Tuesday, December 27, 2016

torrents raging down from the mountains

The tally is at 99 books so far, and work is shuttered until the end of the year, so I expect it'll be 101 or so by the end. I've found I've been reading a bit much, and have diverted into watching...not TV, exactly, though I am very slowly working through Luke Cage and The OA, and occasionally Justified. The latter has, for a wonder:
  • a 15-year old playing a 15-year old, who...
  • is transgendered, and...
  • Asian.
American film and TV has been thoroughly appalling here, particularly about the latter two: transgendered roles are routinely given to cisgender actors, Asian characters are turned into white characters played by white actors ("whitewashing"), and, lest any permutations be left out, Asian characters are still nominally Asian characters, but are still played by white actors ("yellowface").
["Teenagers not playing teenagers" doesn't bug me much, since it doesn't erase an already-marginalized group. For an added twist, it also seems to date to early film days, as with 1944's The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, starring the then-18 Diana Lynn as the 14ish Emmy Kockenlocker. (You know I do not make these things up.)]
As if to scrub The Vorrh from my imagination, I've been binging through Julie Czerneda's Trade Pact Universe books.

I'm still reading J The Iliad at bedtime. It goes along for a while setting up the story, listing, as J put it, "everyone who ever thought about occasionally thinking about the Trojan War," and rather suddenly Shit Gets Real™:
Now Strife hurled down the leveler Hate amidst both sides,
wading into the onslaught, flooding men with pain.

At last the armies clashed at one strategic point,
they slammed their shields together, pike scraped pike
with the grappling strength of fighters armed in bronze
and their round shields pounded, boss on welded boss,
and the sound of struggle roared and rocked the earth.
Screams of men and cries of triumph breaking in one breath,
fighters killing, fighters killed, and the ground streamed blood.
Wildly as two winter torrents raging down from the mountains,
swirling into a valley, hurl their great waters together,
flash floods from the wellsprings plunging down in a gorge
and miles away in the hills a shepherd hears the thunder—
so from the grinding armies broke the cries and crash of war. 
Antilochus was the first to kill a Trojan captain,
tough on the front lines, Thalysias’ son Echepolus.
Antilochus thrust first, speared the horsehair helmet
right at the ridge, and the bronze spearpoint lodged
in the man’s forehead, smashing through his skull
and the dark came whirling down across his eyes—
he toppled down like a tower in the rough assault.
As he fell the enormous Elephenor grabbed his feet,
Chalcodon’s son, lord of the brave-hearted Abantes,
dragged him out from under the spears, rushing madly
to strip his gear but his rush was short-lived.
Just as he dragged that corpse the brave Agenor
spied his ribs, bared by his shield as he bent low—
Agenor stabbed with a bronze spear and loosed his limbs,
his life spirit left him and over his dead body now
the savage work went on, Achaeans and Trojans
mauling each other there like wolves, leaping,
hurtling into each other, man throttling man.
Soooo...that's horrifying, in a way that is totally appropriate to the poem, and less so for a high-anxiety kid to fall asleep to, even one who laughed at "Whichever contenders trample on this treaty first / spill their brains on the ground as this wine spills...!". Because, you know. Brains.

Anyway, Anna has always done on-the-fly editing when reading out loud, so now I skip over the (occasionally lengthy) verses of people dismembering each other. He does want to know who dies so he doesn't get confused later, though I'm pretty sure almost anyone who dies--Patroclus being the least escapable exception--is then forgotten for the rest of the story.

Iliad's gore obviously fits the setting, but above that, it's not the least bit casual. Homer bends his obsession with detail and mighty command of adjectives to paint a scene of human beings who suffer in ways we can recognize ("flooding men with pain," "Screams of men and cries of triumph breaking in one breath, / fighters killing, fighters killed, and the ground streamed blood," and the several lines describing each death), but are simultaneously dehumanized by the battle, at once contributing to and consumed by a bloody, impersonal, greater whole ("as two winter torrents raging," "like wolves, leaping, / hurtling into each other").

That's right, folks: my Computer Science degree came thickly wrapped in a liberal arts education. I'll be here all week.

If you read the above verses and think, "That is fucked up. Why aren't these soldiers traumatized?", then you'll be satisfied to learn that there is a persistent undercurrent of scholarship on just that topic. The marvelously-titled "The Rage of Achilles and PTSD in Antiquity" is a fine entry point.

