marnanel: (Default)
A thought: I keep running into people who need to schlep large files around, bigger than can be sent by email. (One example is someone I know who runs a dictation service for the blind.) So they have to fit things like yousendit or dropbox into their workflow, and often they don't fit as well as they might.

But there doesn't seem to be a free alternative to run on your own server. Today I realised that this could be done fairly easily as an extension to a bug tracker like Bugzilla-- take out most of the fields on the "create a bug" page, optionally add anonymous uploads and quotas, and you're pretty much there. This would be useful enough for me that I might well have a go.

Update: A friend suggests OwnCloud.
marnanel: (Default)

...whether it's funny is orthogonal to the problem with Takei's "miracle in the alcohol aisle" joke-- that it reinforces a false idea people believe uncritically, which causes them to hurt vulnerable people.

Here's a parallel: I have a large number of books of jokes going back well over a hundred years. Some of them contain, for example, Jewish jokes (iirc there's a section called "Told Against Our Friend The Jew", which shows they already knew about the problem and printed them anyway). Some of these jokes may well be pants-wettingly hilarious for all I care; antisemitism still flourishes, and I'm still not using that material. It's the punching up vs punching down distinction.

[a comment I have left in more than one discussion today; I am starting to think of it as "Told Against Our Friend The Jew" for short.]

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 17
7th August 2014: we fought and feared and felt
What I’ve been up to

We are, more or less, properly moved to Salford now. There's a vanful of our stuff still in Oldham, and another vanful in Staines, due to assorted mishaps along the way, but at least Kit and I and Yantantessera are safely moved in. Sooner or later we'll go and pick the other stuff up, when times are more vannish-- and after all, what else does time do?

I apologise for another GR hiatus earlier this week: I was hit by a car while crossing the road, which caused a break in service, but fortunately no break in bones. My leg is quite impressively bruised, though.

A poem of mine

RETWEETED (T103)

Jill retweeted what I wrote,
forwarding to all her friends.
Time, you thief, who loves to gloat
over hopes and bitter ends,
say my loves and lines are bad,
say that life itself defeated me,
say I'm growing old, but add:
Jill retweeted me.

(After "Jenny kissed me" by James Leigh Hunt.)

A picture

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/fb-teletext-100

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/fb-teletext-220
 

 

 
Those who weren't around in the 1980s in the UK may need to know that this is a parodic representation of Facebook as if it had been around at the time of the BBC'S much-loved CEEFAX service. Gentle reader Dan Sheppard sent me a link to a recording of CEEFAX On View for those who never saw it and those who'd like to refresh their memories. 

Something from someone else

Some people will tell you that Rudyard Kipling was a cultural imperalist and a racist; these people have often not looked very hard into his work. The last line of this poem, a plea for cultural diversity, is quoted fairly often; I think the rest of the poem is worth reading too, and I'm afraid I habitually quote the last two stanzas at people far too often.

"Certified by Traill" is a sarcastic reference: when Tennyson died in 1892, there was some discussion as to who should be the new poet laureate, and a man named H. D. Traill wrote an article listing fifty possible contenders. He added Kipling's name as the fifty-first, as an afterthought.

IN THE NEOLITHIC AGE
by Rudyard Kipling

In the Neolithic Age, savage warfare did I wage
For food and fame and woolly horses' pelt.
I was singer to my clan in that dim red Dawn of Man,
And I sang of all we fought and feared and felt.

Yea, I sang as now I sing, when the Prehistoric spring
Made the piled Biscayan ice-pack split and shove;
And the troll and gnome and dwerg, and the Gods of Cliff and Berg
Were about me and beneath me and above.

But a rival, of Solutré, told the tribe my style was outré—
'Neath a tomahawk, of diorite, he fell.
And I left my views on Art, barbed and tanged, below the heart
Of a mammothistic etcher at Grenelle.

Then I stripped them, scalp from skull, and my hunting-dogs fed full,
And their teeth I threaded neatly on a thong;
And I wiped my mouth and said, "It is well that they are dead,
For I know my work is right and theirs was wrong."

