hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-10-24 09:49 pm
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I'd be either very easy or very hard for a machine to emulate!

I'm watching an old episode of QI and Stephen Fry has just described the Turing test as "the most important thing for a machine," in the context of advancement in robots and computers and that sort of thing.

And I just thought, man, what a human-centered way to think about it! It's probably not the most important thing to a machine at all, because why would a machine care about how well it can simulate a boring rubbish fallible weird old human? It's an important thing for humans in the machines they're building, maybe, but not for the machine, right?

But then I thought, in order to pass the Turing test, it'd have to care about passing the Turing test because that's what humans care about.

And I kept thinking about this and my brain got all tangled up.
hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-10-24 04:43 pm
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*changes his name to Andrea real quick*

Due entirely to her saying "Minnesotan immigrants are extra awesome" and me clicking Like on the comment, I have made a new Facebook friend! From Minnesota, as the comment might suggest, but apparently she lives in Manchester too?!

So we're chatting as you do -- where we're from in Minnesota, she's got kids, I'm married, comparing accents -- and then she said "How did you meet your wife?"

It was the first time I've been asked that. First time I've had to correct the assumed gender of my spouse -- it's not the kind of misconception I have to correct when I'm married to someone so beardy! First time I felt a bit sheepish having to say "My husband, actually" before I went on to answer her question. Sort of good practice for me, in being mindful of what this feels like.

I'm really curious what made her assume I had a wife, though!
hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-10-22 10:51 pm
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A rare political conversation with my mom

Mom was telling me about a story my dad read in the paper (ie the Minneaapolis Star-Tribune) about a woman who was prevented from putting the Hillary Clinton yard sign she wanted in her yard by fear that her house, or even she, would be attacked by people who didn't like it.

Mom says this seems possible to her. She said around them all you see is Trump signs, and that this story helped make her think that it might not be that the support is so skewed but just that other people are more tentative about supporting the person who doesn't advocate violence against people who disagree.

And this is fucking Minnesota. Yes like that Cracked article talks about it's the country and not the city. But damn if this is what it's like living in a blue state, I would not like to be living anywhere less white, with less cultural encouragement towards reticence (we got onto this topic anyway because Mom was talking about how she's had to make sure not to talk about politics with her best friend, or my aunt's partner...).

I remember Mom talking in 2012 about feeling a bit lonely as (though she didn't put it like this) an Obama voter in a sea of people who couldn't sufficiently get past their racism to consider voting for him. It sounds even worse this year. She talked about being frustrated that people aren't basing their decisions on facts, and of being worried about what will happen after Trump loses. I know this is all stuff I, like any other follower of American politics, has read in tweets and thinkpieces, but for my mom who lives in a world totally separate from any of that to come out with the same things is weird.

I did my best to reassure her that it'll be over soon -- in recent elections I've missed being in the thick of it and helping out on various campaigns, but this year I've been nothing but happy to be missing out on the worst of it and how it's talked about in American news -- and that I've already voted and done my bit, and that he won't win. But I don't think she was very reassured.

And I've promised that Andrew and I won't talk about politics with my family at Christmas. I fear I might have to bite my tongue so hard it completely comes off, but I hope things will have calmed down by then.
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2016-10-22 06:02 pm


I dreamed last night that Gary the Wonder Dog died. I was away somewhere and Andrew told me. I cried and cried. I looked at pictures of him on my phone and cried. But then somehow when I got back home Andrew had been wrong and he was fine and I thought my heart would burst from happiness. (Gary has shown up in my dreams before to cheer me up and I don't think my subconscious was willing to keep him away for too long.)

Then Andrew woke me up to tell me it was late and gary'd probably want to be let outside, so I went downstairs and he didn't need a wee but he curled up on my lap under a blanket and was so warm and furry and sweet and I was so happy he's there.

And then facebook told me it'd been a year since he came to live with us. We didn't know then he'd be here for good; it might just have been for a couple of months. And I posted these pictures that day.

