Sunday, October 24, 2010


Strands of hair stood up sparsely from my scalp like bristles on a toilet brush. I looked like an old doll which had lost most of its wiry curls. Just such a plastic princess lived in a chest somewhere at home and it was fairly certain I had been the cause of its alopecia. The person responsible for my current condition was standing just behind me, critically pulling at the hairs as she checked they were evenly distributed. Armed with a sharp-ended hook, she looked like she was sewing a wig directly into my head. If that had been true, I would have been anxious for her not to stop any time soon.

"We had to stop using the cap for most of our customers," she told me. "They just found it too uncomfortable." She pushed the hook down into a particularly large bald patch and punctured the skin-coloured rubber cap I was wearing, drawing another group of hairs through it.

Ha! Those cowards!

"It's just a bit uncomfortable," I said dismissively, taking the chance to throw a condescending glance around the rest of the salon. I have no idea if they saw; my eyes were watering fountains. The dust in the room was clearly dreadful.

Satisfied with the balding barbie look she had created, my torturer picked up a pot of bright red liquid and started to paint everything she had drawn through the rubber hat. I examined the hue with a degree of satisfaction. When I had arrived at the salon and declared I wanted to dye my hair red, my hairdresser had been sceptical.

"You'll have to get it re-done every 4-6 weeks," she warned me.

If she was disliking that idea, she would have really hated my original notion of platinum blond.

"Eh," I replied. "My hair is short. I can let it grow out."

My carefree attitude did not seem to reassure her. "That will give you a line," she warned again.

Personally, I thought she had a higher opinion of my fashion sense than there was any evidence to support. However, she did have an alternative suggestion; highlights would mix in with my natural hair colour, bring out the red tones already present and then grow out more naturally. It sounded like a plan we could both work with. I talked her up a few shades in brightness and here we were. Now looking like a balding doll who had been in a horrific accident.

Finishing up, the hairdresser snapped the cap further down over my ears before leaving me to enjoy my newly discovered silence with a couple of gossip magazines (Did you know Lindsay Lohan has a unrecognised half-sister? ... who is Lindsay Lohan?). Twenty-five minutes later, she reappeared to examine the results ... and gasped, exclaiming ....

.... well, I had no idea. I couldn't hear anything at all. Either the dye had taken or all my hair was about to drop out. Either way, I was going to get an interesting new look. I tried smiling brightly. There was no evidence this was the wrong reaction. Following directions that indicated the sinks were my next port of call, I sat while the excess liquid was washed out before the cap was pulled free with a pop.

Hello world, aren't you loud?

Venturing back to the mirror I ascertained two important points. Firstly, I still seemed to have a full head of hair. Secondly, it was bright coppery red. Even though highlighting colours only part of your hair, the overall effect is an all-through hue. From my experience with blond highlights, a week would see it settle in even more so it would become even harder to tell which sections had been dyed.

I was impressed. I looked like a fall tree and hopefully I wouldn't be clamouring to imitate the winter counterpart after a few months of root growth.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A letter to my analysis code

Dear Analysis Code,

I appreciate that you think I don't understand you. In fact, you're quite right. I freely admit that I was hoping my knowledge of your inner workings would have to extend no further than that needed for a paragraph in the 'Numerics' section of our paper. You see, I am not your author. It would be best to consider me more like a step-parent. The hands-off distant kind that took on the role after you'd left for college. I was hoping that your part had been played in the analysis of my simulation and now all I must do is gather together your outputs for presentation. I did not intend to run you again nor indeed did your sculptor, since he had left the field altogether.

Perhaps this hurt. Maybe you felt neglected as you were left to corrupt and your modification time-stamp slowly age. Or did you feel guilt, wondering repeatedly if it were your internal logic loops that drove your developer out of academia? Having now worked with you, I admit this cannot be ruled out. Whatever the reason, it has become clear to me in the last 24 hours that your revenge has been planned a while.

How you must have laughed when I started rummaging through your files. It was true that you were needed, desperately needed, once again. Without you, the paper and the months of work I had put into it would be wasted. The files I had been using were wrong and the updated analysis had never been completed. I needed to do it myself. I needed you.