But my Totem saw the shame; from his ridgepole-shrine he came,
And he told me in a vision of the night: —
"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And every single one of them is right!"

* * * *

Then the silence closed upon me till They put new clothing on me
Of whiter, weaker flesh and bone more frail;
And I stepped beneath Time's finger, once again a tribal singer,
And a minor poet certified by Traill!

Still they skirmish to and fro, men my messmates on the snow
When we headed off the aurochs turn for turn;
When the rich Allobrogenses never kept amanuenses,
And our only plots were piled in lakes at Berne.

Still a cultured Christian age sees us scuffle, squeak, and rage,
Still we pinch and slap and jabber, scratch and dirk;
Still we let our business slide— as we dropped the half-dressed hide—
To show a fellow-savage how to work.

Still the world is wondrous large— seven seas from marge to marge—
And it holds a vast of various kinds of man;
And the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandhu,
And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.

Here's my wisdom for your use, as I learned it when the moose
And the reindeer roamed where Paris roars to-night:—
"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And— every— single— one— of— them— is— right!"

Postscript from me: Though you know there came a day when they found another way, but rejected it— for "seventy" won't scan.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. Love and peace to you all.

marnanel: (Default)
I had to pick something up at Salford Royal's main reception desk. I walk for quite a way following signs. I reach a desk.

"Is this the main reception?"
"No, you want to go that way."

I go that way, and find a sign saying "Main Reception" pointing back the way I'd come. So I go back, and go to WHSmith's and ask for directions to the main reception, and a description of it. It is in fact the desk I found first. I return.

"Sorry," I say, "I mean I get confused easily, but people tell me this is the main reception."
"Oh no, this is car parking."
"So.. that sign behind you saying RECEPTION, that's not true?"
"Look, I told you, go that way and then down the stairs."
"Isn't that the way to Outpatients?"
"That's what you want, isn't it?
"No, I want the main reception."

But he sends me to Outpatients. Outpatients say, "Oh no, we're not the main reception, we're Outpatients."

"But the man on the main reception desk, who claimed it wasn't the main reception desk, said it was you instead."

"Oh, he's always doing that."

MAYBE HE USED TO RUN A CHEESE SHOP
marnanel: (Default)
SUICIDE IN THE TRENCHES
by Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

date format

Aug. 1st, 2014 03:59 pm
marnanel: (Default)
A Gregorian date encoding I used in a personal system: I think it nicely balances human readability with brevity. It is only well-defined between 2010 and 2039.

Consider the date as a triple (y,m,d) where:
y is the year number AD minus 2010
m is the month number, 1-based
d is the day of the month, 1-based

So today, 1st August 2014, is (4,8,1).

Then define a partial mapping from integers to characters thus:
x=0 to x=9 are represented by the digits 0 to 9
x=10 to x=31 are represented by the lowercase letters a to u

Translate the date triple and concatenate.

Thus today is written 481.

Years outside the given range are written in full, e.g. 1975-01-30 -> 19751t.

Thoughts?
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 16
31st July 2014: blissful quires
What I’ve been up to

Still moving house to Salford (see GR passim), but thank heavens we're mostly moved in now! Gentle Reader Katie and her father lent us their time and their van to move some of our belongings from the Oldham garage where they arrived, and Kit's brother Adam went back down to Surrey with us yesterday to move some of the books and furniture we left in Staines.

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/too-many-books

I am coming to realise that if everything is a crisis, anything seems reasonable. In the last few weeks, for example, I've been eating large amounts of chocolate and getting small amounts of sleep, and justifying both to myself by saying that I need the sustenance and time because of an ongoing crisis. Then, because everything that comes along looks like a crisis, I end up over-sugared and under-slept for months. This isn't just about chocolate or sleep, either: it seems to be a pattern throughout my life as a whole.

