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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Morbid Curiosity's LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
9:00 pm
Prestige class: Moulin Rogue
Bonus feat: Windmilling (+4 to Tumble checks)

Capstone ability: Born Toulouse: the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to flank, and be flanked in return. (+4 flanking bonus for every opponent threatening the Moulin Rogue.)
Thursday, September 7th, 2017
8:06 pm
Someone elsewhere on the internet asks:
What do you do when your partner and yourself are both in the "everything pisses you off" cycle of your respective mood swings? Feedback loops suck!!!

That was the cause of 90% of the fights between my sister and I when I was growing up. Mild irritation would be picked up on, reflected and magnified until it escalated. It's happened occasionally in relationships since, too - usually when my partners and I have had different, incompatible stress-coping strategies.

The best thing I've found, seriously? Time out. Even for adults. Activities of pretty much any engaging sort that you can do alone and not bother each other with for a while. If it helps, agree to check in after a while / occasionally and see how the other is doing.

Important to make a distinction, though: it helps to have a "called" timeout, not just "avoiding each other". If you make it an explicit, even formalised cooldown period, then it can help to establish a common basis of understanding, intent and expectation. Otherwise, it's very easy for cooldown time to turn into stewing-on-it time, and you come out swinging rather than looking to reconnect.

Sometimes a "we're just pissing each other off right now and need to get out of each other's hair for a bit" is just what my relationships have needed to stay healthy. (Whether I realised that at the time or not.)

[Brought to you by $Me Learns Things the Hard Way.]
Sunday, August 13th, 2017
8:05 pm
Musings on boot camps and criminality
It's election season, and thus also the season to get tough on crime™, with our Prime Minister floating the idea of year-long "boot camps" for Serious Youth Offenders. This in spite of research here and overseas that suggests that this kind of "get tough" approach isn't effective and often backfires.

This ended up with me having a discussion with friends, one who's been in the military and has attempted to train people in this kind of circumstances. The following are my own thoughts on the matter. Would be keen to know if any of this sounds like it doesn't make sense, but no "but some people are just plain evil!" please. I'd like us to fix what we can for who we can.

People seem to think it's the ordeals of basic training in the armed forces which "straightens them out", but it's really not that at all. Those who flourish in a military environment tend to do so because they're in a place where they can build skill, will and trust in their relationships with other people. Perhaps counter-intuitively, because it's a safe place with a lot of predictability and clear paths of positive action.

Taking a large number of deliquents and social misfits and putting them through a "toughening exercise" doesn't usually give you that. It gives you hardened delinquency. If they are forging relationships, it's more likely to be camraderie against the experience instead of with it.

Even the very best leaders and teachers will have trouble getting good results out of people if they have to start out as wardens rather than mentors.

Harsh discipline may train them to obey you when they must, but it won't make them respect you. And as soon as they don't have fear of immediate retribution to motivate them anymore, they have no reason to continue being compliant. It gives you short-term suppression, not long-term prevention.

If you're from a rough home environment where betrayal and manipulation is just a part of daily life, where trust is seen as a weakness rather than a strength, you can't just say "okay, you're in a team now" and have it magically happen. There needs to be some kind of anchor in respect and trust first.

Ironically, that mindset is one of the reasons that some do gravitate toward towards gangs and other forms of organised crime: they're a social structure with rules about respect, trust, loyalty and belonging; an outlaw society for when the rest of society has already turned its back on you, that finds value in some of your antisocial behaviours and turns them into a kind of positive.

To get away from that, you need to find people other ways to make a real positive difference. That doesn't just mean being going from an all-stick approach to an all-carrot approach, or putting them in a hug-box to talk about all their feeling. Those won't work for another set of reasons. Giving someone a place where they can gain some mana for choosing to do good things, even very simple things, can be a place to start.

At the moment, some do get that in the armed forces. Some eventually get that through the prison system, in one of a variety of ambulance programmes at the bottom of the cliff. And some, some never do. If we want to help at-risk people at scale, it's better (and cheaper overall) if we can do that earlier, before they start letting the poor choices of people in unstable circumstances dominate their path in life.
Thursday, August 10th, 2017
11:06 pm
Today's crime against language.
Everyone comes out with eggcorns, mondegreens and their elk occasionally on the spurt of the moment. Firstable, not everyone has the time to dusk off a dictionary every time they hear a bran-new term. You don't need to bloodgeon people with how smart you are just because it isn't of upmost importance to them. It's not like you'll become a social leopard just because you don't half-hazardly intergrade fancy words into your everyday conservations.

When it's all set and done, if you can curve your enthusiasm, resist the urge to signal people out for criticism about their mixmatched words and chuck it up to experience, you won't be straddled with all this hard take and you'll have a new leash on life.