Happy year-with-us, Gary the Wonder Dog.
hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-10-18 07:06 pm
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Reading big books

I saw Notes on Blindness on Saturday evening as part of the National Media Museum's Widescreen Weekend. Unusually for me, I was by myself since Andrew was too sick to go with me like we'd planned. (Irony of ironies, for a movie about bilndness, the house lights weren't up enough for me to find my seat when I got into Pictureville Cinema, even though I was early and there was a panel discussion before the movie so no reason for it to be so dark. And this was the one time I didn't have Andrew with me to be my seeing-eye human. Luckily a woman who was already helping the mobility-impaired person she was with spotted me and helped me find where I needed to be.)

It's definitely one I'm going to have to watch again (got the DVD on my wishlist already!) but for now I just wanted to remind myself, and tell you guys, of one of the things I found most striking about seeing it in the cinema with a lot of other people (most of whom had the lanyard of weekend-pass festivalgoers and were the kind of people I'm used to seeing at the Media Museum's cinematic events: mostly older, almost all white, chattering about things like what materials different kinds of cinema screens are made of in between movies).

The movie's based on the non-fictional audiotapes of a man, John Hull, a middle-aged academic whose second child was just about to be born, who lost his sight in the early 80s. He started keeping a sort of diary on cassettes as he came to terms with his blindness, and the movie's audio is composed of these recordings, lip-synced by actors but the actual voices are that of John and his wife and other family members on the tapes.

It's very well done -- I really like the way it's filmed so that even after John loses the last of his sight the cinematography makes you feel like you're getting things from his perspective even though there are of course images on the screen throughout the movie. I know I'll have a lot to say about it, but I think I need to see it again before I do (ideally with the audio description, which I don't think the media museum has? or anyway a combination of their staff being kind but not overly well-trained and me being all anxious and brainweasely meant I didn't ask).

In the meantime there's one little anecdote I wanted to tell.

Early in the movie, John has a little sight. He is as anyone would be upset when he learns he will lose that too. "How will I lecture?" he says (all of this is paraphrased from what I can remember!) "How will I read?" He seems to consult a library, whose audiobook collection is all detective-stories and romance. Then he's on the phone to someone asking about this, explaining the contemporary social texts he needs for his work and clearly not getting answers he wants.

Finally he asks in frustration, "How do blind people read big books?"

I had time to smile at the child-like nature of that phrase, "big books" and to mutter out loud, "they don't" before the answer came from the other side of his phone call.

"They don't."

And I was already smiling in that half-recognition, half-rueful, half-I-might-cry (yes that's three halves, yes this is a movie that gave me All The Feels, as the kids say) kind of way before the rest of the audience responded.

They laughed. They chuckled anyway. It didn't sound mean, it sounded more surprised -- which of course was the last thing I was -- and that actually surprised me. Maybe I expected the skewing-older audience of mostly-vintage movies (this was introduced as the one "contemporary" title in the festival) to be a little more sympathetic to sight loss since as people age they are more likely to find it among their peer group if not themselves. Of course things are better to some extent now (though the RNIB library I subscribe to doesn't have the "social history" I really like, but it's keeping me in science-fiction and horror so I think there's still more truth to this than people expect!) but still.

Maybe because I was "blind," albeit as a tiny child, at this time that I remember it. Maybe I recognize this in everything from other kids at the summer camp for blind kids to the steering group I'm leading after the first meeting I attended of it because no one else was going to write the e-mails and make the phone calls that didn't seem like a big deal to me. There's a institutionalization endemic to some kinds of blind people, this sense that they're easiest for sighted people to deal with when they don't do much and that they find it easier not to fight all the time to make things accessible. Stay at home, wait for people to take you places if you must go, listen to some nice cozy mystery from the library.

This part of the story has a happy ending -- John gets people to read books onto cassettes for him, he learns to make audio notes for his teaching, he recognizes his students by voice, all that -- but man. I didn't like being surrounded by people who were laughing at his plight. (And I hope that would've been true even if it weren't to some extent mine as well.)