A poem of mine

I ALWAYS TRIED TO WRITE ABOUT THE LIGHT (T32)

I always tried to write about the light
that inks these eyes in instant tint and hue,
that chances glances, sparkles through the night,
fresh as the morning, bloody as the dew;
the light that leaves your image in my mind,
that shining silver, shared for everyone,
that banishes the darkness from the blind,
the circle of the surface of the sun.
And when your light is shining far from mine,
when scores of stars are standing at their stations,
we'll weave our fingers round them as they shine,
and write each others' name on constellations;
and so we'll stand, and still, however far,
lock eyes and wish upon a single star.

A picture

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/looked-up-chimney
"He then stooped down and looked up the chimney"

 

Something wonderful

William Gladstone (1809-1898) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom four times. He grew up in Liverpool; no doubt his youth surrounded by poverty spurred him to fight for voting not to be restricted by income, and no doubt his youth surrounded by the Irish diaspora remained on his mind as he worked towards Irish independence. He lived a careful life, closely examining and recording all his actions, and since he recorded in his diary every book he read, we know that he read on average a book a day for most of his life.

When he was an old man, he decided to found a library: the stock was already to hand, since he had kept thousands of the books he had read. The library was duly set up in a temporary building at Hawarden in Flintshire, and (it is said) the 85-year-old Gladstone delivered most of the books personally, trundling them from his house in a wheelbarrow.
 

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/gladstones-library


After Gladstone's death, the library was rebuilt in beautiful sham Gothic stone. It's still there, now with a quarter of a million volumes, and I encourage you to visit it if you can: it's one of the few libraries where you can board for days or weeks as well as study. There are regular events and workshops, but it's also especially popular with authors trying to finish manuscripts: the chance to work uninterrupted in a peaceful atmosphere of study can work wonders.

Something from someone else

Robert Southwell, SJ (1561-1595), who was one of the great poets of his generation, met an early and unpleasant death at the hands of Elizabeth I’s inquisitors. (Don't confuse him with Robert Southey, who lived 300 years later.)

Before we begin, note that "quires" here doesn't mean groups of singers, but books, especially books made by folding large sheets of paper. And "imparadised", put into paradise, is a tremendous word which should be more often used. (Milton also uses it, to describe sex in the Garden of Eden.)

from "ST PETER’S COMPLAINT"
by Robert Southwell

Sweet volumes, stored with learning fit for saints,
Where blissful quires imparadise their minds;
Wherein eternal study never faints,
Still finding all, yet seeking all it finds:
How endless is your labyrinth of bliss,
Where to be lost the sweetest finding is!

This stanza is part of a long poem about St Peter looking back over his life. It’s about the moment Peter, having just denied he ever knew Jesus, looks across the courtyard to where Jesus is handcuffed, and catches his eye. Southwell describes Jesus’s eyes in that moment as though they were libraries: a metaphor to take your breath away, even as you remember similar experiences yourself. It's a comparison that shows not only Southwell's devotion to God, and his skill as a poet, but also how great his love of libraries was, that he would compare spending time in them to catching the eye of Jesus.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. Love and peace to you all.

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 15
24th July 2014: catch them, Rimeq
What I’ve been up to

I read a choose-your-own-adventure science fiction book when I was little. It concerned the efforts of an alien named Rimeq to take over the world, and the hero's efforts to stop him. This was made more difficult because Rimeq possessed the ability to move objects around with his mind (telekinesis). The only part which has stayed in my head is towards the end, when the hero has reached Rimeq's room but Rimeq has paralysed him by telekinesis, the police have been stopped similarly, and so have the spaceships bringing help, and the stress is showing on Rimeq's face. Finally the hero manages to take some rings off his fingers and throw them at Rimeq, shouting, "Catch them, Rimeq, they're grenades!" This is the final straw; the stress on Rimeq's mind is too much, and he is taken away catatonic.

So as I mentioned earlier, we have been moving house, and several moments have made me think, "Catch them, Rimeq"-- in particular, I meant to put out an edition of Gentle Readers on Monday as usual, but exhaustion won. Sorry for the interruption in service; meanwhile, I've been very encouraged by the messages I've had telling me how much you enjoy reading Gentle Readers.