It's not worth getting a mindgrain over. I mean, who among us is really beyond approach?
Monday, August 7th, 2017
9:05 pm
In which I argue with the internet again...
It's election season in New Zealand, which means that struggle for the hearts and minds and wallets of the country for another three years again. Along with all the regular and irregular chaos of political party dramas, I've been having Those Conversations with people again. This particular one came about from someone being incredulous at the idea that I might actually want to pay more tax. (I didn't even tell him that I haven't bothered to file for a tax return this year because I'm fine with them keeping it.)

I'd rather have a social welfare and healthcare system that genuinely works, so that my friends don't have to be personally beholden to my charity to keep their lives going. It puts a bit of strain on friendships that shouldn't be there, y'know?

So, I'm putting those thoughts down here too. I'm probably not going to sway anyone who's diametrically opposed to my values, but there's always opportunity for collateral education. Share and enjoy.

"Why do you want to pay more tax when you can not only choose to help those who you KNOW needs it, but they might actually show some gratitude for it?"

Because I don't need people to show gratitude. I don't give people money to feel better about myself, and this isn't some kind of medieval barony where the poor should live or die by the whims of the wealthy. Last I checked we were a modern first world democracy, not Sierra Leone or Saudi Arabia.

Helping people is cheaper at scale, with proper infrastructure. I can't afford to go and buy all my friends' surgeons a set of proper surgical gear so they can stop using the inferior stuff cobbled together from down at Mitre 10, but if the DHB got enough money we could have proper first world operating theatres, and shorter waiting lists to boot.

None of the people I know in bad situations like being in that situation. They all want to be doing better for themselves, and they're all trying to do better for themselves with the energy and resources they have. I'd rather they had a proper hand up, but our infrastructure has been run down so much that it's hard for people to even get a basic handout anymore without jumping through countless hoops.

One of the main things that makes it so hard to prosper is the sheer instability of the benefit: you can't plan ahead if you're not sure whether any income is going to be there or not. When you can't plan ahead, it's bloody hard to get ahead.

(Their kids are pretty decent human beings, too. The most amok kids I've seen recently? Spoiled rich brats from up the hill, and farmers' sons who've finally made it to the big smoke and don't know how to behave when their parents can't see how much student loan money they're pissing away on booze.)

"Surely its much more human to have to see where it comes from and show some gratitude and realize we are all in this together?"

Human, sure. But plenty of things in human nature are frankly pretty crap. Having friends in circumstances so desperate that they have to come begging feels bad for me, and it's abject humiliation for them.

I'd rather be humane, even to people I don't know. Because we are all in this together, and we shouldn't need to be dependent on a constant stream of pleases and thank-yous from mates who've fallen on hard times to keep us doing right by our fellow New Zealanders.

That would be real moral poverty.
Tuesday, July 4th, 2017
11:22 pm
The fr(Agile) Anthology
A friend of mine suggested publishing a book of bad poetry about the miseries of software development. So this happened:

I switch(context)
Return to my case:
.toLower() the noise to a roar
Break; repeat until fixed
&& breathe, curling
To brace myself for more
Sunday, May 21st, 2017
12:51 pm
My partner posted a link to this PC Gamer article: "Telltale's choices aren't about plot, but something more significant". I also happen to be playing through their title The Wolf Among Us at the moment. Reflections thereon:

I sat in on an English course at university a few years ago: ENGL242 - Digital Narrative and Digital Culture. One of the interesting points made about narrative was that there's a couple of levels to it: story and discourse, or what is told and how it is told.

When they talk about branching and funnelling in Telltale's games, that's largely about plot - the structure of the discourse. You've got a bunch of beads on a string, and they can move around a little, but the string is still there and the plot moves forward along it.

What changes, though, is the story. Your actions and dialogue choices move around the emotional tone, characterisation of the relationships between various characters, and occasionally enable or disable particular choices further down the line, but the overall structure of the story remains the same throughout.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my Bigby is a bit softer and less of a jerk to those around him than canon. I am tempted to play through again in full "Frank Miller" mode just to see how the story changes. If I can stomach it.
Tuesday, April 25th, 2017
12:01 am
Sunday, April 23rd, 2017
1:56 pm
I find myself wondering if typographical errors are one of the side effects of my medication. I seem to have been making a lot more of them in the last month or two.

On the other hand, at least I'm writing things without having to fight past a paralysing feeling of dread. Here's hoping I can start applying that to my thesis rewrites again soon.
Monday, April 17th, 2017
12:41 am
The traditional song has been listened to, in accordance with the prophecy. 39.
Sunday, April 16th, 2017
4:45 pm
Memetic aikido, or an encouragement to be better.
Over upon the Book of Face, I posted a link to Dr. Michelle Dickinson's excellent open letter on fluoride, science and kindness. It's an excellent informative piece, and it rounds out with the simple and powerful phrase: "We’re all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind." Excellent advice for anyone in academia or science in the broader sense, really.

