Category: Alaric

Alien (by )

It'd certainly be fair to call me a noncomformist; I'm hardly a slave to fashions, and my hobbies tend to revolve around meddling with the fundamental forces that bind the Universe together, science fiction, old technical books, and learning self-defence.

But... this isn't exactly a role I've chosen for myself. I haven't gone to some effort to step off the beaten track; I've not rejected the mainstream as an act of rebellion. The truth is, I've never really felt a part of the human race.

Why should being different be a problem, though? I love talking to people who are different to me - and I couldn't do that unless I was different from them. The diversity of human experience fascinates me; I love seeing how people's lives differ from mine. Monocultures are harmful and fragile: our diversity is a great strength.

Of course, for many, being different is hell because they experience explicit discrimination for it. LGBT folks, immigrants, minority ethnic groups are all explicitly targetted for their difference, by people who think that their being different makes them a threat. But I'm lucky; I've had very little of that in my life. At school I had some unwelcome attention from the bullies for being bookish and shy rather than sporty, but I'm pretty sure those folks were just looking for levers to mess with people rather than actually taking some kind of moral high ground over me; and I didn't have all that much trouble with them, as I didn't react much so they went after more interesting targets.

For me, the problem is more subtle: my experience is mainly of feeling left out, unwanted, or forgotten.

I was born with one eye, so "3D" films and magic-eye pictures were always things for normal people; and PE teachers at school never seemed to understand that I really had a problem with depth perception, and assumed that my pitiful performance at anything resembling catching a ball was me mucking around. I was given an unusual name, so those things in shops with keyrings/pens/mugs with a selection of common names on never had anything for me. I was raised vegetarian, so I always had to check if I could actually eat food I was given, and went hungry at my primary school's leaver's barbecue. I was the only child of an unemployed single parent, so normal family dynamics never applied, and I never had the expensive toys the other kids at school had. I learnt to read before I started school and read through books insatiably, so my experience of education was very different to that of the other children in my class; I can hardly complain about the fact that I found school and exams easy, but it meant I couldn't really relate to my friends' difficulties. We ate food we grew on our own allotment, and didn't have a car. For whatever reason, I've never liked hot drinks. Spectator sports hold little joy for me. I find pubs and parties distressing. The only mass media that featured people like me was the harder end of science fiction, so I was used to most stuff on the TV (and what the other kids raved about, in particular) as reinforcing the idea that "normal people aren't like me". I can certainly relate to the calls for better representation of different groups in mass media today!

I become irrationally touchy about any situation where somebody assumed that something which applied to most people would apply to all people: People describing bacon and coffee as delicious as if this was some objective truth, rather than just the fact that they find them delicious. Employers thinking that expensive coffee and free beer are a good way to reward the team. Each of these things is tiny in itself, not really worth making a fuss over, but the accumulated weight of them all became hard to bear. This makes me feel angry: I remember a dream I had when I was about ten years old. In this dream, there was a special event at school; the teachers had organised everyone into groups of three, each of which had a kit to assemble, but they'd forgotten about me when drawing the groups up. So I was sat with a couple of other kids who'd been explicitly excluded from the activity for being troublemakers, and we were given some leftovers from everyone else's kits to "just mess around with". I was furious - so recruited the two troublemakers into a plan: with the leftover parts we had, we built a high-powered catapult and, when everyone else had finished their kits, we opened fired and smashed them all. I woke from the dream seething with fury, almost in tears.

But I can't simply blame others for my situation; I am certainly complicit in my own invisibility. When somebody assumes something about me, I feel embarrassed about being different, and I freeze; the opportunity to interject passes, and I seem to have implicitly agreed to whatever it is. It's only when I look back and realise: that was the point where I could have gently avoided whatever catastrophe it turned into. For instance, a few years ago, some friends came to visit our house for New Year's Eve. This was great at first, but then one of them proudly produced a bottle of some strong spirit from their bag, and the others were pleased about this. I, however, wasn't; it made my stomach churn with fear, but my initial thoughts were just "Oh no, this is bad". I held on as long as I could, but they started showing signs of inebriation, then talking about their symptoms of inebriation, and after a few hours I couldn't cope any more and made excuses to go and hide away on my own elsewhere in the house, only reappearing when my help was needed with something. I was furious that I had been made to feel like this in my own house; some reptilian-hindbrain part of me was feeling like my home had been invaded; I was riding the stressful emotional rollercoaster of bitter fantasies of storming downstairs and kicking them out of my home (into the cold streets of an unfamiliar city at night when they'd be legally unable to drive themselves the 50-odd miles home), while rationally knowing I could do no such thing; history would certainly record me as the Bad Guy if I did that.

But what I should have done was say something at the beginning. My instinct was to freeze and think "Oh crap", and then enter into the vicious spiral of feeling bad, hiding my emotions, and then feeling worse because nobody's responding to how I feel.