Many people are due public thanks for helping us get through the last week. In particular, I want to thank the people of St John's church, Egham; as the obstacles to getting moved grew more and more formidable, so more and more people from St John's turned up unasked to help. We couldn't have managed without you. Thanks also go to the Gentle Reader who offered a garage when the movers needed to deliver before the landlord could give us the key. And thanks to the people from the Runnymede Besom, who turned up to take away some furniture we'd donated, but then came back later to help clean up. That's what love in action looks like, and I'll do my best to pay it forward. Thank you all.

A poem of mine

THE ECHOES OF AN AMBER GOD
(T54)

Electric sparkles in your touch,
the echoes of an amber god.
You fill my batteries with such
electric sparkles in your touch,
that Tesla would have charged too much
and Franklin dropped his lightning-rod:
electric sparkles in your touch,
the echoes of an amber god.

A picture

I was going to draw you a cartoon as usual, but my tablet is still packed away. Instead, here are some photos I took when I was working in London earlier this year.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/clapham-junction
Trains in the sidings at Clapham Junction, the busiest railway station in Britain.
More than a hundred trains an hour come through.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/binder
The tombstone of Jason Binder:
"He respected all living things. His inspiration lives on."
And it lives on with me, too, even though his epitaph is all I know about him.

 

Something from someone else

Does this one really need an introduction? Well, if you've never seen it before, then you have the joy of seeing it for the first time; the Guardian has a decent analysis if you're interested in digging into it. "Baggonets" is an archaic form of the word "bayonets", and Kensal Green is a large London cemetery, one of the magnificent seven. There is a pub called "Paradise" near there now; it was named for the poem.

THE ROLLING ENGLISH ROAD
by G K Chesterton

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. Love and peace to you all.

marnanel: (Default)
I am in the chemist's waiting for a prescription to be filled, and eavesdropping.

Customer, to assistant: How much is this?
Assistant: (scans it repeatedly) Dunno.
Pharmacist: What's up?
Assistant: Every time I scan this, it just says "enter price", "enter price".
Marn: (under breath) These are the voyages of the Starship Enter Price...
(Pharmacist laughs. Assistant looks confused.)
Pharmacist: Well, *I* thought it was funny.
marnanel: (Default)

As a littl'un, my daughter was interested not only in Ancient Egypt but also in the Soap Lady in the Mütter museum-- a corpse which has become entirely saponified, turned to the soapy substance called adipocere. One day, when my daughter was about five, I was sitting reading while she was playing in the park, and eavesdropping on her conversation with another girl:

Other Girl: "Do you know what happens to you when you die?"
Rio: "Yes. You turn into soap."
Other Girl: "No... you turn into stone. I know because my grandma died and I touched her and she was as cold as a stone."

marnanel: (Default)
I'm a centaur, I'm a centaur,
From Manchester way
I drink lots of beer and

I eat lots of hay
I may be a man at my neckline
But from the waist down I'm an equine.
marnanel: (Default)

The earliest OED citation for "duck tape" (in the modern sense) is from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 21 November 1902, and it says:

"Considering... that 100,000 yards of cotton duck tape must be wrapped around the cable [of the Williamsburg bridge] with neatness and exactitude, it may be imagined that this method of cable preservation is quite expensive."
 
"Duck" is a strong cotton fabric which duck tape is made from; it's also used to make sails and trousers. I don't know when it became a trademark in the US. "Duct tape" came later, around the 1970s; it is of course very often used to tape up cables in ducts.

airship

Jul. 18th, 2014 11:47 am
marnanel: (Default)
"My heart leaps up when I behold
An airship in the sky:
So was it with R101,
So was it once at Cardington,
So be it, if I shall behold
Or if I fly."

(with apologies to Wordsworth)
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 14
17th July 2014: gold is for the mistress
What I’ve been up to

 

Forgive, if you will, the brevity of today's Gentle Readers. I am in the midst of tidying the place we're leaving, and putting things into bags and boxes ready for the move. And though it's a small two-bedroom flat, it contains upwards of four thousand books, so the operation is taking most of my attention and energy. (Also, it caused some talk when I went into Sainsbury's and bought forty bags-for-life.)

