Three hundred tasty Spartan men in line:
A hopeless stand against the Persian might.
And in among them, ready too to fight,
Is Mary Sue, her armour polished to a shine.
Like Éowyn, with Aragorns to spare
(And yes, they’re straight, or straight enough to suit,
With just that taste of half-forbidden fruit!)
They’re doomed to die, but too in love to care.
The hour comes, the brotherhood contracts
Around the precious flower at its heart.
She will not leave; she wants to play her part!
She takes the lead in their heroic acts.
(But in this version, Sparta’s heroes won
And Persia lost to the three hundred one.)

Originally posted on Making Light, this is about what the film 300 would have been like with a classic fanfic self-insertion character caught up in the middle of it.

True journey as return

Across the Bay from storied Babylon
Surrounded, but apart from, London’s town
I know before the airplane touches down
It sits unchanged, though I am decades gone.
Oh Highland Avenue, they still parade
Each Independence day, the men in close
Formation mower drill, lest grass that grows
Too high permit that England re-invade.
When I describe it, I say, Sunnydale,
Without the vampires. They’d have long since fled
To Berkeley, where it’s cool to be undead.
(Among the ski-tanned, only geeks are pale.)
So I’ve returned to where I had begun
My grand adventure. 94611.

Originally posted on Making Light.

OAT Completion Report: Secret Sonnet

A lesson to be learned from OAT
is that the planning which assumes a test
will only run just once requires the best
environmental outcome, that there’ll be
no faults to find, and that the personnel
will be available to run as planned.
This doesn’t happen – often tests are canned,
the system breaks, or scripts aren’t running well.
Each test should be assumed to run at least
two times, with some days left aside to do
investigations, and to test the new
code fixes some before they are released.
It’s no good planning that we’ll hit a date
if known retesting means that we’ll be late.

Originally written for work, in a continuous paragraph rather than broken into lines.

TNH birthday sonnet

We stand between the darkness and the light:
The balance-point, when coming day reveals
Details that the darker time conceals,
And watch the sunlight overtake the night.
This equinox marks more than balance struck
Between the darkness, velvet cloak swept back,
And gold-robed daytime, mirroring the black.
This is the coming of the light. What luck
This luminiferous date also brought
Our hostess forth, whose writing more than glows:
Her fractal grasp of language yields prose
That’s filigreed with sunlight, finely wrought.
So happy birthday. May your day be bright.
From me, and all of us on Making Light.

Written in honor of Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s birthday, and originally posted on Making Light.

RBSG: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

After nine and a half years, it’s nearly over. One more week together, and that’s it. It’s an emotional moment.

I remember how it was in the beginning. After a whirlwind courtship (that aptitude test, the first interview, an overnight at the Apex Hotel in the Grassmarket, so little time to get to know one another!) there I was with pen in hand, signing myself into the relationship. I didn’t know how long it would last, but I went into it thinking of permanence.

I, Abi Sutherland, take thee, The Royal Bank of Scotland…

We’ve been through a lot since then. Better and worse, of course, as always in a job. I’ve wept with the stress of it, thrown a phone headset at the wall, but the Bank also allowed me to do things I did not believe I could.

Sickness and health…we’ve done that too. The Bank put up with me through the worst days of undiagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder, but also benefitted from my manic hyper-efficient summertimes. Supported me during maternity leave, yet took my sleepless nights on projects for granted.

And richer or poorer? Well, it is a bank. We’ve had record profits, and I’ve benefitted from profit share, membership in the pension plan, and fairly good salaries. I can’t really complain.

The Bank’s gained a few pounds since we got together – bought NatWest, growing fivefold in one transaction. But it stayed attractive to me. There are benefits to a big partner. Lately, though, the strains have started to show, in ways I won’t discuss here. Still, something in me keeps thinking if I stuck it out things would get better. It’s what I do.