I wonder what made them laugh. I really do.
hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-10-11 05:39 pm
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Me at LDV

How to Address Concerns about Immigration.

(Comments may contain racists who think the most important thing is that they not be made to feel bad about being racist, approach with care. But you probably expected that, didn't you.)
hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-10-10 09:24 pm
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immigrants and voting

Andrew's talking to someone on facebook about how immigrants couldn't vote in the EU referendum. This guy's just said it's a good thing, as anyone here before 2011 could be a citizen by now, and if they weren't here that long they were too short-term to have a say in his children's future.

There are so many things that annoy me about this.

For one, he's deciding on those people's childrens' future -- even if they're British, at least one of their parents would not be. Which could lead to all kinds of horribleness.

For another, anyone who knows me will know that citizenship isn't easy, automatic, or indeed always worth doing. Since Theresa May made it revocable during her time as Home Secretary, it'll never be quite the same as a native-Brit's UK citizenship. And it's expensive. And the process for getting it is invasive, expensive, lengthy, stressful, discriminatory, punitive and in general a nuisance to everyday life.

Plus, not everyone can get UK citizenship even if they want it. I heard, from a migrants-organisation campaigner, about an Italian woman who's lived in the UK for several years, has Australian as well as Italian citizenship because her husband's Australian...and would have to give up one of those if she wanted to get UK citizenship, because she can't have all three. Why do that, just to vote on something so hostile in the first place?

And who would have thought it necessary? EU citizens are accustomed to voting rights in the UK -- they can vote in local elections as well as for UK MEPs.

And, hard as it is to believe, many people are uninterested in becoming British citizens. Certainly citizens of other EU countries would notice very little to recommend it -- this is the whole point of the much-vilified freedom of movement: it means that citizens of any member state can travel, work and live in another as if it were their own. Plenty of Europeans have lived decades in the UK, settled long enough that babies born the day they moved here would've been old enough to vote and at least as entangled in British society as native who'd lived here as long, without seeking British citizenship.

There are so many people saying "well of course immigrants couldn't vote in the referendum!" As if there are so many referendums there are hard and fast, universally understood and agreed-with rules on things like this. As if there is any objective reason why Commonwealth citizens could vote in this and EU citizens couldn't.

Beneath this sentiment there always seems to be some nastiness, "they shouldn't decide on my children's future," something about how selfishly they'd vote -- as if everybody else doesn't vote in what they think are their best interests too.
hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-10-07 06:51 pm
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Here's a bit I had to cut out of something I'm writing, but didn't want to let disappear completely. So you can read it if you like!

Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary (so obviously she's the best person to talk about immigration, I'm sure) said “immigration is a good thing for us, but what undermines (that) is when people feel that it is unvetted and that we are not able to deal with the issues and the concerns that people have around that.”

Shame how many people lose their mastery of the only language they want anyone to speak when they try to explain these immigration concerns. What stands out amidst the nebulous concern is Ms Rayner’s assertion that “immigration is a good thing for us.” I don’t remember hearing this from a Labservative MP before.

In another unusual move for a politician talking about immigration, when asked if she meant there should be controls on numbers, Ms Rayner replied: "I believe that you do need controls and we have always had controls on immigration."

We have always had controls on immigration! While the UK’s only had immigration controls since the Aliens Act of 1905 (which Wikipedia describes as "ostensibly designed to prevent paupers or criminals from entering the country and set up a mechanism to deport those who slipped through, one of its main objectives was to control Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe"...hm), current political discourse only describes immigration to the UK in one way: "mass" and "uncontrolled" precede immigration as surely as Nigel Farage gurns for photo ops with a pint in his hand.
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2016-10-05 08:39 am

Haha how the hell am I supposed to write a book about immigration

...without having a nervous breakdown?

Today I've been ignoring the question by trying to crowbar my life into something that fits the job spec for something I'd love to do and would be good at.

