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Dublin Diary (Seattle Edition) – What is home, anyway?

We arrived back in Dublin more than four weeks ago.  I still don’t feel quite settled.  Since December 12th, I have slept in 8 different beds.  Constantly moving like that is surprisingly stressful, and mentally tiring.  And it has robbed me of the “coming home” sense that I felt entitled to after nearly three years away.

Moving to a new place is big, and strange and scary.  You don’t know anyone, and mundane things are alien – did you know that America uses a very different font on its street signs? – and all of this serves to underline the fact that you  are somewhere else.  After a few weeks, you know your own neighbourhood well enough that you have a favourite place for coffee, and you have met some people who may become friends.  Over months and eventually years, you carve out a space that is yours, and you become comfortable.

Moving to somewhere you have lived before is a different experience – you are already familiar with the place, with the street-signs and with the people.  But small changes stick out a lot, and are jarring – that petrol station used to have different branding, and that pub that I never went into has closed down!  After a long enough time, a place that once was as close as your skin can feel alien and grating.

It doesn’t help that I’m back in Seattle after less than a month away.  This is a great opportunity to see friends that I was worried about leaving behind, and it makes a business trip feel significantly less onerous.  But it’s a very strange feeling – this is the first time I’ve taken a taxi from the airport alone in years – and I have a better idea of where I want to eat than I do in Dublin.

All this is to say that travel is an odd experience, and moving homes even more so.  I don’t quite know where I feel at home just yet, because I haven’t had a chance to settle.  I don’t really have a solid conclusion for this post, which I recognise is unsatisfying.  But then, I have fouind this period of living as a peripatetic is also pretty unsatisfying too, so maybe that works.

Theme song for the week: <iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/WXmuMLDNQtc” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

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Dublin Diary – Christmas Music

Coming home around the holidays, it’s been hard not to focus on the holidays themselves. These are always emotional times, driven by nostalgia, and I have disadvantage on Nostalgia (WIS) saves.  But there is one thing that has stuck out this year against other years: usually by this time of year, I am sick and tired of Christmas music.

We arrived in Dublin on Monday, and I went almost straight to work, and then on to the pub.  Within 24 hours of arriving home, I’d heard the entire Irish Christmas playlist.  I knew every word of every song.  Each one made me smile.  And I wondered why I hadn’t heard them before now.

I don’t seek holiday music out, I find it in public places.  “Maybe I just haven’t been out in public?” I thought. It turns out that there’s a much larger ouevre of Christmas music in the US, and a much broader range of songs.  We were staying in a hotel for our last couple of nights before coming home, and in the hotel bar, there were jazz, R’n’B, and a much broader range of pop Christmas songs playing.

In Ireland, the closest that we come to the twee version of Ireland that people expect is at Christmas.  We are very traditional in our celebration of Christmas – even those who are not religious get together with their families and feel the warmth of the season. Part of that is that limited Christmas playlist.  Thinking about it, most of these songs are at least a little problematic — from The Fairytale of New York’s employment of homophobic slurs and the abusive relationship it describes, to Band Aid’s assumption that everyone in Africa needs to know it’s Christmas, to the fact that Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas time is just plain shit — but they are firmly ingrained in my soul. Someone was playing Fairytale of New York in the office the other day, and I teared up; it may have been nostalgia, it may have been a hangover, but that unique combination meant that I knew it was Christmas.

I actually like that the US has a broader, less grating list of Christmas songs. It draws from a broader range of cultural background and musical styles, and that diversity softens the temptation to be a humbugging grumpus. I was excited to hear the songs that I knew, because I hadn’t heard them yet.

If you’re interested, here’s my list of “10 Christmas Songs that you’d be sick of by now, if you were in Ireland”:

Slade – Merry Christmas Everybody
Wizzard – I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day
The Pogues and Kirsty McColl – Fairytale of New York
Band Aid – Do They Know it’s Christmas
Paul McCartney – Wonderful Christmas Time
John Lennon – Happy Xmas (War is Over)
Cliff Richard – Christmas Time (Miseltoe and Wine)
Bing Crosby – White Christmas
Chris Rea – Driving Home for Christmas
Jona Lewis – Stop the Cavalry

P.S. I had never listened to the lyrics to Wonderful Christmas Time until I heard it this year.  I firmly believe that Paul McCartney is one of the best songwriters of all time, and this is one of the worst songs that I’ve ever heard.  “The children sing their song: ding dong ding dong ding dong“.  What, did he see that Lennon was releasing a song, and rushed this unpolished turd out the door? HUMBUG!

