marnanel: (Default)
In answer to someone complaining about people complaining about Valentine's ( ):

I don't *want* to take happiness away from anyone who's happy on Valentine's day-- why would I want to take happiness away from other people? Good luck to them! But *I* hate Valentine's day because it reminds me of the years and years of Valentine's days filled with loneliness and despair, and if I allow myself to think about it, I'll fall apart. I suppose "triggering" is the word I'm looking for. Maybe one day I'll get over that, and I really don't like being this bitter, but for now I hate Valentine's day because of what it does to me. Every. Single. Year.
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One summer, when I was a small child, I found a book on astronomy. I read it eagerly, and talked about the stars to everyone I met. But it was summer, and so my bedtime was before dusk, and stargazing was impossible.

So my father offered to let me stay up one night to see the stars. He took me to the tall window on the stairs, and drew back the curtain, and I saw the stars scattered across the dark blue of the sky, and the Milky Way shining.

And it was terrifying. It seemed I was looking not just into unimaginable distances, but at something that should not be seen, something almost indecent for human eyes to see-- like seeing the sky goddess all naked for one moment before looking upon her beauty strikes you dead.

I fled, screaming.

marnanel: (Default)
After a discussion at the party meeting last night I went and looked up the sense development of the word "cadre".

1. In socialist use it means a person who has learned to take on any work necessary (within a political team), so that the loss of any one member damages the team less.
2. And this comes from an earlier use of the word to mean a whole team of socialists-- a chapter, a cell group.
3. And that comes from an earlier use of the word to mean the structure used to organise an army.
4. And that comes from the French word for a frame.
5. And that comes from the Latin "quadrum", a thing with four sides.

So a square thing has become a well-rounded individual.


Feb. 4th, 2015 10:31 am
marnanel: (Default) least, the ones I can find right now. There are more somewhere. Listing them here in case any local friends want to watch them with us.

  • Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain) -- a Parisian manic pixie dream girl goes around trying to right injustice but makes a mess of it; in French, subtitled
  • Alice in Wonderland (the Tim Burton film) -- an attempt at a sequel to the original story; I forget whether it's any good
  • The Lavender Hill Mob -- some respectable bank clerks are running a gold-smuggling operation; Ealing comedy; b&w
  • Woolly and Tig -- a small child is afraid of things, and her cuddly spider explains how to reframe them; a set of five-minute episodes; I love this particularly because reframing is a useful skill in dealing with fear and anxiety for grownups too
  • The Fall -- in a 1920s hospital a grown-up patient tells a four-year-old patient a story, as a ruse to get her to steal sleeping tablets for him; we see the story unfold from her point of view; I love this film
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas -- more Tim Burton
  • The Icicle Thief (Ladri di saponette) -- a TV station shows a depressing film about the Depression; the director is angry that they've cut it for advert breaks; the director and people from the adverts end up in the film, causing weird culture shock; in Italian, subtitled
  • The Dark Crystal -- Jim Henson film which apparently everyone has seen but me
  • Kinsey -- biopic of Alfred Kinsey, who researched sex and sexuality through the novel idea of actually asking people what they got up to
  • Grease -- I doubt I need to tell you more
marnanel: (Default)

When I was at school, the county would often send psychologists to ask me things. Once, when I was about thirteen, I had to fill in a sort of questionnaire. It had statements with tickyboxes, like

I would like to be an astronaut ☐
I would like to be stronger ☐

The paper said at the top that it was the version of the test for boys, and the last question of all said:

I would like to be a girl ☐

And I had a panicky moment considering that if I told the truth there it would involve a lot more psychologists and probably further humiliation in front of my classmates, so with some level of guilt for lying I left the box unticked.

marnanel: (Default)
People often post images of text on Twitter, either to get around the 140-character limit or because they're posting a screenshot from another site. This is a problem for people who use screen readers and people who have images turned off.