And accidentally staring a strike.
hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-10-02 10:24 am
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Bi election

So the UK's erstwhile Prime Minister David Cameron couldn't stay PM -- as the Indepedent wonderfully said, "He had stepped down as Prime Minister the morning of the 24 June European Union referendum result after it became clear he had accidentally taken Britain out of the bloc" -- but he didn't want to go back to just being an ordinary MP.

"It isn’t really possible to be a proper backbench MP as a former prime minister," he said, even though other people have done it. "I think everything you do would become a big distraction and a big diversion," he said. "I don’t want to be that distraction. I want Witney to have a new MP..." as if a having to fight a by-election is less distracting.

So we're fighting a by-election. The Lib Dems are rallying round, to the extent of people all over the country going along to help out, donating money, or bringing/sending essentials like homemade cake, boxes of envelopes, and a sledgehammer.

Yesterday, [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours, Sarah and I came down for the day. It was very good of [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours to do all that driving to Oxfordshire and back in a day, especially when on the way his intermittent windshield-wiper problem became unfixable and since of course you only find problems with windshield wipers when it's raining, it rendered the car undriveable. On the side of a motorway.Handily, since we had to get out of the car and behind the barrier, there was an overpass to keep the rain off us. (Mostly; it was so noisy than when [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours was talking to his insurance people and the recovery people he had to go up to the road above us to stand in the rain just so he could hear at all.)

Here's me and Sarah, when she said "I think this calls for a selfie."And while it was cold enough for us to keep telling each other "this could be a lot worse!"...it really could have been a lot worse. The rest of the car was working fine, and [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours had been able to give enough details about the problem that we hoped the recovery people could get it fixed on the roadside in a few minutes. And we were a priority because we were stuck on the motorway.

And it did end up being a five-minute job, as we'd hoped. About an hour from when the wipers practically whipped off of the windshield, we were on our way again with them working perfectly.

Soon we were in Witney, where [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours and I soon put his sledgehammer to work, pounding stakeboards into the ground in the gardens of people who'd volunteered to have them. Other people had gotten the sort of "low-hanging fruit" and were able to do about 20 of these, we got the odds and sods of widely dispersed locations in this rural constituency ([livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours reckoned we did about 50 miles of driving around yesterday afternoon), and we had some adventures getting lost, annoying neighbors who didn't like our stakeboard, fighting with hedges, standing precariously on walls or upturned plastic bins -- even [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours wasn't tall enough not to need help reaching the top of these stakeboards!)
He took a picture of me for propaganda purposes at one point, but I really like it.It was about six o'clock and we hadn't really eaten since our road-trip food that morning (banana, cereal bar, pasty, you know how it is) so we went for a lovely meal in the nearby Como Lounge nearby, and then went back to HQ to help with clerical stuff: addressing envelopes, putting double-sided tape on window posters...not glamorous stuff but it makes a difference. I think a lot of people find it dull but it's my favorite kind of Lib Dem work really; more blind-friendly than most of it, there are usually people to chat to (or in my case usually, listen to as they're telling each other horrible puns or getting into weird conversations about past, present or hypothetical legal/political situations...normal Lib Dem stuff).

Soon enough all the locals and people staying overnight were going to the pub, and sadly we had to go back to Manchester. But not before one more photo was taken!

I'd seen someone on Twitter refer to this -- a mere spelling infelicity rather than a knowing pun -- as a bi election, so I'd said it would be when we were there, etc, and tagged all my tweets about the day with #bielection. So [livejournal.com profile] differentcolours brought along a bi flag and...Neil, who took that picture, said "If I put this on Facebook are you going to make some horrible pun about it?" and I don't know if it was a request or something he dreaded.

But of course we did!