Friday, December 23, 2016

further encounters with urban wildlife

There are rats around and about. We managed not to see any until recently, perhaps thanks to the various mostly-feral cats that have been around--cats which Leela does not appreciate and has made some efforts toward chasing off.

Then Anna found a dead one a month or three ago, with no obvious cause of death (thankfully before hitting it with the lawnmower). It was starting to disintegrate, but since I have the normal American relationship with dead things, I have no idea how long it takes for the skin to start sliding around. Underneath that rat was a rat skull, picked clean. I would have thought that would take a while due to not having the proper beetles in the area, but there was inarguably a clean rat skull, and Dermestidae has hundreds of species, so who knows? Maybe it was the pillbugs. (This graphic--"How do you clean the brains out of a deer skull? Around here, we use compressed air!"--time-lapse video shows the beetles at work.)

The questions only beget more questions, though. How does a rat die next to our front walk, with no apparent trauma? Directly on top of a solitary rat skull? Did it run outside, see the skull, and die of fright? And really, what took them so long to show up? (The house came with what Anna referred to as "mouse highways," but then we saw no sign of any.)

One night, I just happened to spot a rat running along the top rail of our fence. We started to hear chewing in the bathroom wall, a couple spots in the ceiling. After many sweaty hours spent cleaning out our scary attic (Tyvek suits don't breathe), Anna found rat scat. Based on the flatter, more mouse-like shapes of the actual rats encountered, we have the black rat (Rattus rattus, among my favorite species names), rather than the brown/Norwegian rat (Rattus norvegicus, no slouch in the species-name department). The brown rat appears to carry a different load of diseases than the black rat, though when it's Ebola vs. Black Death, I don't think anyone really wins there.

It turns out there aren't a lot of options that don't involve killing rats. You can conceivably live-trap them, I guess? And drive them to the park to release, or something--it certainly doesn't scale well if you have many rats. Glue traps seems cruel, poison is cruel and offers the potential bonuses of dead rats in your walls instead of your attic, and of poisoned rats going about where other animals will eat them.

Anna set to work, and since we didn't know for certain what was eating the house, she put out 2 rat traps and 4 mouse traps, all of the old-school wooden variety that we know from Tom & Jerry cartoons. (The technology has improved quite a bit, and I wound up getting a couple of those, as well as a battery-powered electric one.)

There were lots of rat-noises, a striking amount of skittering around, some very loud squeaking; and some thumps and more skittering. One of the locations had set off a rat trap and both mouse traps, leading to one dead rat and one sure to be hurting, if not maimed. I'd always been warned those traps will break your finger, and while that may be true for a mouse trap, the much bigger rat trap will clearly break your finger bones into many unpleasant pieces. Not even rats can become that squished and survive.

Based on the spinal trauma, I have to imagine that the rat died quickly, but it still had time to try and bolt down the wall, and only the trap itself stopped her. (The solution to that is--wait for it--secure the trap in place.) One of the mouse traps was also at the top of the wall gap, so I'm guessing there was a colleague.

Left the 3 un-tripped traps in place; put the electronic trap up there, but turned off, so they'd get used to it. All bait remains untouched. Turned the electronic trap on; still untouched.

Was there only ever one rat? Did the other rats see and hear and smell their companion die, and think "This whole 'house' adventure was Diane's idea to start with. Fuck this, we'll take our chances with the cats"?

Mostly just glad it wasn't raccoons.

Monday, December 19, 2016

NewJob, Inc.

I got a new job! It's so great that it has absorbed most of my intellectual energy. This is really helpful because I have a lot of intellectual energy, and now that I'm starting Week #5, it's easier to sleep. It's nice, after years in the wilderness, to have a job that hits all the right notes for me. It's shockingly not-draining.