You had me over a barrel, Code, and I think you knew this. Not for you though, were obvious scenes of displeasure. It would have been too simple to just not compile, throw up 'library not found' errors or run out of memory. They were all problems I was expecting and therefore beneath you. Instead you compiled, you ran smoothly and outputted the expected data while I held my breath. I thought I had been victorious and my delight was great. Then, after four different operations, I looked at one of the results.

It didn't look totally wrong.

But it didn't look totally right.

In fact, I might have passed it by in my elation had I not being paying careful attention. I believe this was your plan. To force me to re-complete the paper only to later realise the results were still incorrect. It did not work. I saw through your fake productions and realised there had been a error. But how was this possible? It's true this was a different data set, but the changes were marginal compared to what you had run before. The main difference was there were more simulation times to analyse. Did you realise this, Code? Is that why you decided to strike? You knew you would have to iterate through not 29 outputs but 73? Did you think that maybe I was not overly enthused by the prospect of this either?


Yes. Yes you did, and you demanded vengeance.

You knew the only way to get to the bottom of this problem was to read your source files. All of them. And discover exactly what made you tick. You didn't want to be used, you wanted to be understood. I confess, I was only in this for the publication. That was never enough for you.

So here we are, you and me. Right where we were at 10:30 pm last night. If we're still here at the weekend I may burn you onto a DVD just so I can throw you out the door. Perhaps you think that if I understand how you work, I'll use you again. It is a ruthless plan that I've come to associate with you. Just so you know though, Code, the success of this is intimately tied to this paper being accepted for publication. If it isn't, I swear that I will hunt down every last version of you and delete them from disk.

You are not the only one who can be vengeful.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


"What can I get for you?"

"I'll have a soy tall, double shot, triple whipped, hazelnut mocha latte."

I tried really hard to make this order sound damn casual, with a side helping of narcissistic diva. Unfortunately, I couldn't help but feel guilty at making such a complex request of the Starbucks barista. Also, I was reading the order from my iPhone. I shot the woman an apologetic look. She grinned and we went through it again more slowly.

The reason I was attempting to purchase the most complicated drink on the menu when I normally just got a tea came down to .... fan fiction. Did I mention I spend a large fraction of my personal time pretending I am a middle school Japanese tennis player? Rarely? Huh. I can't imagine why. Anyway, accepting this, now put said Japanese boy in a story set in an alternative universe in which he orders incredibly complex drinks from Starbucks because he is an arrogant prick. Still with me? No...

Look, it's all here:

The reason why Elizabeth ordered a crazy drink at Starbucks

It was written by a friend and I role-play (in a unconnected game) the character Atobe who orders this drink as if it is water. Therefore I had to do this. Obviously.

It's similar to how I made myself like ginger beer as a child because all the school kids in Enid Blyton books drank it at midnight feasts. I think when I write a best seller, all the characters are going to have cravings for broccoli.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I absolutely judge people. You think I'm being friendly when I shake your hand but really? TOTALLY JUDGING YOU. Oh yes.

This addiction to on-the-spot superficial character analysis has been given a full and unhealthy scope in my creative writing evening class.  Why, there is even a section of the syllabus on character development so it is practically an assignment to UNFAIRLY JUDGE EVERYONE IN THE ROOM.

Take the two girls who normally sit to my left. They have long, dyed blond hair, never finish the assignments and wear more make-up than I would ever have the patience to put on. Or the ability. I THEREFORE JUDGE THEM AS BIMBOS. Plus, they look disconcertingly identical so I judge them as bimbos WHO I AM CREEPED OUT BY.

While I pack a couple of pens and a writing pad to come to class, the bimbos pack their boyfriends. One of these lover accessories likes his characters in a certain state; namely dead. No assignment of his is complete without a body count higher than the class attendance. This demise has to be achieved with at least 6 implements intent on demonstrating the meaning of mortality, all of which are wielded so inexpertly that the room became red with blood. Even when it is a cavernous ballroom. It swiftly became a personal rule to eat lightly before class. Then last week he vanished to join a full time program. When I heard this my eyes narrowed. Partly because I could have eaten dinner. Partly because it was late in the semester for a place to become available on a course. The feeling of unease was compounded by the fact he was obviously PLANNING A HOMICIDE. Or 50. I therefore judged him right there and then as AN AXE MURDERER.