I propose to create a web service which will allow people to associate images with URLs of with transcriptions. For example, you could associate with the text "The Bishop of Dibley".

This would then be available on the Twitter site via a Javascript snippet in the browser.

Byte-for-byte identical images would automatically share a transcription, detected by digest. There could be a tineye-style similarity test, but that would make a simple idea much more complicated.

Users would log in with their Twitter account details, via OAuth. All their transcriptions would have their account name attached.

The biggest problem is of people maliciously adding incorrect transcriptions. I invite suggestions.

What do you think?
marnanel: (Default)
[TW: injury, etc]

The "seven things most people don't know about me" meme. All these are about my childhood, because I think people probably know enough about what I've done as an adult.

1) As a toddler, I almost fell off the side of a container ship in dry dock. I was climbing the steps up to the ship, with my father holding my hand, and I managed to slip. Apparently I swung out over the abyss, with my father clinging desperately to my hand, and he remembers how his palms began to sweat with fear and he thought he'd lose me. I have no conscious memory of this, but it may explain my terror of heights.

2) Years later, my dad was in hospital, and someone bought me a newspaper-making kit to keep me occupied. There were various pieces of paper to cut out with headlines and so on. They gave you a few mastheads saying things like "The Chronicle" and "The Daily News", but I decided to call my paper The Thurman Times, and it lasted for about ten years in one form or another as a family magazine.

3) At the age of about six I made up a game where our house was a town and all the rooms were streets. This involved naming every room with a street name. For some strange reason everyone still remembers all these room names, especially my own room which is universally known as Moon Drive.

4) I also used to have the habit, which lasted well into my teens of drawing a stylised steamboat in the top right corner of my work. (I think the boat motif came from reading Swallows and Amazons, though of course those were sailboats.) The reference to Jacob's symbol in BCL is partly based on this. Also, those who have the second edition of Not Ordinarily Borrowable (with the dragon on the cover) may notice the same steamboat logo at the top left of the cover.

5) Various things were a terror to me at one time or another. In particular, when I was ten and my grandmother died she left us a framed print of a famous painting, and my parents hung it on the landing outside my room. I was already afraid of the dark, and the painting was a new terror: I would run as fast as I could into my room so I wouldn't see it, and shut my eyes when I opened the door. The worst of it was that I wasn't allowed to sleep with the light on, but there was a light at the other end of the landing, so to avoid the darkness I had to sleep with my door as wide open as possible, and lying there in bed I could see the painting's eyes through the crack between the door and the frame. Horrifying.

6) When I was five I went out into the garden to help build a path. All my life I've preferred to be barefoot,My mother held my hand and and I was that day as well. But it's never wise to carry housebricks about when you're barefoot, especially if you're five and might drop them on your toe. I did. Even worse than the pain was the horrendous hour at the doctor's where they cut open my toe under local anaesthetic in order to "get the poison out", as they told me. The anaesthetic presumably didn't work too well, because I could feel it, and my God it hurt. I squeezed my mother's hand as tightly as I could and tried not to cry out.

7) For about a month, when I was seven-ish, I had three pet balloons. I'd brought them home from a party or something, and I drew faces on them and gave them names. And I went everywhere with them, and I used to read them bedtime stories. I remember my parents were slightly concerned.

rm -rf /

Jan. 16th, 2015 09:44 am
marnanel: (Default)
I said elsewhere that "rm -rf /" is special-cased to fail under Linux, and some people asked me about it. FTR here's my answer:

I'd thought rm was a bash builtin, but it isn't. The rm in GNU coreutils, however, does check for the root directory as of 2003-11-09 (by inode number, not by name); the warning message is "it is dangerous to operate recursively on /". You can override this using "--no-preserve-root", though I don't know why you'd want to.
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 3, number 1
5th January 2015: happy new year
What I’ve been up to

Working on getting better. They've put me on a new medication, lamotrigine, and they're ramping me up slowly at 25mg a fortnight. It's not at the full dose yet, but I think it's helping already.