I currently manage 6 people across 3 teams, and a 7th starts in January, and then I have 6 more open reqs, plus an additional one which is one of those special-case "hire them if you can and we'll figure out the budget afterward" kind of things. Round about Week #3 I counted up the 13 people I'd be managing if I fill every opening, because...it's too many, especially across 3.5 product teams (a complicated number due to a special project X' which is the same as project X, but with people's time dedicated to X'). If you have 8 direct reports, you should hope that's your only job and no one expects you to write much code any more; without preventive measures, your quality of service as a manager degrades sharply, until, as a famous Valley manager says:
"If you've got 15 people working for you, you're not their manager, you're just the guy who grins uncomfortably as you infrequently fly by the office, ask how it's going, and then don't actually listen to the answer."
My mentor-VP used to say that once your "team" is 6 people or more, you actually have multiple teams, you just don't know it yet. Let's take 13 people, and factor in 3.5 products, and we can round it up to at least 15 people's worth of managing. Probably more like 17. My NewJob boss said "Yeah, I'm glad you noticed that...", but all there was to tell him was that I can do that, but I will be delegating things left and right. I'm telling my friends that I'm going to name 3 people as project leads, promote myself to Director, and take up golf.

It's a joke. Sort of.

It has already challenged my organizational skills. I knew I was getting serious when I renewed my Remember The Milk Pro™ account. RTM is one of the tools that arose to try and make money riding the Getting Things Done movement. I've been half-assing my task-tracking skills--my work ones, that is, since my personal-life task-tracking has never been more than half-assed--since my last full-time leadership gig ended in 2013. Now I have more responsibility, and more still to come, and there's no way I could keep all the plates spinning in my head, even if I were dumb enough to try. I've even added some basic organization to my email (Read / Respond / Action Required), so if you needed my input over email in 2014, I should now have no trouble finding it, and you can almost certainly expect a reply by this time in 2017.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

I like learning things.

As the year cruises to a close, I am fast approaching 100 books for the year. Those are what I finished (that being the only reasonable metric: I read many books at once, so the start date means nothing), and only one book (The Vorrh) that I actually regret reading. The latter is nearly unique; I've read any number of middling-and-below books, but I never really regret the time spent. Except for this one.

I am still reading The Iliad to the boy in small bits, seated on his floor, leaning back on his bed, with my phone in night-mode. I picked up a book titled Understanding Classics: Homer, which is basically a book-length college essay, but has all this great context for the Homeric epics.

As mentioned earlier, I'm also reading Through the Language Glass, wherein we learn that William Gladstone, that remarkable son of British politics, was also a full-bore classicist who wrote the 3-volume Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age. Gladstone was a Homer geek, and among more conspicuous observations, he noted that Homer doesn't have a word for "blue," and the colors he does have come from some world-view where "violet" is the flower, the ocean, and sheep. "Green" is twigs, olive wood, and honey. It goes on like that for a while.

It's no fun writing a book about language, in English, without talking about English's long-ago ancestor Indo-European, whose mother language Proto-Indo-European is such a fun illustrative example of comparative linguistics that language geeks just say "P-I-E" for short.
[I say "fun," but I'm actually not 100% sure why it's the go-to case. It may be the breathtaking pre-colonial geographic range, from India to England, or the 3 billion-ish people speaking its daughter languages; it's also highly accessible to we phonemically-impoverished users of Roman script. It's hard for us to see the commonalities between Hebrew and Arabic when they use scripts that might as well be Greek (except that Greek is more familiar), written in a direction we're not used to (right-to-left), leaving out elements we tend to consider vital (vowels), using sounds we probably had no idea existed (what's up, Arabic?).]
Funny enough for a language from 6,000 years ago that was never written down, linguists have  reconstructed about 1,500 words of PIE by exhaustively mapping out the differences between the daughter languages. (Comparative linguistics usually takes authors a couple chapters to explain, which is when you find out that some of its foundational work was done by--and I cannot make this shit up--Jacob Grimm, of Grimm's Fairy Tales.) We have enough words to tell a short story:

(Related: languages generally tend to simplify over time, which is why most of us had no idea those sounds could come out of human mouths.)

The obvious next question is "who were these people?", and the gods only know how many dissertations and even more graduate seminars have lived and died on that question. I don't think it had ever occurred to me to ask, except that one or two ancient-history podcasts mentioned The Horse, the Wheel and Language, a fine book, despite its flaunting of the Oxford comma--though really, what should we expect from Princeton University Press? It's as accessible as a university-press book gets, which means skipping over details only relevant to the dozens of other people on the planet who think the author is absolutely over-extrapolating the dates of Tripolye C(3) from the available horse molars, leading to an error of at least a few hundred years

Computers are sometimes so predictable by comparison.