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Dublin Diary – Breakfast

This is the second post that I’ve written, and a pattern is starting to emerge; see if you can spot it.

This morning, we woke up at 03.30, and when 06.15 rolled around, we decided that there was not point in trying to go back to sleep, so we should instead, get up and go into town for the world’s greatest breakfast: a Breakfast Bap from Keogh’s Café.

Breakfast Bap

Many words have been written about the wonders of a Full Irish Breakfast, but for those of you unfamiliar, it is usually comprised of sausages, bacon, eggs and pudding.  For those of you reading this in America, it’s worth pointing out that the sausages and bacon are different to what you’re familiar with, and pudding is yet another pork product – Irish breakfast is really about letting pigs know where they stand.  The sausages tend to be pork, salt and pepper, with the flavour of the meat being to the fore.  Irish bacon is the same part of the pig as a pork chop, but sliced thinly, and smoked.  Pudding is similar to a sausage, but usually with more spices (and lard) involved.

A “bap” is a bread roll that is both taller and broader than a hamburger bun.  They also tend to be more floury, more fluffy, and they absolutely must be consumed fresh.  Baps are generally found in Ireland, Scotland and the north of England, where they are most commonly used as a base for a meat sandwich.

Keogh’s is a small café in the middle of Dublin.  It’s (apparently) family run, and has been in the same place for the last 20 years.  Their baked goods are made on-site, and their food is both delicious and reasonably priced.  I have very fond memories of sitting in Keogh’s on a succession of secondary school Saturday mornings reading books and writing letters.  There are few places in this world which are more deserving of the description “cosy”.

“Cosy” is an excellent description of the vibe that I’m feeling since coming back.  Familiar food, familiar places, the little things that are the marks of ‘home’ – we had proper rain this morning, for a start.  It’s all a little trite, but I think the permanence of the move hasn’t quite sunk in yet, and so, for now, I’m just noticing how important sandwiches are in my life.

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Dublin Diary – The Sandwich

We arrived back in Dublin yesterday, after living in the US for close to three years.  It’s a strange feeling to come home, and given how hectic things were in the last couple of weeks before we moved, I don’t think I’ve really processed it yet.  I promised a whole lot of people that I’d keep them up to speed on things, so I’ve decided to revive my blog as an easy way to do that.

For those of you who don’t know, this magnificent specimen is a Chicken Tikka Roll, and it may be the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

Food of some gods

It’s not that it’s particularly good.  The cheese is salty and has a rubbery texture, the tikka sauce doesn’t actually taste like a tikka masala sauce, and the best thing that has ever happened to that chicken is being covered in the dubious sauce.  Those of you who have heard me rant about bread will be pleased to know that this bread was pretty great, but it should be noted that the crust of a Spar roll can be so crunchy as to lacerate the mouth of the unsuspecting.  However, a Chicken Tikka and Grated Cheese roll has been one of my staple meals since I started secondary school.  And you can’t get them in the US.

Most convenience stores (shops) in Ireland have a hot and cold deli counter, and most will have someone behind the counter who’ll make you a sandwich. The sandwiches are generally pretty passable, but there is nothing special about them – they don’t claim to be artisanal, they don’t use fancy ingredients, they’re among the least pretentious sandwiches you can find.  My sandwich cost €3.60, and an expensive one (with a hot filling) might cost €4.50 (~$4.65).  The simplicity of the sandwiches, and their ubiquity is something that I have sorely missed.

I went into that shop knowing I was going to come out with a mediocre sandwich, and that is exactly what I got.  And it was perfect.

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Right, well…

Here are a couple of facts about me:

  1. I don’t like conflict.  By which I mean I don’t like people yelling at each other and not coming closer to a mutual understanding.  I don’t like it when people talk at cross-purposes and don’t take the time to understand the other person’s position.
  2. In times of great stress, my first thought is always “what can I do to make this better?”. I don’t like dwelling on discomfort. I want to move on.
  3. I am an optimist.  I think that the things that bring us together are more important than the things that make us different. That doesn’t mean that I ignore the problems that we’re facing as a species, but that I want to figure out how to solve them so that we can explore the galaxy together.

Donald Trump is President Elect of the USA.  He ran on a platform of economic protectionism backed by a calliope of dog whistles, and straight-up racism.  61 million people voted for him.  Some of the people who voted for him are cross-burning, klan joining racists. Fuck those people.