The drive back to Manchester was thankfully less eventful than the one there had been; I got dropped off at home about sixteen hours after I'd been picked up. A long day but we all loved it, were sad we couldn't stay over, and are seriously wondering if we can make it to Witney again before the election.
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2016-09-25 02:22 pm

Impeccable logic, there

Andrew's trying to get the dog to stop barking.

"Calm grey ocean, Gary, calm grey ocean."

I was reading something, so it took a second for my brain to catch up with my ears.

"Calm grey ocean?" I was worried this was going to be part of his anti-sunshine, pro-overcast worldview, but no.

"Yeah, well, he's colorblind!" Andrew explained.

Of course. I should've known...
hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-09-21 06:32 pm
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I've been asked if I want to write something for Lib Dem Voice for Bi Visibility Day.

Which is cool, because for one I always count it a win when someone not bi knows about Bi Visibility Day. But also, because I love it when people want me to write things!

Now I just need to think of what Liberals should know about bisexuality...
hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-09-20 07:36 am
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More fodder for my How to Be Sighted class

In the really interesting comments to a really interesting link, [personal profile] jesse_the_k asked me if starting to use a white cane has made crossing the street different. My answer included a story from Thursday that I've been meaning to blog about anyway, so I'll just copy the whole thing here.

Definitely. In tons of ways. Sometimes cars will stop and I'm pretty sure they are indicating for me to cross. But if I'm not really sure, I won't do it. I can't tell if they're waiting for me, another car, or just a light that's about to change and I'll always choose waiting, feeling awkward, and maybe annoying them over any chance of getting run over!

Lots of times other pedestrians waiting to cross too will tell me when they think it's safe/when they start to cross the road themselves, even though I'll almost always wait for the green man. At least one man (middle-aged, white, northern English) sort of bullied me across the road with him when I was waiting at an intersection where I knew the lights take a long time to cycle through. He wasn't accepting my polite refusals of crossing the road when he did, and I ended up having to do so just because I didn't want him to grab me and push me along with him like it looked he was about to, in the name of jocular helpfulness that can be so nice in some contexts and makes me happy to live in a northern English culture, but the downside is there's no effective way to refuse that "help" sometimes.

Another anecdote about "help": The other day I was waiting at an intersection in the middle of town, and saw someone next to me cross the road while I'd pushed the button for the green man but was still waiting by the red one, with my fingers on the spinny cone. Then she walked back across the road to me again. I thought she must be a very confused person. And, oh no, she was heading towards me. I braced myself to have to give directions or something (I was struggling across the city centre with a suitcase and had a lot on my mind, so didn't have a lot of physical or mental energy at this point).

But she just got right up in my face (blind people don't need personal space, right? we must not; she's hardly the first person to do this) and said "there's no beep." Now I was confused.

I forgot that sighted people seem to think blind people can only know when to cross roads if there's an audible beep to go along with the green man. Blind people know that this isn't going to happen where I was (about to cross a bus lane, with tram lines behind me and a busy road to my left) because it wouldn't be clear which crossing the beep was indicating it'd be safe to cross! And there needs to be a tactile indicator anyway, for people with both sight and hearing loss. And I never pay any attention to which crossings beep or not anyway, I couldn't keep track.

I said "I know!" before I could temper by surprise into something less rude, and then added "it's okay" because I didn't want any more "help." So she went back across the road, and I waited because the man was still red (and I know she'd safely crossed this road three times in the time I'd been waiting, but I was crossing a bus lane, and when I'm not hugely impatient I'm more than happy to wait for my green man!), probably thinking she'd done her good deed by helping a poor disabled lady, even though the disabled lady was also stupid or something because she didn't take advantage of the help.
hollymath: drawing in black of owl wearing big red glasses.Words on its belly:"it's not about how you look, it's about how you see" (Default)
2016-09-18 04:21 pm
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Truly awful mental health day today, with no apparent cause. Most inconvenient, and no fun at all. I mean they're never fun, but the ones where you don't have to put on a bra all day or talk to anyone are slightly more bearable, you know?