You see, I’m a permie girl. My contractor friends, who sign up for six-month knee-tremblers or year-long commitments, extol the virtues of their brief liaisons. But I like the stability, the deep familiarity, that comes of long association. That’s great, but now comes the cost: breaking up is so much harder to do.

And we’re almost to it now, to the division of property into mine and thine, to taking off the security pass like a ring no longer needed, to saying goodbye to a building that once was a home. We’re starting to be careful around each other, aware that things started now can’t necessarily be finished.

And I look at the meat market, look at putting myself back out there to see if someone else will want me the way the Bank wanted me, and it’s frightening. I primp and poke at my covering letters and wonder if this CV makes me look unattractive.

If Martin and I weren’t moving to the Netherlands, if this partnership were not about to be geographically impossible, would I be able to break it off? And yet, moving aside, I think that now is a good time to make the move. We were getting stale, and I don’t see things changing.

So goodbye, Royal Bank. I will miss you when I leave, and I hope we can still be friends, but it’s time for me to go.

I think I’m going to need some chocolate.

The Lady of Khazad-dûm

Someone on a website I frequent mentioned that she often gets the urge to cross The Lady of Shallot with the story of Gandalf battling the Balrog in the Mines of Moria.

I confess, I had never found myself prone to that urge. Until she mentioned it, at which point it ate my brain.

The result:

Beneath the mountains, white with snow,
The orcs about their business go
Their orders to maintain below,
In the depths of Khazad-dûm,
A sleeping evil, left to lie
Until required by the Eye.
They care for it and ask not why
They toil in the gloom.

But one who labours in its lair
Has found the Balrog in his care
To be – to orcish senses – fair.
Fires burn in Khazad-dûm
And warm the darkness of the deeps
While he his tender vigil keeps.
His charge, protected, deeply sleeps
Inside its rocky tomb.

The other orcs, freed from its side,
Have different tasks, their might applied
To warlike training, side on side.
Underneath deep Khazad-dûm
The caverns echo with their song
While artificers labour long
To forge them armour, thick and strong,
For when the wars resume.

The flames beneath Caradhras burn
While up above, the seasons turn
Until, in time, the dwarves return.
Plundering rich Khazad-dûm.
At first they linger at the top
Above the yawning chasm’s drop
But then they dig, and do not stop
And thereby seal their doom.

They fill their halls with men and elves
And carve great rooms to please themselves
While underneath, a miner delves
Far too deep in Khazad-dûm.
The orc at practice stops his blow
As pickaxe noises grow and grow.
And then to muster-points they go
Lest dwarves their charge exhume.

The beaters start to pound their drums
So from the deeps the great sound comes
And in each chest, the breastbone thrums
Roaring out, “O Khazad-dûm!”
They rush into the glaring light
And, overwhelming with their might
The feasting dwarves, restore the night,
And then their work resume.

The battle in the past belongs:
Another chapter in their songs
Of dwarven deaths and ancient wrongs.
Deep in shadowed Khazad-dûm
The Balrog shifts its mighty frame
At dreams of swords, and fear, and flame.
Its keeper strokes it, rasps its name,
And turns to leave its room.

But then, a sound. A single stone
Comes clattering from where it’s thrown
Into a well, and this alone
Rouses all of Khazad-dûm.
And as the drummers beat and pound
The battle-rhythm shakes the ground.
The orcs come swarming all around
To Balin’s stony tomb.

Then, in its room, the sleeper wakes
And with one blow, its prison breaks.
So from the depths, its coming shakes
All the stones of Khazad-dûm.
It sees the fleeing figures hide
And casts its shadows far and wide
Like wings unfurled from either side
To smother them in gloom.

And then he comes, as from its dreams:
A bearded figure whose sword gleams
With silver light. Its lancing beams
Bringing day to Khazad-dûm.
The Balrog roars with blinded eyes.
The grey-robed form its way denies:
“You shall not pass,” the wizard cries.
And still the drumbeats boom.