However, there are (I hope) a large number of people who voted for Trump who are not consciously racist.  They’re people who bought into his economic plan, or his promise to “drain the swamp”.  These are people who have never examined their privilege, because for them, it doesn’t feel like privilege.  This privilege is undeniably a part of what drove them to commit the undeniably racist act of voting for Donald Trump.  These are the people that we need to get on-side. Yelling at them, and calling them racists, particularly doing this online, is only going to drive them towards institutions that explicitly support white nationalist causes.

I want to digress for a moment. I mentioned up top that I like to think of what I can do to make things better.  I also know that people who have been bearing the brunt of this oppression are sick and tired of reaching out and being rebuffed.  They have a rough enough deal without having to add an “educate racists” task to every to-do list. I’m not saying that they should.

However, I am a cis-het white guy from a very privileged background.  It is not my place to be a leader in a queer space, or a feminist space or a space for people of colour.  I am and will continue to be an ally.  I will continue to protest unjust laws, and stand with my queer friends, with my Muslim (and other non Christian) friends, and with my friends of colour.  But I can also put my privilege to good use.  It’s much less dangerous for me to go into spaces with these unintending racists, and try to change their minds.  It’s much less dangerous for me to challenge them on things that they may think of as “harmless banter” which are actually hurtful and cruel.  But that challenge has to be the beginning of a conversation. Screaming “RACIST!” and then moving on will not change anyone’s mind; talking to them about the impact of their words, and why they chose to speak like that just might.

Vox has a couple of articles that I found very interesting on this topic.  One was about a study which explored methods of changing voter attitudes towards anti-LGBTQIA+ laws and the other was about applying some of these techniques to combat racism.  There are no easy answers here.  I like to think that living in a liberal bubble like Seattle, the “this has an impact on people who aren’t you” lesson isn’t one that needs to be taught, but as the Seattle Times shows, there are plenty of Trump voters around, they’re just in hiding.  Beyond that, I don’t know how to drive an effort like this in a structured, organized manner, which is what’s needed if it’s to be effective on the large scale.

If what you need right now is the catharsis of venting your frustration and anger at someone who did something stupid for reasons you don’t understand, then that’s great.  But if your goal is to win people to your side, to help them learn not to be racist, and in doing so, to make the world a better place, then it will only happen through an open, judgement-light conversation.

A Flash of Annoyance

We’ve started watching The Flash this evening. It’s my first foray into the DC live-action multi-verse.

1) The DC Multiverse is very confusing. Meta humans are a thing. Or might be a thing. At least, Green Lantern is a thing. Or not. The quality of Marvel’s integration between all of their properties isn’t always great, but at least I know what happened when.

2) I find it really difficult to believe in a modern super-hero story where the characters aren’t even a little genre-savvy. Barry fights a guy who can clone himself and he gets his ass kicked. Because he can’t fight, and he doesn’t learn to. Peter Parker knows all of the dangers that come with being a super-hero, and tries to address them even if he doesn’t do a great job. Barry just jumps straight in…

3) This show is full of smart people doing stupid things. When Barry was getting his ass kicked by the clones, he tried to fight them all at regular speed. Other times, people are doing that “I know what you’re going to say… “.

4) Barry’s powers are really inconsistent. At some point, someone jumped out a window, and fell to their death – Barry couldn’t save him, but he could have made it to the ground in time to catch the dude. Barry has a suit to allow him run really fast, but when he runs really fast in his regular clothes, nothing bad happens to them, or his hair. This was a major part of the origin episode of the 90’s show.

5) We have the main science-guy Dr Wells (or as I keep calling him “JD from Scrubs’s big brother”). He is continuously referred to as Dr Wells. Then there’s the woman who does the actual doctoring, who is consistently called “Caitlin”, not Dr Snow. Say what you will about the quality of female representation in the MCU (it is woefully inconsistent), but I’m 3 episodes in and not a single episode of The Flash has passed the Bechdel Test.

I’m also a little conflicted here – I remember a friend of my dad’s had the 90’s version of The Flash, possibly on LaserDisc. When we’d visit, I’d get to watch a couple of episodes. I was about 10 when this happened, so I’ve no clear recollection of whether or not it was any good, but then I’m not sure this incarnation is any good, so I’m not sure what it brings to the table.