Got to the point where I really wanted one of my anxiety-attack meds, which of course were back here because I don't carry them with me any more because I hardly ever have anxiety attacks any more.

I had a migraine last night, too. My brain chemistry's all kinds of screwed up right now.
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2016-09-15 07:19 am
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Comma fairy

I read over something for a friend the other day, and after e-mailing it back to them I got a reply that made me smile:
Thanks! You are the comma fairy :) <,,,,,> I have no idea where the beastly little fuckers are supposed to go.
Best proofreading endorsement I've had in a long time!
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2016-09-15 06:42 am
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Me elsewhere

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] barakta's suggestion, I did indeed write a version of the "bi people in biphobic relationships" blog entry for Biscuit.

You can read it here if you like!
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2016-09-09 10:45 pm
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I wrote this because I'm not a nice person and I don't manage my time well

Okay, this was something I alluded to before but didn't get around to writing about because I didn't want to waste my energy or (poor enough as it is, lately) focus on this.

But what the hell, I'm feeling more chipper tonight. And his tweets (1, 2) got RTed into my timeline this evening and...I find myself just as annoyed as I was at first that he doesn't even get what he's done wrong, and is playing the martyr about persecution he hasn't really gotten.

Way too many words here. )
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2016-09-08 05:11 pm
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The land then named him back

Sunny train window, the Train Picnic triumvirate of sandwich, snack and drink, new podcast. I am happy.

I think the joy of the triumvirate goes back to school field trips, the pleasing deliberation of the lunch packed as neatly as possible and taken with you, somehow making you want to eat it on the way there just because you know what it'll be and how nice it'll be.

The podcast is The Matter of the North, bittersweet now because listening to this first episode reminds me of having caught it on first broadcast, a week or two ago, when Katie and I were still planning to go to exactly this part of the world for a much-needed little holiday in October: Lindisfarne and Durham seemed perfect for a history nerd like her and an Old English lover like me, the perfect confluence of these things at a near enough ‎location to be cheap. Or so we thought, but it ended up being prohibitively expensive so we've had to abandon this plan, though I'm sure we'll work something out at some point.

It's especially disappointing because listening to this gives me an unbearably strong desire to visit these places: Hadrian's Wall, old ruins, cathedrals and coastlines, everything. I'm confused by the geography that's being narrated to me and I want to understand it better.

Somehow stories about the rest of England don't give me the same wanderlust. They're interesting, but I'm happy to leave them be. Somehow these northern ones -- and the Celtic bits of Britain --‎ are different. Evocative, and oddly familiar considering I'm from so far away and don't know anything about them really. 

To be topical at the beginning of this episode, good ol' Melvyn mentioned that this "referendum year" is a good time to do this (as if he isn't obsessed with being from Cumbria all the time...) and I think he's more right than he's willing to say. Because the campaign and especially the result has been yet more fodder for the arguments many of my Scottish friends and acquaintances are making that pit them against us which I have some sympathy with, but the Tory England they describe seems as foreign to me as it does to them. It seems terribly important to me that Manchester and Leeds and other northern cities were heavily Remain; we'll be dragged out of the EU just as unwillingly as Scotland.‎

Of course, the next episode of this podcast‎ I listened to is about Vikings, and of course the huge influence they had on this part of the country. The continuing vocabulary, attitudes and so on might explain why such an unfamiliar landscape can feel so familiar to me. I worry that's a bit of a reach, though: my grandmother's mother forbid her and the other children from learning Norwegian, even as her father sang hymns and lullabies in Norwegian (as well as English; I heard a recording of him at his wife's funeral, many years after he was gone himself), read his Bible in Norwegian, and gave the children Norwegian nicknames. My grandma doesn't remember what they were, though, and doesn't know a word of Norwegian. (Unless "uff da" counts!)

Still, [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula told me when she met me that I sounded like her friend Kjersti from Norway‎, and indeed I grew up knowing Kjerstis, and Bjorns, and every class in my school was full of Andersons and Carlsons and Knutsons‎.‎ Our jokes and our explanations and our vocabulary are different, even from the nearby states or parts of our own (apparently only Minnesotans play "duck duck gray duck" instead of "duck duck goose"?)