The other day I went to visit some friends, and they had a harp! So of course I asked to play it. Even though I'd never played before, after about two hours it was sounding rather tuneful. I think I'll save up for one and learn to play it properly.
Photo thanks to Kit.

A poem of mine

Here's a poem about ringing in the new year. It's the earliest sonnet of mine I think is any good: I wrote it when I was about 18.


Look to your Lord who gives you life.
This year must end as all the years.
You live here in the vale of tears.
This year brought toil, the next year strife.
For too, too soon we break our stay.
The end of things may be a birth.
The clouds will fade and take the earth.
Make fast your joy on New Year's Day.
When dies a friend we weep and mourn.
When babes are born we drink with cheer.
But no man mourns when dies the year.
When dies the age, may you be born.
Your death, your birth, are close at hand.
In him we trust. In him we stand.

A picture

Caption: two wise men and a cow visit Mary.
First wise man: I bring gold!
Second wise man: I bring frankincense!

Something wonderful

A group called Africa2Moon announced today that it's organising an Africa-wide effort to go to the moon. Many people have objected that Africa has many problems which need work and money, and that a moon shot will only distract from more urgent priorities. The organisation's answer was rather interesting: in a way, the moon landing itself is a sort of McGuffin. The real story is about getting there: as a side effect of training up the scientists and the engineers, and building the systems needed, it should reduce the brain drain to the west, and improve life across the continent as a side-effect-- not unlike the effects of the US space programme a generation earlier.

And this set me thinking about parallels: we all live in communities that need investments of time and effort and money, from food banks to counsellors. When and how is it possible to create something within these communities, something that everyone can collaborate on and be inspired by?

Something from someone else

by W B Yeats

Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at, and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.


Jan. 5th, 2015 11:02 pm
marnanel: (Default)
Odd trivia question: consider the archipelago immediately northwest of France. The two largest islands by population are Great Britain and Ireland. What's the third?
marnanel: (Default)
Further snark from St Teresa:

"A rich man, without son or heir, loses part of his property, but still has more than enough to keep himself and his household. If this misfortune grieves and disquiets him as though he were left to beg his bread, how can our Lord ask him to give up all things for His sake? This man will tell you he regrets losing his money because he wished to bestow it on the poor."
marnanel: (Default)
I only just found out about the December Days meme with two days left to go. On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure I'll get more than that number of suggestions :) But do ask away.
marnanel: (Default)
by Michael Frayn

When I was your age, child –
When I was eight,
When I was ten,
When I was two
(How old are you?)
When I was your age, child,
My father would have gone quite wild
Had I behaved the way you
What, food uneaten on my plate
When I was eight?
What, room in such a filthy state
When I was ten?
What, late
For school when I was two?
My father would have shouted, “When
I was your age, child, my father would have raved
Had I behaved
The way you

When I was
Your age, child, I did not drive us
All perpetually mad
By bashing
Up my little brother and reducing him to tears.
There was a war on in those years!
There were no brothers to be had!
Even sisters were on ration!
My goodness, we were pleased
To get anything to tease!
We were glad
Of aunts and dogs,
Of chickens, grandmothers, and frogs;
Of creatures finned and creatures hooved,
And second cousins twice removed!

When I was your
Age, child, I was more
Considerate of others
(Particularly of fathers and of mothers).
I did not sprawl
Reading the Dandy
Or the Beano
When aunts and uncles came to call.
Indeed no.
I grandly
Entertained them all
With “Please” and “Thank you”, “May I…?”,
“Thank you”, “Sorry”, “Please”,
And other remarks like these.
And if a chance came in the conversation
I would gracefully recite a line
Which everyone recognised as a quotation
From one of the higher multiplication
Tables, like "Seven sevens are forty-nine".