This ended up being shared around quite a few places, spawning interesting and largely constructive discussions as it went. It also attracted not a small amount of scorn for the person who the letter was addressed to. This got us into a conversation about the social effects of scorn and ridicule, their effects on persuasiveness, and how to invest your energy in arguing well. My comments follow - I'd be interested to hear yours.

It took me a while to get to the point where I realised that making a persuasive argument is about more than laying out facts (as I saw them) and the (i.e. my) line of reasoning that links them. That whole theory-of-minds-of-other-people thing was admittedly slow to develop, in the way it often is for geeks.

I find it helps to think of it in terms of working out where their thinking is at, and trying to lay out a clear path for them that acknowledges their values. You may not be able to bring them all of the way all at once, but you can mark a trail that will be easier to follow in future.

Boiled down into two fancy words: memetic aikido.

The good thing about doing things that way with an audience is that, like the article above, you have the opportunity for collateral education, rather than collateral damage.

A direct, hard push doesn't usually get good results. It just tends to harden opinions on both sides of the argument. The "no, that's ridiculous..." or "well actually..." often makes someone's firmly-seated opinions dig in further. It might make you look strong to any sympathetic onlookers and those who respect a performance of strength, but it's a dead loss to everyone else.

Shame has little constructive potential if someone doesn't already care about what you think of them - and even then, laying it on too thick becomes a burden rather than an encouragement to be better.

That, in essence, is what I think we should be looking for if we're going to invest in arguments: the encouragement to be better. If we're not doing that in some way, isn't everyone better off if we use that energy somewhere else?
Friday, April 14th, 2017
7:50 pm
A Person of Some Importing
So, I am now also over in this place, should you prefer to converse somewhere other than Виртуальная Москва.
Friday, March 24th, 2017
6:27 pm
Pencilswords and Facebook yelling

I posted this comic to Facebook earlier in the day. While I was work, the comments blew up a bit. Mostly, I think, because the first panel mentions "rape culture", which is like a red rag to a bull for some dudes. For posterity, I'm writing down some of my thoughts about the topic here as well.
  • The term "rape culture" is one that gets a lot of people defensive. It's not new - it's been around since the '70s, though more often used in academic circles. The internet has certainly widened its spread, along with misconceptions about what it means and doesn't mean. Some people - including some feminists - get it totally wrong, and/or use the term in a combative rather than a constructive way.

  • Labels aside, there's evidence from criminology that some significant proportion of convicted male rapists have the belief that their attitudes about women (and sometimes men, especially effeminate ones) are normal. That what they think is what other men think, and what they do is what other men would do "if they had the balls to". It's not a common pathology in female rapists - they tend to have other messed-up reasons. There are also similar attitudes in other kinds of violence as well, gendered or otherwise.

  • The way we talk about each other, the jokes we make, do have an impact on our peers. With people who have difficulty with empathy, interpersonal relationships, romantic expectations, power dynamics... the "jokes" and "locker room talk" are seen through a different lens. They reinforce the idea that their urges are a normal part of society, even if there are laws against taking things too far for the sake of "political correctness". That's a thing we can try to combat by being mindful of the messages we send to each other.

  • My reason for posting this wasn't to say "omg, rape culture is bad, mmkay!", but because it encourages a constructive, positive model of masculinity where connecting with a woman is about connecting with a person, and that empathy isn't something you should shy away from as a form of weakness.

  • That "feelings are for the weak!" attitude just leads to a brittle idea of manliness that can hurt the people around us, yes, but definitely hurts men too. We try to be too hard, and in doing so it only makes us easier to break. Hardness isn't resilience, which is what we really need to be good at being functional humans.

  • This isn't just about being nicer to women for women's sake. It's about being a man in a healthy way, encouraging healthy relationships that will in turn be more supportive for us when we're having a challenging time of things. I feel that kind of cultural change also allows men to have better quality relationships with each other, too.

  • Women can support this as well by being supportive and encouraging of men who're trying to break that brittle model of masculinity. Acknowledging that it is a struggle to step away from that hardness when you've been raised into it, and broadening their expectations for men's behaviour accordingly too.

  • Individuals having more focus on men's rights and women's rights is fine, as long as it's not oppositional. Rights are not a zero sum game. Respect is not a zero sum game; we all benefit if everyone has more of it. Privilege imbalances happen, sometimes in both directions at the same time. But then, it shouldn't be a race to see who gets the most or even who's the most hard done by, either.

  • It's going to be bloody hard reach a fair, equitable society if we keep treating 50% of the population as an enemy that we have to fight to win power from. We all need to be on the same side of this - supporting men and women and healthy relationships between the two - if our society is going to be a better place to live in.