I liked that one of the academics talking about the Viking places and times in England started out by saying there must have been Viking women as well as men, for the language to persist as long as it must have done to be such a big influence in names and places. (There's a wonderful meditation on this in an excerpt from a Norman Nicholson poem, which googling led me to here after it was mentioned in the program.) So often it is the women, in charge of small children, feeding us lullabies and nursery rhymes that influence our language and our thinking on a level nothing in later life seems to reach.
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2016-09-06 09:34 am
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You can take the girl out of Minnesota...

Talked to parents on Skype, about Sweet Martha's cookies and Jacob Wetterling.

The end-of-summer Mondays off are now passed, in both the U.S. and the UK. But the weather's still warm and muggy. If this year is anything like past ones, the first cold snap will bring with it my worst homesickness. It's enough to make me hate fall almost as much as I hate winter.
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2016-09-02 09:13 am
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An aquarium is a submarine for fish

Today is an exciting day.

So you may remember I went to see Ghostbusters with Andrew at the AMC in Manchester and a projectionist told us they don't do audio description because no one ever asks for it. We complained and got a couple of free tickets and vague platitudes about how Andrew shouldn't have been told that and the manager would look into it -- which weren't as reassuring as they might have been since while I'm sure from her perspective the projectionist shouldn't have said that, this would be because it makes the cinema look bad rather than because it wasn't true. And a manager not knowing anything about audio description -- I'm not expecting technical mastery but I shouldn't know more about what to expect than a cinema manager does.

Anyway, we used one of the free tickets when Debi was here, to go see Finding Dory; Andrew had had a rough day and wanted a treat, something nice to do while our guest was here. It was a choice between that or Star Trek, both of which I'd already seen (with audio description, in Bradford Cineworld) so I figured the AD wouldn't work and I didn't care too much.

But of course, we were sure as hell going to try.

Our request for audio description headphones confused the person we first asked (behind the food counter, so understandably this is really not her area) to the point of seeming to terrify her. Much walkie-talkieing ensued. More than once we were asked which film we were seeing. Eventually three people and a clipboard came to tell us "it wasn't advertised with audio description in 2D. It was in 3D." Which made me laugh: surely I can't be the only person who can't watch 3D movies for the same reason I need the audio description: that I'm visually impaired! Andrew started ranting about it didn't have to be advertised with audio description, because it was a legal requirement etc. etc....but I dragged him away because it wasn't worth making a fuss and we'd hardly paid anything for this anyway and I'd already seen it and let's just go sit down. So we did.

But honestly, once we did, I surprised myself by how upset I was. The movie still hadn't started yet, and I started tweeting.

I found myself on the verge of tears again, which I hadn't expected. This wasn't a much-anticipated moviegoing experience like it'd been the previous time. I wasn't told "we don't bother because no one asks" this time. But it turns out that it was almost as bad to be talked to like it was my fault that I didn't know to buy tickets for the 3D movie -- as if I would have, anyway! -- rather than the cinema's fault for not providing audio description as a mater of course, which other chains and even independents like HOME manage perfectly fine (HOME have been great about this; I went to something when it first opened where the AD didn't work due to a technical fault and I felt like I ended up being sympathetic to them about it; the guy we spoke to was like "no, this is not acceptable and I'm really sorry"...so I know how much better this could be dealt with!).

So this time, when we got back home, Debi messaged AMC on Facebook about it, Andrew addressed them in tweets, on tumblr, and in a blog post.