I don't feel comfortable with drawing attention to my different-ness, particularly when it's something that's bad about me; but a big factor in my tendency to hide my pain was a nasty episode at a place I worked many years ago. I worked part-time while I was at University; I had been struggling with the alcohol culture amongst my university peers, so I had as little to do with university as possible, just turning up for the bare minimum of lectures, and focussing my attention on my workplace; it became a safe refuge for me. But the little software consultancy I worked for was growing, and started to hire non-technical people for roles such as HR and sales; and with those people came a drinking culture that quickly spread to dominate the company's social fabric, and became a significant topic of conversation during the days. I went to my boss and explained that the recent shift towards all company-organised social and celebratory functions being held in bars with drinks on the company was becoming a problem for me, and he asked the person who had been tasked with organising all that stuff (the new sales guy) to change it; but he took exception to that, did everything he could to work around the spirit of the restriction while staying just inside the letter of the ruling, pointedly rubbed my face in this, and privately told me that I had no right to dictate how other people lived their lives. Ever since then, I've tended to just grit my teeth and bear it, but I think the result of this has just been that I'm slowly filling up with resentment. I need to be a bit more open about my mental health issues (hence starting to blog about it), but I must also be careful about who I hand that power over me to. In hindsight, I have come to realise that a large fraction of people are alcoholics, probably without even realising; they will react, with aggressive defensiveness, to anything that might call their use of alcohol into question.

I don't think complaining to other people is the solution, anyway. Spending all my time suggesting that people offer nice smoothies as well as coffee as a reward for something because not everybody likes coffee gets tiring, and I don't want to be That Guy who complicates everything for everybody. I know I'm a minority, and I think there should be some kind of trade-off between the current situation and some hypothetical world where every decision has to take into account every possible weird edge case; I think I wouldn't mind being left out if I didn't feel like people were making assumptions. "We could only afford the time/money to organise one thing so we got coffee as most people like it, please give us suggestions for other stuff you might like in future" is fantastic. "We got a reward budget and we spent it all on coffee, isn't that fantastic?" isn't. But explaining that distinction to busy people every time this comes up would be rather tiring. What energy we have for changing the world needs to be diverted to fighting more pressing problems, like sexism, hompohobia, transphobia and xenophobia, or better disabled access; these are things that affect large groups of people, so effort spent there will have a greater improvement on the average quality of human life than worrying about weird edge cases such as myself.

Instead, I think we need to just broaden our minds in general. People like to make assumptions about other people. If we learn to stop doing that, then things will be a bit better for everyone who's a little bit different. I don't mind being weird in itself - life would be pretty boring if everyone was the same. It's just people making assumptions that hurts!

Stencil-tagging my phone case (by )

My favourite thing to do with the laser cutter at Cheltenham Hackspace is to cut stencils in thin card.

It's dead easy to knock them together in Inkscape, once you've found a suitable stencil font, and the laser can cut thin card in no time at all.

With that done, it's then trivial to spray-paint my Kitten Technologies logo onto things I own or make, Diresta Style!

My first aluminium welding project: A projector protector (by )

The Scout group I help out with meets in a hall with a projector suspended from the ceiling, and because of that, we're not allowed to play ball games; the projector's pretty exposed, and one whack from a ball would probably finish it.

So, I offered to make a metal "cage" to go around it, and decided that this would be a good project to learn aluminium welding on. Aluminium doesn't corrode, and is light for its strength; light is important for a thing that will be suspended in the air above children.

Welding aluminium is a bit different to welding steel. It's much more conductive of heat, and has a lower melting point; so when you have the bit you're welding hot enough to melt, that molten puddle spreads quickly. You need a lot of heat as it's being rapidly conducted away from the actual weld, but if you linger, the entire thing you're working on will melt... So, the result is that aluminium welds tend to look rather larger and chunkier than welds in steel, and you need to work quickly!

My plan was to make a wireframe cuboid, out of 10mm aluminium square tubing. I made the top and bottom rectangles, then joined them with verticals. So my first welds were the outer corners of the box, and I quickly found that it was all too easy to melt the entire corner into a puddle - but thankfully, I could then just build the weld metal up again and use my belt sander to flatten the result back into a decent corner. So you can't really tell, but the corners are pretty much solid aluminium now...

I finished it, but then spent quite some time worrying how to actually fix it up there. In the end, I made some L-shaped brackets (with a diagonal brace inside the corner). We fixed these to the pillar supporting the projector with hose clamps, and the bottom of the vertical arms rested nicely on the plate at the bottom of the pillar so it can't possibly slide down. The long arms were then drilled, and holes drilled in the corners of the top rectangle of the cage, so they could be joined by M5 bolts. This arrangement gave us some scope to adjust it as we installed it, which was essential as I didn't have exact measurements for the pillar...