I have a few notions about where the show is going to go, but I don’t know that I care enough to watch it all the way through and find out. I care more about Jessica Jones based on a couple of two minute trailers than I do about Barry Allen based on two hours of full-length episodes. And I think that probably says everything I need to know about The Flash.

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Comic Con

I’m just in the door from Emerald City Comic Con.  Although my feet are aching, my eyes are sore and my head feels a little too tight, I had an absolutely stupendous time.  Comic Con is a lot of fun!  I saw some fantastic costumes, and I took part in some really great conversations.  I saw some stupendous art, and I got to meet and chat to some exceptionally talented creators.  I’m tired and sore, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was worth it.

The people at ECCC are awesome.  They are welcoming and friendly without having to think about it.  People were walking around with weapons which were taller than themselves, but they had all been peace-bonded.  Other characters were walking arm in arm with their sworn enemies.  People were happy to stop and have their photos taken.  ECCC has a strict anti-harassment policy, and I didn’t see anyone come close to breaking it.  I myself was dressed as FemShep (from Mass Effect) and no one asked why I hadn’t dressed as ManShep.  I even got a couple of compliments, which was nice.

Shepard.

I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favourite cosplay on the citadel.

The only hint I saw of the sexism that can all too often be found in the discussion of comics was at some of the artists’ stands.  The convention floor had an area where artists could sell prints of their work, and there were some overly sexy depictions of female characters; these actually looked pretty old-fashioned and out of place next to some of the more contemporary work which surrounded them.  There were a number of measures in direct opposition to this sort of thing, too – panels where the panelists talked about using monsters and robots to discuss issues of gender and sexuality, and another that talking how to create welcoming gaming spaces were among them.

I attended a lot of panels, and they were also awesome.  They ranged from huge halls, with thousands of people coming to see Gina Torres or Alex Kingston, to smaller rooms, with maybe a hundred people coming together to talk about personhood and the dehumanization of the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, or the resurgence in popularity of archery in pop culture.  I personally found the smaller panels more interesting – the conversations were usually led by people who were experts in the field, and after a bit of an introduction from the panelists, they opened up to questions from the floor.  Our last panel was the one about personhood in BSG, and I could quite happily have invited the entire room to the pub to continue the conversation well into the night over copious pints.

I also discovered that Comic Con involves a lot of walking.  It took up the entire floor-space of two large buildings, and we did several laps of each floor each day, moving from panel to panel, and browsing the merch.  A lot of this walking happens at a pace that you cannot control because you’re stuck behind someone else.  This is frustrating and it tires you out a lot quicker than being able to walk at your own pace.  The best way to stop yourself getting grouchy is to ensure that your blood sugar up with delicious snacks.

Comic Con was a huge amount of fun.  It had the friendly openness of other Cons that I’ve been to, even though it was almost overwhelmingly large.  I will be going again.

…I should go.

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Encounter Balance in 5e

There is a rule in 5e which is applied when creating encounters: when you’re creating an encounter, you scale the total XP budget by a certain factor depending on the number of monsters. So if you have a single monster with an XP value of 100, then the encounter’s adjusted XP value is 100, but if you have a pair of monsters worth 50 XP each, then the adjusted XP for the encounter is 150.  The point of the adjusted XP is to take into account the fact that multiple monsters making multiple attacks have multiple chances to do damage to a party; this protects parties from death of a thousand cuts (did you hear about the 5th level party that was decimated by kobolds?).

However, this only really works if you’re using enemies of a similar CR.  I ran an encounter over the weekend with an Archmage (CR 12), a couple of Acolytes (reskinned Cult Fanatics – CR 2) and a horde of zombies (CR 1/4).  The party was 7 level-8 PCs, and I was pitching the difficulty of the encounter somewhere between “hard” and “deadly”.  My goal was to have a boss who would pose a major threat to the party (the Archmage), some support characters (the Acolytes), and some minions who would soak up the party’s attacks for a few rounds, and maybe do some damage.  I was very fond of the “minion” class of enemies in 4e which could deal out level-appropriate damage, while not being punching bags, and I was trying to do something similar with these zombies.  I specced up the encounter with http://kobold.club/fight/#/encounter-builder, and it told me that it would be a deadly encounter for my party.

The party destroyed the encounter.  The mage was dead in three rounds of combat, and his acolytes didn’t even last that long (although they were able to get a few decent hits in).  Startlingly, the zombies were the ones who lasted longest (thanks to undead fortitude), but unsurprisingly, they did the least damage.  I guess the lesson that I learned here is that it’s better to use a smaller number of level-appropriate mooks than a large number of low-level mooks.  It’s also worth thinking about XP scaling applies to PCs – 7 PCs focusing their attacks on the mage took less than two rounds to kill him.