  • (And yes, also for people who don't have binary genders and sexualities too, even if that's a little off-topic for this particular conversation.)

Current Mood: contemplative
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017
6:24 pm
With apologies to TLC
Don Trump is a guy that thinks he's fly
He's also known for going bust and
Always saying what he wants to build
And just sits on his broke ass

So no, I don't want your endorsement
No, I don't want to give you mine and
No, I don't want to "make it great" again
No, I don't want none of your time and

I don't want no Trump
Trump is the guy who can't
Get no vote from me
Sitting in the passenger side
Of the President's ride
Trying to holla at me
I don't want no Trump
Trump is the guy who can't
Get no vote from me
Sitting in the passenger side
Of the President's ride
Trying to holla at me
Saturday, February 4th, 2017
7:50 pm
Noodlings about PTSD
Someone on a Facebook group asked me about PTSD, and for my opinions on the oft-maligned "trigger warning". For posterity, some thoughts on the matter.

It hits different people in different ways, and often the strength of reaction can vary depending on your current mental state, particular specifics of the stimulus, how long ago the trauma occurred.

Specific trigger stimuli used to hit me a lot harder when I was younger, but I've had twenty-odd years to process things now. It still makes me feel deeply uncomfortable to have things close around my neck or face, or around large groups of aggressive guys.

I feel content warnings on difficult subjects can help. Most of the time, I'd be fine with reading about things that related to my particular traumas if I knew what I was getting myself in for - it's the times when it blindsides you and you don't have time to gird yourself mentally when it really kicks you. Also, some days if you're feeling fragile already, knowing to avoid it for today and maybe come back another day when you're feeling better able to handle it. For me at least, it's not so that I never suffer damage by being exposed to triggering things, but so that I can be on guard because I know it's there.

I think it definitely helps to think of post-traumatic stress as an injury - kind of like the mental equivalent of a broken limb. It can heal over time, but it may not set correctly and even if it does, there's still a structural weakness there. It does make you more susceptible to further damage.

The healing process can also be set back if you're continually knocking it against things, so it makes sense to guard it against damage. At the same time, though, putting it in an isolated bubble where it can't get damaged makes it incredibly difficult to use, too.

You need to find a risk balance that allows you to heal the injury, but also live your life. Having friends around who understand the injury is there and can avoid accidentally hurting you moves that balance further in the direction of living your life. But sometimes, you just need to armour up regardless of the restrictions it puts on you.
Wednesday, February 1st, 2017
3:52 pm
Sunday, September 25th, 2016
12:31 pm
Happy would-have-been-69th-birthday, Mum. Thinking of you today.
Friday, August 12th, 2016
1:22 am
Two years today.
Friday, July 22nd, 2016
12:59 am
I hear the drums echoing tonight,
But she hears only whispers of some wedding celebration
No Stark in here expects a fight
In the wings reflects the steel that gives them no salvation
"And who are you," the proud lord said,
"That I must bow so low to one like you..?"

It's gonna take a lot to take them away from you
But that's something that a hundred men or more are gonna do
I sing the Reynes down in Castamere
Gonna take some time to take the throne we never had

The direwolves cry out in the night...

Okay, yes, it's bedtime and I've already done quite enough damage :-P
Wednesday, July 6th, 2016
11:36 pm
Citizen, report to the GLAM sector for ontological mapping duty!
In a sudden shift sideways from my ongoing newspaper website development work, much of today was spent diving into the world of digital repositories.

We have some discovery work going at the moment, looking at upgrading a local digital humanities archive. For me, this meant a crash course in Dublin Core metadata (which I hadn't touched since 2001), Fedora Commons (digital content management), Islandora, MODS and MAPS and FOAF and other fun acronyms. Hanging out with librarians and archivists and such must have been rubbing off, because I seemed to be able to pick up a lot of concepts and use cases very quickly. By the end of the day my head felt FULL of new things - both exhausting and satisfying. We'll see how much of it has percolated through and bedded down during the night, and how much needs to be re-examined in the morning :-)

Last night I also signed up for GovHack: a weekend-long event where they release a bunch of data sources to the public, and groups of us attempt to build new things to explore and build on that data, for a variety of public sector uses. I'm not really so fussed on the "compete and win valuable prizes" side of things, but I'm hoping that I get to meet interesting people, collaborate on good things, and make a positive difference somewhere along the line. It's going to start the day after my PhD thesis defence, so I don't know quite how frazzled I'll be for it, but I'm hoping it'll be worth putting in an appearance all the same.

So, as it happens, we ended up talking to a guy from council this evening, too. Sign-up numbers for Christchurch have gone up massively. I get the feeling there's a lot of latent desire to do something to help our local communities, and hope that this event will provide a vehicle for doing it. Fingers crossed for us all.
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