When I was your age, child, I
Should never have dreamed
Of sitting idly
Watching television half the night
It would have seemed
Television not then having been

When I
Was your age, child, I did not lie
The house all day.
(I did not lie about anything at all - no liar I!)
I got out!
I ran away!
To sea!
(Though naturally I was back, with hair brushed
and hands washed, in time for tea.)
Oh yes, goodness me,
I had worked already down a diamond mine,
And fought in several minor wars,
And hunted boars,
In the lonelier
Parts of Patagonia
(Though I admit that possibly by then
I was getting on for ten.)
In the goldfields of Australia
I learned the bitterness of failure;
Experience in the temples of Siam
Made me the wise and punctual man that I am;
But the lesson that I value most
I learned upon the Coromandel Coast-
Never, come what may, to boast.

I was your age, child, and the older generation
Offered now and then
A kindly explanation
Of what the world was like in their young day
I did not yawn in that rude way.
Why, goodness me,
There being no television to see
(As I have, I think, already said)
We were most grateful
For any entertainment we could get instead
However tedious or hateful.

So grow up, child! And be
Your age! (What is your age, then?
Eight? Or nine? Or two? Or ten?)
Remember, as you look at me-
When I was your age I was forty-three.


Dec. 30th, 2014 07:03 pm
marnanel: (Default)
By the way: I may be posting less on LJ and more on DW in the future. If you think I should have you in my circles over there, and I don't, could you let me know?
marnanel: (Default)
A few years ago, someone said to me that they thought life was a bit like playing chess-- you know the rules, and you have to think a few moves ahead. I replied that I'd often thought life was rather more like Mao. In case you don't know Mao, it's a card game where nobody's allowed to explain the rules, so the first few times you play you'll lose spectacularly; after you begin to work out the rules, you may discover that there's a standard way for people to create new rules, but because of the prohibition on explaining the rules, the other players will have not only to notice that a new rule has been introduced, but also to work out what it is by induction. This somewhat parallels my experience of life-- everyone seems to have seen the rulebook except me.

Well, the other night I had a dream. I was at a party where everyone else was playing a game a bit like Mao, but instead of using playing cards, everything was on index cards: when you introduced a new rule, you had to create new cards to go along with it. And I was confused and disorientated and disheartened, just as in my metaphor for life.

But then a card turned up in my hand which had clearly been circulating for a while. It was in a familiar handwriting, and after a moment I recognised it as the stumbling form of my own handwriting I'd used when I was about eight or nine.

And this was the most encouraging dream I've had in a long while. I used to know how to play this game. I knew once. I can learn again.
marnanel: (Default)
In a dream last night, I was performing a sketch which was a rewrite of "Three Men on Class" about the higher education system. I was onscreen three times (as wtih a travelling matte): on the left I was wearing a MA gown ("I teach at an Oxbridge college"), in the middle a sports jacket ("I teach at a redbrick"), on the right scruffy clothes ("I teach at a former poly"), and there were boxes on the floor so I appeared taller on the left and shorter on the right. "Sometimes I look up to *him* because he's higher in the league tables..." etc. Do you know, I think this could actually work.
marnanel: (Default)
Odd thought: many people have noticed that the BBC and others give undue bias to UKIP over the Greens. Something odd is going on, and people have often suggested a UKIP mole. But I wonder whether it's actually someone from the Labour Party. UKIP is likely to split the Tory vote; the Greens are likely to take people from the centre-left. So centre-left voters are unlikely to be distracted by UKIP and unlikely to hear from the Greens, putting Labour in a good position to win the election. (Of course there are those who think UKIP is a centre-left party, but then they'll learn the truth when they hear them speak.)
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 8
22nd December 2014: the sun come up from the south
What I’ve been up to

Mostly preparing for Christmas— thank you to all of you who sent cards!— and rewriting the Gentle Readers website, though it's not yet ready to go live. And Kit has put together an entry in the Inclusive Advent calendar about welcoming people who are chronically ill.