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Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

We arrived in Seattle yesterday. We’re going to be here for the foreseeable future. I’ve decided to keep a half-assed journal of my thoughts about the move for myself, and for anyone who’s interested to read.

We landed late on Thursday night; our travel time wasn’t particularly long, but from the time we left the house in Dublin to the time we got in the door in Seattle, it was 22 hours – by no means an arduous duration, but we arrived cranky and tired.  We checked into our temporary accommodation with having to talk to an actual person (which was actually pretty great), and then crumpled into bed.  We woke up on Friday morning to a day that was dull and grey, which helped to put us at our ease.  We found a lovely wee place for breakfast, and then set about getting ourselves sorted.

I have the following advice for anyone looking to move overseas: get a large, faceless multinational organisation to do all of the work for you.  We had been able to set up a bank account from home, and we walked straight into the bank, and picked up our ATM cards.  We walked into a mobile phone shop, and were able to use our visas in lieu of an outstanding credit history to get bill-pay SIM cards without an outrageous deposit (the other shop we visited wanted a $500 deposit per phone!).  We went to pick up our rental car, and didn’t have to do any paperwork.

So far, things have gone really smoothly, aside from a few internet connection issues in our apartment.  People have been friendly, and I’m looking forward to starting at work, and most of all, to getting to know a new city.

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The Weirdest Letter I’ve Ever Received

I received a letter yesterday from Time magazine inviting me to subscribe. I was briefly subscribed to the Economist, and I’m currently subscribed to the National Geographic Magazine, so it’s not outside the realms of possibility that I might be interested in subscribing. However, the letter inviting me to subscribe is a work of such inventive, malign wank that I just had to share it:

Click for larger

Click for larger

The text reads:

“Dear Reader,

You are, by any standard, a successful person. Perhaps one to whom colleagues and friends turn for advice or an experienced view. But have you ever wondered, as I have, where success comes from?

For the answer, I want you to look back to the early days of your career. You were well qualified, ambitious and driven, I am sure. Yet on their own, these credentials can only take a person so far.”

This is flattery that would embarrass even Louis XIV .  Its obsequiousness oozes from the page so palpably that I felt I needed to wipe my hands after reading. Perhaps worse is that it is inaccurate. I have never been described as ambitious or driven. If you could think of a list words to describe me, these would not be on the list. They might, in fact, be on a list of words to exclude from the other list. Then again, this is just a form letter attempting to garner subscription money. What sort of vain, air-headed, self-important twat would actually buy into this? This actually makes me less likely to ever read Time magazine. The snivelling tone is an offence both to the dignity of the woman who signed it and to my intelligence.

The letter continues:

“I suspect that you invested in a commodity some of your colleagues at the time might have regarded as foolish. It’s my guess you invested in acquiring knowledge.

It’s not who you know, it’s what you know

The acquisition of knowledge, and the intelligence to know what to do with it, is a common factor in the lives of many of today’s most influential and dynamic people. And that is why I am writing to you about TIME.”

I did invest in a commodity that some of my colleagues thought foolish – I developed a rather distinguished drinking habit.  I specifically avoided acquiring knowledge and I went to tremendous lengths to kill the braincells that contained the knowledge that I had acquired.  The letter goes on and on and on, by turns being fellatial in its flattery and Ferengi in ferocious pursuit of a sale.

Additionally, if any of the stories in Ireland’s paper prove a point it’s the opposite of the one that Time rendered in that red that is beautifully reminiscent of their logo; in this country it’s all about who you know. So now not only have they shown a poor understanding of the potential customer, they have offered a flawed commentary on his national politics. Taken together, these points lead me to the conclusion that Time – a magazine that put Enda Kenny, a man who couldn’t even smile correctly for a cover-shot, on the cover with the slogan “The Celtic Comeback” – isn’t quite for me.

I wanted to send back a note respectfully declining their offer, making use of the convenient postage-paid envelope they included:

Post Paid Envelope

Alas, the more I read, the more my respect for Time magazine dropped, to the point where I thought it would be disingenuous of me to send them a note that included the word respect. Given that I’ve just spent 500 words explaining why their disingenuousness bothered me, I decided to send them a bunch of sweets wrappers instead:

My Heroes


Edit: My response has been mailed.
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