My problem with children

I have a problem with children. I want to make it immediately clear that the problem is MINE, not anybody else’s problem.

When a baby cries, or when a child cries in either pain or excitement, it causes me physical pain. Something is wired up wrong inside me. These noises, to me, feel like somebody is stabbing me in the center of my head with an abalating red-hot probe, and then I get sympathetic pains in my chest. If the noises are particularly loud, I then get pains in my arms and legs, almost identical to sciatica.

This causes me a lot of upset, but not just in the ways that you think. When I fly long distance, and there are screaming babies or children, I can block those out with headphones.

What really distresses me is the friends I can no longer visit or socialise with. I can no longer visit my sister, as she has two young children. Several of my closest friends from university, I only see at LARP events when they do not have their children with them.

I want to re-iterate, that this is a problem with ME, not those people who quite normally wish to have children. But I hope people do understand why I have to run away.

Garam Masala

I once did a curry cooking course with Mr Ali, of the  fame. The most important thing I learnt was “make your own garam masala”.  A few people have asked for my recipe, and here it is:

  • 5 parts coriander seed
  • 5 parts cumin seed
  • 3 parts mustard seed
  • 1 part de-shelled black cardamom
  • 1 part de-shelled green cardamom
  • 1 part fenugreek seed
  • 1 part fennel seed
  • 1 part caraway seed
  • 1 part cinnamon bark

Put all in a heavy saucepan and toast on a high heat until the coriander and mustard seeds are popping nicely, shaking or stirring so that the seeds don’t burn. Allow to cool, then grind.

IEEE 754-2008 Subnormal

Minor rant. IEEE 754-2008 redefined a term. In hand wavey terms, very small floating point numbers which could not be completely represented in the format used to be called “Denormal”. With the 2008 update, these were redefined as “Subnormal”.

When I was at school as a child, Autism and Aspereger Syndrome were not well known. I was classed as “Educationally Subnormal” (also “Mentally Deficiant”) – which was the code in those days for “way below average intelligence”.

Every time I see “Subnormal” with respect to floating point numbers, I wince. Especially when they get flushed to zero.

We Care A Lot

In 1985, Faith no More released their album “We Care a Lot”, with a track of the same name. I discovered that track about 1987. It details a lot of things about which they care a lot about (look up the lyrics), and some of it is cynicism but the refrain is:

Oh it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

My mother was a doctor, my father a safety-critical engineer, and so I grew up with a very strong life ethic. It is not exactly surprising that when I came out of university, I ended up a safety-critical engineer myself. Mostly aerospace, but some rail and automotive.

I worked on many planes, one train system, and a couple of automotive systems. However, the Boeing 787 broke me. I worked on that plane for several years, and the amount I cared took my pleasure, my sanity, and nearly my life. I want to say how much, but I can’t.

I am no longer completely immersed in the safety-critical industry, but despite some of my best efforts, I am still heavily involved. The problem is, that now I have worked for nearly 20 years in those kind of systems, I have to.

We care a lot.

Once you have given your soul to the safety-critical industry, you can never go back. It is a mindset. That niggle that if something goes wrong, people die. Potentially hundreds or thousands (millions?) of people. Code I wrote, over 20 years ago, people still depend upon. I may have made a mistake in some testing, that means some freak accident causes a plane crash tomorrow. There are checks and balances, but I still have that weight on my shoulders.

You can take the engineer out of the safety-critical, but you cannot take the safety-critical out of the engineer.

This is nearly my mantra these days. I no longer work in a safety-critical job, but I am still (how could I not be) involved in our company’s safety effort. I still cast an eye over things that go past me, and go “Is this OK?” … “Is this safe??

Oh it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

I did that job. Many of us do. I still do it, to a lesser extent. We care a lot. A lot.

Python Gotchas

Last year, I got involved in trying to teach programming to school kids – this was via the excellent enterprise. During this, I collated a series of Python “gotchas”, which I still think is worth sharing. As a friend of mine put it:

“The problem is that python is good, except where it does stupid things. Python programmers mostly trip over the stupid things fairly quickly, right themselves, and work around them forever, and forget that they are stupid.” – Aquarion

So, here is my list. If you think you have a good new one, please add in the comments.

  1. Tuples are immutable.
  2. Case Matters.
  3. Integer division trucates. (__import__ future, float cast)
  4. Classes have to inherit object to be derivable from.
  5. Type of bracket plethora-rama.
  6. Unicode.
  7. List string concatenation with .join().
  8. Shallow copies of dicts (.deepcopy())
  9. Default arguments in Python (dragons).
  10. Tabs vs Spaces.
  11. == vs is.
  12. Dictionaries are unordered.
  13. Scope, particularly scope in loops.

My relationship with exercise and depression

One of the things that depressed people are (nearly) always told to try and do to combat their depresson is “Do some exercise!”. This sounds wonderful advice. Leaving aside the obvious problems such as when you are depressed, getting out of bed is an achievement, I have have another issue:

Exercise depresses me

I don’t seem to get the same endorphin thing that many other people get out of exercise. I do not feel “better” when I have done exercise. I feel cruddy, I feel tired, and I feel depressed. It lowers my mood; it makes me worse.

Of course, there are the obvious health benefits of being fitter, and so I have to play it careful. I can only do exercise when I am in a stable mental state, otherwise it will send me off from a “low” to a “depression”. I have to harbour my physical state against my mental state. This makes it all the harder to try and manage my condition.

Many people have difficulty understanding this, and the reason I am writing it down, is so I do not have to keep repeating it.

  • If I am feeling down, please don’t suggest exercise to make me feel better.
  • If I look OK, and you suggest a physical activity, and I decline because I am feeling fragile, please understand that I am protecting my mental health.
  • I do understand that I am overweight, and unfit, but I am trying to control these as best as I can.

My Personal Gender and Sexuality

A work in Progress

When I was a child, I often fantasised about switching gender. The net had only just been invented, and was not as pervasive as it is now. As I grew older, and became sexual, knowing nothing of non-binary gender, I compartmentalised myself. There was nothing I knew apart from male and female. Even feeling that I had aspects of both was weird and frowned upon – I remember strongly my mother having a go at me for dressing up in women’s clothes. Knowing no other course, I split myself into a male persona, and a female persona.

When I arrived at university, I discovered the net, and also came out to myself as bisexual. I still knew nothing of non-binary gender, I just could love and be aroused by “both” genders. The word “bisexuality” was new to me, and I only discovered it by hanging out on the usenet group alt.homosexual. Yes, it was that bad.

Non-binary gender was still unknown to me. I still separated myself into “Jon” (being furry, bearded and having a penis, this was my default), and “Lucy” (who I could only be rarely, usually on my own, and very rarely with a close friend or partner).

At university, a friend also introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and The Books of Magic. I cried when I read “A Game of You”. Then there is the sequence in Book 3 of The Books of Magic, when Doctor Occult takes Timothy into Faerie, and becomes Rose. It was the first time I had ever seen/read it in a way that really resonated to me. For the first time, I felt not alone in having this split gender/persona thing.

I now know about non-binary gender, and I wish I had known about it as a teenager. Having lived as two separate personas for over 20 years, my brain cannot repattern so easily. I have lived this way for so long, I do not know if I can recombine these two distinct personalities into one, and become a new “me”. I still identify as bisexual, as I have been a bisexuality activist for so long. As for my gender, I consider myself “third gender”, although my behaviour is bigender

I am Jon, and I am Lucy. In another age, we would be one.