Also, because it's the time of year to reread The Dark is Rising, and I've been thinking about the new volume of Gentle Readers beginning in January— I'm planning to put a review in each issue of a book I've loved, past or present, mostly but not exclusively children's and YA books. If you have suggestions for books you'd like reviewed, do let me know.

A poem of mine


Perhaps I might compare... oh damn it. No.
It's four, and it's already almost night.
The land lies suffocated under snow:
they say "the dead of winter", and they're right.
My life's on hold until the first of May:
until that morning comes I have to cope
with dragging on through every darkened day.
July will come: I have to live in hope.
No. You're the one I'm missing, not July.
Yours is the warmth, not April's, that I miss.
I miss your smiles far more than May, and I
lie longing, not for June, but for your kiss;
I'm cold and tired. I don't know what to do.
Shall I compare a summer's day to you?

A picture

I thought you might like to see what my notes for an issue of Gentle Readers look like, so here's today's:

Something wonderful

In Asia Minor, sometime around the year 55 of our era, a baby was born; he was soon afterwards sold into slavery, taken to Rome, and given the name Epictetus (Ἐπίκτητος). He couldn't walk, so his master sent him to learn to read and write instead; he thrived in academia and ended up as one of the foremost philosophers of his age. Eventually his master freed him, and Epictetus set up his own philosophy school.

Epictetus was a Stoic: that is, he believed the important thing in life is to learn to act and react appropriately. You can't expect to be fully in control of your possessions or your body, and you certainly can't expect to control other people, but you can learn to be more in control of your own mind and your own reactions. For example, suppose you're a tennis player; however hard you train, you might never win at Wimbledon, because of things you can't control: luck, the weather, the performances of other players. But being the best tennis player you can be is within your control, so it's a more appropriate goal to aim for. If you do manage to learn to react to everything that happens in the most appropriate manner for that thing, Epictetus says you will have achieved happiness (εὐδαιμονία, eudaemonia, "good-spiritedness").

We don't have any of Epictetus's own writings. But Arrian, one of his pupils, wrote up his lecture notes in eight books called the "Discourses", four of which have come down to us; he also produced a short summary often called the "Enchiridion", which simply means "handbook". That's a good place to start reading. There are several good translations; the one at the link was written by the rather wonderful Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806).

Many people have learned from Epictetus's ideas in the last two thousand years, but perhaps one of the most surprising is the second-century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, himself no mean philosopher; though they never met, the emperor cited Epictetus's influence repeatedly in his writings. In around a hundred years, Epictetus had gone from slavery to being the teacher of the emperor of Rome.

Something from someone else

This is a good song for the winter solstice. "Ellum" is an obsolete dialectal form of "elm"; its habit of dropping branches on people is noted also in White's The Sword in the Stone, where the tree adds, "The cream of the joke is that they make the coffins out of me afterwards." Unfortunately for the landscape, but perhaps fortunately for our skulls, the elm has become nearly extinct in England since Kipling's time.

by Rudyard Kipling

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs,
(All of a Midsummer morn!)
Surely we sing no little thing,
In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day
Or ever Aeneas began.
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home
When Brut was an outlaw man.
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Yew that is old in churchyard-mould,
He breedeth a mighty bow.
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
And Beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
And your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
To Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He will take no wrong when he lieth along
'Neath Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But— we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth—
Good news for cattle and corn—
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs
(All of a Midsummer morn):
England shall bide till Judgement Tide,
By Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!


Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at, and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.


Dec. 22nd, 2014 08:36 am
marnanel: (Default)
"Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, or he would call it a sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night, a-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you good news by word of mouth, good news for cattle and corn:
Now is the Sun come up from the South, with Oak and Ash and Thorn."
marnanel: (Default)
A primary school test asked me "write a story about the sum 6+4=10". I had no idea what it was asking me to do, so I made a guess and wrote "One day 6+4=10 went for a walk. Then it came back. The end."


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