At the back of the class sits a curvaceous young man with a portfolio case and over-grown hair. Originally he was silent. I instantly judged  him as a SOCIAL MISFIT. Now though, he sits at the front of the class, interrupts to randomly agree with our teacher and points while he speaks. When finally asked to be quiet because someone else was reading he responded "It's ok, I've finished." I therefore changed my mind. He is now an EGOTISTICAL POINTY SOCIAL MISFIT.

Then there is the guy with the stubbly chin, shoulder length hair and tinted glasses. He feels the need to stop and add explanation of his work as he reads it which is CONFUSING. I judged him as intentionally cultivating the look of a writer and therefore TRYING TOO HARD. However, in several weeks the act hasn't slipped. So I graciously retracted my judgment. I now judge him as BEING ON DRUGS.

Finally, there is the girl who had short blond hair, has recently turned 30 and keeps a blog.

... indescribably I feel slightly freaked out by this.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Accidentally peverting the course of justice

As I have mentioned in previous posts of things-that-have-got-me-into-trouble, I tend to bounce about when I listen to my iPod. The song and the random thoughts passing through my head add together in a non-linear way to dictate my speed down the street.

This evening, I thought I could bribe myself to actually do my Japanese homework ('describe your week') if I relocated to a Starbucks and ordered a pumpkin latte. So I set off down the road at a slow walk listening to "Angels on the Moon". This then morphed into "Juliet" and I was forced to leap into the air and spring away at top speed ... right past two police cars that were evidently scoping out the area.


I slowed and looked back to see a police officer watching me. It was unfortunate but I didn't feel I could turn back and ask if my behaviour had just labelled me as PRIME SUSPECT #1 for a mass burglary of all these houses. Besides, they'd been watching the street a while so they knew I hadn't done anything.


I turned the corner, bobbing my head a bit to make it clear I was listening to music. I might have started singing along to complete the picture, but at that moment the main lyric was "I can't decide whether you should live or die" and I decided against it.

As I walked down the next street towards the main road, the police car came up behind me to pull in just up ahead, cutting me off. I turned off my iPod. It seemed a wise idea in this case.

"Are you Victoria?" the policeman stepped from the car and smiled politely at me.

"....No," I said, hoping this was the right answer. It seemed the one least likely to cause trouble but it was always possible that there had been a horrifically violent crime and all they knew was the culprit's first name didn't start with a 'V'.

"Ah." The eyes of the law did not look overly convinced. "We're looking for a woman by that name and you ran past our car."

"Yeah." I had to admit it looked rather suspect. "I realised that after I'd started sprinting."

I produced ID which the officer checked before thanking me for my time. No doubt he made a note of my name on a list of possible insane residents in the neighbourhood. I continued at a sedate pace onto Starbucks, trying to recall the word for "police" in Japanese.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Milk bags

Today I bought milk in a bag. The type of bag that you'd buy rice or nuts in or another solid food item that definitely wasn't a liquid from a cow.

Canada, that's STRANGE. Just so you know.

So strange in fact that for my first year in Ontario I stuck to buying normal cartons. This was also due to the fact that the milk-in-a-bag came in four litre quantities, which seems a bit extreme for me and a cat. I contemplated regularly making white russians for group meeting, rather than buying cookies, but decided it would be a hassle to bring in the glasses every week. So I stuck to cartons until it was revealed to me that inside every four litre bag were in fact three 1-and-a-bit litre bags. Why, it was like matryoshka dolls! So I froze two and dumped the third one in a milk jug with the corner snipped off its tip. Magic. In a bag.

It is, however, still STRANGE. Canada, don't think I've changed my mind about that.

Apparently, the idea of selling milk in a bag was introduced in the UK by the supermarket Waitrose in 2007. Unfortunately it utterly defeated the BBC's technology correspondent and was given up on this April.

That is because people thought it was STRANGE.

Also, we tried to complicate the issue with a clever container rather than telling people to go buy a pair of scissors.

A rival chain, Sainsbury's, is now going to give it another go with an alternative advertising campaign. Rather than focussing on the environmental aspects which went out the window as soon as the bag split, articles surrounding Sainbury's decision always mention one fact:

Canadians like milk bags.

And nobody likes to be outdone by the colonies. Canada itself, however, seems to be suffering from doubt, possibly brought on from the UK outright rejecting milk bags as ...