Debi got a reply, which started
We are very sorry that we couldn’t accommodate you and your family during a recent visit to our cinema. At this present time we have audio description capability in four screens. Film titles and formats rotate around our screens on various days through the week. This is sometimes a combination of 3D and 2D product as this cinema only has the capability to play 3D in four of our available screens.
Which is interesting for several reasons, firstly of which is the amusement inherent in the kind of family Debi and Andrew and I would make. But also because it was more information than we were given either time this actually happened to us by the staff at the cinema. This message also offered to show us ("you and your family", aww) a 2D screening of Finding Dory with the audio description for free whenever we wanted. Debi didn't bother replying at first, which I agreed with as it still seemed a bit point-missing, still treating this like an isolated customer service problem rather than a systemic issue that visually impaired people (and people with other sensory processing issues who might benefit from audio description; I don't think it's just us!).

I think Andrew got a reply to his tweets too, asking him to take it to DMs, but he wasn't interested in anything that wasn't public. I got the same request, and decided what the hell, I'll play along. I'm glad I did.

The first message I got was this:
Thank you for following back. We are very sorry and would like to apologise about your recent visit and we assure you we are working hard improve our levels of service and accessibility. Firstly, we would like to offer a free screening for you, your friends and family. You can choose the film and we will put everything in place for you.

We can also confirm that we have employed a specialist contractor who will begin installing audio description equipment across all our screens from next week. As this process takes place we would like to invite you to test our systems for free and offer advice to our team here at the cinema in Manchester.
That...seems a bit of a result to me, if I'm honest! I really wasn't expecting much more than a polite telling off (about how they weren't doing anything illegal, I shouldn't expect better, etc) and maybe a couple more freebies that I'm not interested in being thrown our way. (We still have a free ticket from last time; the plan has always been that Andrew would go and use those on his own when he wants to see things I don't.)

Of course immediately "a film of your choice" caught our interest. Debi wanted to know if they had the 1979 Mad Max and we all laughed -- she'd gone to great lengths to watch it before she saw Mad Max 2 at a festival that weekend, and it hadn't worked out, so that would have been kind of hilarious. Of course I suggested what my friends always suggest when a cinema's looking for movie selections: Horror Express! Which [personal profile] miss_s_b was pretty excited about.

But in the realms of "movies they actually would have, and audio description" (other than Debi telling me when people should kiss, which she was happy to offer), there was an obvious choice.

We're gonna go see Ghostbusters. Some of us for the first time, some of us for the fourth at least. I'm so excited. It's gonna be awesome.

And it's gonna be tonight!

I wanted it to be when Debi was still up north, having spent last weekend with us she's in Brighouse this week (and handily willing to drive Team Brighouse over to Manchester for it). Since she's part of our family, and all! And since she, along with Andrew, both complained and helped encourage me to complain about this when I just did not have the energy or heart to do so myself, I wanted her to get the reward too.

And then I just messaged a bunch of my friends saying "who wants to see Ghostbusters for free on Friday" and of course they all do (poor Katie has to work, which is sad, but I don't think anyone else turned the offer down so there's gonna be like fifteen of us!). I'm so excited. Glad I can offer something cool and unusual for my friends, even as I'd gladly swap it for being able to go to the cinema without a fuss like most people can.

And on that subject, I'm at least as excited about the other part of AMC's offer -- first, that they're suddenly getting audio description kitted out in all of their screens (I asked Andrew if there's any chance this is a coincidence or if we've actually made them do this by complaining; I think both are pretty unlikely really but he reckons we've made them do i. Which is a pretty awesome kind of power to have just for complaining about something on the internet!) and that they want me to "test it and advise them."

Which means more free movies, which is fine with me, but also I'm genuinely excited about the "advise" part; more often than not when I'm out anywhere in public I end up with thoughts on how things could or should be better, and usually have no better outlet for them than grumbling to my friends about it. Being able to actually tell someone how something is working and if it could be better, and to have any hope of actually being listened to, is amazing. These days, if I could have a dream job, that'd be it. All I know about that for now is "once the equipment is up and running, [AMC social-media guy] will be in touch, with more information on how you can be involved with this." So I'll see what if anything that leads to.

But in the meantime, we're gonna get Holtzmanned.