Here's the end result:

Projecter cage side Projecter cage front

Projecter cage back Projecter cage wide

The yellowy string stuff is some paracord we added at the last minute, just in case a smaller ball manages to sneak in from the sides.

I grabbed a bit of video of myself and another leader (I was way too nervous to stand up on the wobbly scaffold platform!) figuring out how to attach the thing, but I need a more powerful computer to run Kdenlive so I can properly edit videos into a decent enough state to publish!

International Mens Day (by )

Alaric and sick kitten snuggles

It is International Mens Day today - this popped up in my memories on Facebook - Alaric curled up with kitten Lithium after her op. Alaric as he says is not shy about his emotions like most male people but he does still have extreme self reliance which causes him much misery and is part of the bundle that makes men more likely to commit suicide - my friends that have killed themselves to escape the dark places have so far all been men - here is the tribute song/poem that I made for them:

And also Al's write up of the miscarriage from the father point of view. Something which often gets over looked.

And guys - if you are in that dark place please please seek help - I know it's the hardest thing to do.

Miscarriage (from the father’s eyes) (by )

My family is the single most important thing in my life. I grew up lonely - it was just my mother and I, and I always found portrayals of "typical family life" in popular media slightly painful to watch; I wanted that bustling house, full of children, with grandparents and aunts and uncles visiting. Sure, I'm mad about creating things; I love tinkering with computers and electronics and metalwork and DIY, and designing things around a table with my friends, but my biggest and best creation is my family.

So, I was delighted when, a couple of weeks ago, Sarah decided to do a pregnancy test; and it came out positive. We'd put if off for a while; we had some false starts when conceiving Mary, so we didn't dare get our hopes up too soon. We waited until it looked like the periods were definitely staying away, when it started to feel like if Sarah was pregnant we'd best be getting set up with a midwife and all that. I'd already been rather hopefully resting my hand on Sarah's belly on the sofa; but once the test came back positive, it was time to start snuggling down and talking to her baby. Partly soppiness on my part, and partly because I'm told that even after the first few weeks, babies start to learn their parents' voices (and it's never too early to start learning Lojban).

However, we only had a few days of that before things started to look a little wrong. I kept talking, telling the little grain of rice that there was lots to live for; it would have two siblings, three cats, two chickens, a mummy, a daddy, and a lovely house to live in, and I had so many wonderful things to show it. But the poor thing was probably already dead by then; a few days passed before everything got a bit medical, and I was carrying a bowl full of chunks of womb lining while a nurse wheeled Sarah through a hospital in a wheelchair, wondering if I was (in some grisly sense) at least getting to carry my child in my arms, for a while.

As is usual when things go wrong, Sarah was too ill to do anything, so I went into Caring Husband mode; looking after Jean and Mary, organising meals, cancelling things, supporting Sarah. I'm not shy about my emotions, as many male people are; but while there were things that needed doing and nobody else to do them, I didn't have the mental energy to feel them, so I just got on with it all. But once Sarah was home again and I didn't need to worry about her health all the time and things had settled down a bit and I had time to think about it (thanks to my lovely colleagues at both jobs, who covered for me), I finally had my chance to cry; Sarah was working on her picture, and wanted me to choose some colours for the rainbows in the lettering. I put together a spectrum (my choices are at the top of the first L, by the way), and I remembered being a little child, choosing that my favourite colour was blue; I went for sky blue and sunrise yellow at the time (although I've since moved towards darker, purplier, blues), and I wondered what this child's favourite colour would have been, and then all the pain came up and I cried on Sarah's shoulder. I still feel a lot of pain, but a good long sob helped me to heal a lot.

Now, I just want to find ways to record the existence of the little thing. When we had the initial scan, I wrote down the dimensions they told me on the appointment letter, because I feared that and the memory of seeing it, fleetingly, on a screen might be all we got to keep. When the ashes have been scattered, I'll try to find the memorial garden in Cheltenham, and go and visit.

I wrote a poem, in Lojban of course. I could translate it to English, but I'd have to either drop all the rich attitudinal indicators (which would make it rather boring) or try and explain them in English (which would make it long and convoluted), so I'll just leave it as-is.

.i .u'anaisai mi ba'ozi te tarbi
.i .uinai mi na ba pamjai le .iu tarbi
.i .uinai mi na ba tavla le .iu tarbi
.i .uinai mi na ba bevri le .iu tarbi
.i .a'onai mi na ba zgana lo nu le .iu tarbi cu ke banro
   joi cisma
   joi klaku
   joi cadzu
   joi tavla
   joi prami
   joi jmive

.i le .iu tarbi na ba djuno fi mi

.i co'o tarbi

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