word of its own: brogrammer.
    Last year the industry received something of a wake-up call over the undesirable side of this culture. In March a female developer at PyCon Tweeted a picture of two men seated behind her making sexist comments. One of them lost his job, and after a significant fuss, a denial-of-service against her blog, and a lot of very nasty abuse, so did she. And in August there was the so-called "Gamergate" controversy, when a group of women in the video game business criticised sexism in their industry and received a horrifying sustained campaign of online abuse as a result.
    I can't say these incidents sat entirely comfortably with me from either side. I don't think job losses were a good outcome for anyone, and as someone who's ex-game-industry I didn't quite recognise the space I used to work in. But then again Middle England was always going to have a different gamer culture from California.
     What I can say though is that there was an undercurrent in coding culture that needed addressing. And if it took the certain knowledge that any twattish behaviour would be Tweeted in secconds to do it, then I'm glad to see the culture's reformed itself.
    I spent an evening after the conference drinking Stowford Press and discussing random startup plans with other People Like Me. No hassle, no bother.
   And that's just the way it should be.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

All the freedom, none of the leisure

    It's nearly 10pm on a Saturday, and I'm working. Drinking cheap-ass Aussie wine as I hit the keyboard, but still working.
    I remember once not so long ago, I used to work in an office. It was full of really clever people who did really cool stuff, and it had acres of flickering fluorescent lighting. Then I moved on and created a small software startup, and set down to enjoy the freedom of a 7-day week as a coder. Better lighting, a far better view and a woodstove, but lousy hours. I oughta complain to my boss.

    You will I hope see my products mentioned here before long. I hope they're worth the wait.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Retro desktop

    For someone who earns a living by sometimes pushing computers to the limits of their abilities, I have been rather deficient in some of the things most people use them for. Take office tasks, for instance. My laptop sports a copy of LibreOffice as part of its Ubuntu Linux distribution, but it rarely gets used. I've not had a functional printer set up for about a decade, as very little of what I normally do is paper based.
    So I found myself rather unprepared recently when I realised I was going to be needing a bit of good old-fashioned office word processing. All the things most people have to hand around their computer, I didn't. The thought of shelling out for a pile of new kit didn't really appeal, so to furnish myself with what I needed I turned to my stash of random stuff-that-will-come-in-useful-someday.
    My desktop PC hasn't had a refresh since the early 2000s. I remember when it was a cutting-edge gaming machine, now it just about runs a cut-down Linux distribution and is far too slow for the software in hand. Plus it has a very noisy fan. Useful to have for pulling data from old hard drives, but come to think of it that's all I've used it for these last few years.
    Fortunately I had a handy replacement already on my desk. A pocket-money-cheap Raspberry Pi with a GertVGA adaptor drives the venerable CRT monitor, and I had to dust off my 25-year-old IBM model M keyboard. It's difficult to explain the attraction of these rather noisy devices, but their unique bent-spring mechanism gives a typing action like no other.
    The oldest item I pulled out though was the printer. A 24 pin Epson dot matrix printer from the 1980s, complete with period sound effects. With properly configured software these printers can produce output that would fool you into thinking it came from a laser printer, but because most people didn't know how to set them up they gained a reputation for poor quality. The reason I hung onto mine though is cost. Instead of ink or toner cartridges these printers have a ribbon like that in a typewriter which only costs about a fiver, and produce an astounding number of pages from a single ribbon.
    All I had to buy to complete my junkyard desktop were a couple of USB adaptors which together cost me under a tenner: a PS/2 keyboard and mouse adaptor and a parallel printer adaptor.
    I was pleasantly surprised with how usable LibreOffice is on a Raspberry Pi. It's not the fastest of machines by today's standards so I hadn't set my hopes too high, but I guess using Microsoft Office 2010 over a network at work had conditioned me to poor performance. After a bit of playing with the Linux printing system to get everything talking I soon had my documents coming off the printer in very high quality.
    So there I have it. The sounds of a 1980s office, clack-clack-clack keyboard and dot-matrix whine. I guess you have to be here to appreciate it.  

Friday, 2 January 2015

I've had a few

     At my workplace, there is a three-storey-high atrium that divides the centre of the complex. It joins a substantial Victorian building to one built in the 1980s so it follows the '80s architectural fashion of exposed painted architectural steelwork and glass with the odd bit of mildly tacky gold trim.
    On the ground floor, seating and a coffee bar. The first floor mezzanine, comfy chairs and glass coffee tables popular for informal meetings. The top level is much smaller at the top of a grand flight of stairs, a single coffee table and chairs, an impressive view across the city skyline, and only an '80s-style glass and tubular handrail between you and a sheer three-storey drop. Jump off that and you'd hit the floor next to the diorama of technologically outdated machinery from the organisation's industrial past in somewhere about a second and a half.
    It's an unfortunate function of our condition, the tendency to notice things like that. I like the view from up there, but the edge is too close for comfort.
    So, regrets. Like that damn song lyric, I've had a few. If you had none during transition, you're lucky.
    You have to sort things that happen into two piles. "Stuff that could have been caused by transition", and "Stuff that would probably have happened anyway". My past 16 months have not been the best of my life, but for example I can't blame losing my mother on transitioning. Or even parting from my wife, deep down I am guessing that could have happened anyway even if not this year. Relationship issues aren't the sole preserve of trans people. Given the three trouble-free years before transition working down a corridor from that atrium though I can't imagine work would have gone sour for the scruffy bloke. Never mind, reap the whirlwind and all that.
     I will never shake one regret though, that I couldn't make it as the bloke. Not that I ended up transitioning, but for the bloke I never was. I know some people never look back, sadly it doesn't work that way for me.
     It's tempting given a new year to talk about grandiose plans. I think I'll avoid that one, just concentrate on getting through it in one piece.