The online environmental magazine, the published two articles concerning milk bags. The first came out when the UK were looking askance at the whole idea in 2008 and had the encouraging title "Milk Bags a Hit in Canada, UK". A bold statement that Sainbury's have since picked up on. However, a recent article from this summer was entitled "Is Drinking Milk From Bags Weird?".

Yes. Yes it is. We are pleased you have noticed.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A question of doubt

"I can never trust you again. My entire perception of you has changed."

How exactly do you respond to something like that? I finished my mouthful of food and tried to ascertain what horrific act of wanton cruelty I had committed in the preceding ten minutes. Apart from my lunch containing chicken, there were no obvious possibilities. And if my (apparently erstwhile) friend had a particular affinity to feathered fowl well ... he should have mentioned it before I reached for the second half of the sandwich.

"Have you not moved on from the conversation we were having at the start of lunch?" I guessed.

"No!" He had stopped eating to stare in horror across the table. "I still can't believe it!"

The lunch-table topic had been the question of whether you should be legally obliged to reveal to your partner that you have committed a serious crime, if you met them after you'd been freed from jail. My opinion was no, relationships are private and not a matter in which the government had a right to interfere. If you had served your time in jail and been released, you should have the same rights as any other innocent citizen. My friend's opinion focused on concern that a late revelation of such an act after, for example, marriage and children, would ruin the life of the ex-criminal's partner. He pointed out that there was some precedent for his view in the existence of the sex offenders list, which proved that it was not universally considered that serving your time in jail was always sufficient.

"You might be hiding something from me that would affect me negatively if I found out!" he accused.

"Well, we clearly should have hidden this from you," cheerfully remarked another friend who agreed with me. "Then you wouldn't be accusing us now!"

"You could be right though," someone else commented sinisterly. "Actually they've both served concurrent life sentences."

"True," I agreed. The tomato juice from my sandwich had started to run down my hands. I rose to go and locate a cloth. "They're called postdocs."

Friday, October 1, 2010


So last weekend I single handedly defended the physics department from having EVERY SINGLE COMPUTER stolen. And probably all the chalk too. Either that, or I just blew my career right out the water by declaring that an eminent professor was a bounder and a cad. One of the two.

My office mate was leaving. Her thesis was defended and the finished product stacked neatly on her empty desk ready for submission. (It would be later hidden by our advisor in a last-minute psychological experiment ... possibly suggested by me. BUT HE DID IT.) I had come in on Saturday afternoon to help her move her books, papers and two towels (I have no idea) back to her apartment to be packed for her move to California next week. 

As I approached the door to the main building a figure started towards me. He has been loitering on the opposite side of the road, but now he hurried across to stand a mere half step behind me as I fumbled for my keys. When I opened the door, his hand shot out over my shoulder to catch the edge and pull it open.

Boldly, I turned to look the man squarely in the eyes. I admit, he didn't exactly look like your stereotypical robber. Wearing a suit and being significantly over 70 he looked more like ... I dunno .... some distinguished Professor Emeritus.  But I was sure it was just a guise! Beneath that grandfatherly exterior lived a World of Warcraft fanatic, desperate to get his hands on our computing cluster for more power and probably the sword of Azeroth. 

"Could I see some ID?" I inquired, a steely look in my eye.

"Excuse me?" replied gentleman, a.k.a. Horde Undead Rogue

"I can't really let you into the building with seeing some ID, if you don't have your key," I explained, pleasantly. Ha! Where's your sword now, buster?

"I'm a distinguished Professor Emeritus!" the gentleman protested.


Okay, I admit, he didn't actually say 'distinguished' but it was totally implied. I prayed he wasn't some famous guy in my field who I had just completely failed to recognise.

It was times like this, I wished I'd focussed on astro-particle cosmology. Then the most famous person in my field would be Stephen Hawking. Dead easy to spot and I could totally have made a get away long before he'd have had the chance to accost me in the doorway of a building.  As it was I stood slightly awkwardly while the Professor Emeritus dug in his wallet for his university ID.

Admittedly, I didn't actually check the name on the card wasn't "Horde Undead Rogue" but it was so totally time to leave. I apologised and scooted off down the corridor at a pace that ensured he would never discover what sub-department I was in.