They struggle then, the swordsman small
Against his foe, but brave withal.
He strikes the Balrog, and they fall
Into deepest Khazad-dûm.
The fighters plunging, dark and bright,
Leave eight companions, put to flight,
To scramble upward, to the light
And, grieved, their quest resume.

Behind them, howling hordes surround
The broken bridge, while all around
From depths to heights the battles sound
Echoing through Khazad-dûm.
They clash their blades and stamp their feet
And roar defiance and defeat
At enemies they cannot meet,
Then silence fills the gloom.

But one orc gives a keening call:
He somehow sees the Balrog’s fall.
And terror comes upon them all
Standing massed in Khazad-dûm.
The wizard is of no concern,
But should the Dark Lord come to learn
Their charge is dead, then they will burn.
The Eye will be their doom.

And so the orcs depart the mines.
At night, when only moonlight shines
They march away in scattered lines
Fleeing from black Khazad-dûm.
While in the lonely, lightless deeps
The Balrog-keeper howls and weeps
Then in the depthless chasm leaps
In empty Khazad-dûm.

For my next trick, I will harness the twin engines of Tolkien and Tennyson spinning in their graves and provide unlimited power for the world.

Akron and the Abi Field

When the going gets tough at work (as it is now), I often wonder why I do what I do. This is one of the little stories that remind me why I am a software tester.

Martin works for SkyScanner, a flight pricing site. He was testing out some code one evening, a couple of months ago, and ran into the sort of frozen-brain feeling you get after too long at the keyboard. So he pushed his wheely chair back from his desk, into my line of sight.

“Bun,” he said, “Name me two destinations. Just any cities.”

“Düsseldorf,” I replied, “and Akron, Ohio.”

“Thanks,” he said, and wheeled back to his desk to fiddle with the new test data. taptaptap. “[insert curse word].” taptaptap. “[insert worse curse word].” taptaptap.

I looked up as he rolled back into my line of sight, looking exasperated. “How do you do that?”

Turns out that Akron, Ohio, USA, is served by two airports, Akron and Akron Canton. And some clever soul, somewhere in the ancestry of the data they were working with, had remapped Akron Canton to Guangzhou Province in China. That was giving him some…funny results.

So they had to go clean up their data. And I remembered why I’m a software tester.

Quotes that date the book

Sometimes a line, or a paragraph, in a book will leap out at you. It was innocuous enough when the author wrote it, but now it’s dated the book for good. I was leafing through Accounting For Murder, by Emma Lathen (1961), and came across this paragraph.

Stanley was delighted. He would no more have questioned the authority of Clarence Fortinbras to press him into service than he would have questioned the summons of his local draft board.

Within five years, that line was an anachronism.

Containing Knowledge II

All knowledge is contained, but not in words.
The sparrows cannot tell the mice below
The art and joy of flight. The things they know
Just fit inside the hollow bones of birds.
And so it is with books, although I try
To case in words the things that only hands
Can truly hold. The body understands:
I love to bind as sparrows love to fly.
The feel of book blocks in the nipping press,
The fragrances leather, glue and glaire,
The paring of a hide, the ways that papers tear –
The body knows things language can’t express.
My books contain so many things I know –
Some things they say, and some they simply show.

Originally posted on Making Light, part of a meditation on books and knowledge (starting at comment 135).

Containing Knowledge I

All knowledge is contained. Each box enclosed
By bone, or paper, or HTML
Constrains the facts inside it all too well,
And separates things better juxtaposed.
For knowledge is inert until it’s mixed,
Until the facts spill out, and we compare
Our unrelated notions, stop and stare,
Assumptions overturned, at truth unfixed.
The way papyrus rolled and vellum curled,
The spread of trade as social classes changed:
These unrelated facts, when well arranged,
Can show us not just books, but all the world.
And thus the knowledge that appeals to me
Is uncontained, and unconstrained, and free.

Originally posted on Making Light, part of a meditation on books and knowledge (starting at comment 135).