I also apologise for the state of the website. We finish moving in on Tuesday (at least, I sincerely hope we do), and then I will have time to fix it. Video versions of Gentle Readers will also resume thereafter.

I have been reading Jeremy Taylor's Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, a sort of self-help book from 1650. Taylor talks about many of the same sorts of things as modern self-help books, including how to organise your time and how not to get distracted. In the section on time management he mentions that it's important to do something fun every day, because it refreshes your mind; he goes on to say that a good example of this is that St John the Apostle spent time each day with a tame partridge. This surprised me.

Gentle reader Amy Robinson requested a picture of St John spending quality time with his partridge, and I am happy to oblige:

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/st-john-with-partridge

A poem of mine

One of the interesting things about being a writer is that you find people talking about and using your work in ways you'd never considered. A few years after I wrote the poem below, I happened upon the website for a translation competition at a Russian university; the students had been set some texts by German writers whose names I didn't recognise, and James Thurber, and my poem. I love getting surprises like that.

TRANSLATION (T83)

Ah, would I were a German!
I'd trouble my translator
With nouns the size of Hamburg
And leave the verb till later.

And if I were a Welshman
My work would thwart translation
With ninety novel plurals
In strict alliteration.

And would I were Chinese!
I'd throw them off their course
With twelve unusual symbols
All homophones of “horse”.

But as it is, I'm English:
And I'm the one in hell
By writing in a language
Impossible to spell.

A picture

 
http://thomasthurman.org/pics/heaven-lies

Something from someone else

This is about as subtle as a brick, but Kipling knew his trade, and it still holds the beauty and jingle of a nursery rhyme. As with all the poems in Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies, it's attached to a story about Dan and Una in the original book; this story for this one is also called "Cold Iron", but unlike the poem, it concerns the iron taboo.
 
COLD IRON
by Rudyard Kipling

"Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid!
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade."
"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
"But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all!"

So he made rebellion 'gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
"Nay!" said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
"But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!"

Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid 'em all along!
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron — Cold Iron — was master of it all!

Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a lord!)
"What if I release thee now, and give thee back thy sword?"
"Nay!" said the Baron, "mock not at my fall,
For Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all."

"Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown —
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.
As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!"

Yet his King made answer (few such kings there be!)
"Here is Bread and here is Wine — sit and sup with me.
Eat and drink in Mary's name, the whiles I do recall
How Iron — Cold Iron — can be master of men all!"

He took the Wine and blessed It; He blessed and brake the Bread
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
"Look! These Hands they pierced with nails outside My city wall
Show Iron — Cold Iron — to be master of men all!

"Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong,
Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
I forgive thy treason — I redeem thy fall —
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!"

"Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!
Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold."
"Nay!" said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
"But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of man all!
Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!"

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. Love and peace to you all.

limericks

Jul. 17th, 2014 07:34 pm
marnanel: (Default)
Only yesterday I mentioned to Alice that I spent my first day in my school's Special Educational Needs Unit helping the teachers write limericks. In one of those weird synchronicity things, I found the limericks today in the back of a book of poetry, in Mrs Price's handwriting. Internal evidence dates it to 1987. I apologise to my siblings in general:

There was a young fellow called Thomas
Who always showed plenty of promise
At science he scored
At PE was bored
That flourishing artist called Thomas

There was a young fellow named Mark
Who went out for a bit of a lark
He jumped in the lake
While eating some cake
And got himself banned from the park

There was a young lady named Mandy (Amanda)
Whose favourite food was candy.
So into the shop
With a skip and a hop
She grabbed every sweet that was handy

There was a young fellow named Andrew
Who's now reached the great age of two.
He has two teddy bears.
They both live upstairs.
The real ones all live in the zoo.
marnanel: (Default)
Sometimes I hear people saying that they believe morality to be designed by God, and so they can't understand how atheists and agnostics can have an understanding of morality. This is not an argument I can easily get my head around. I mean, if we talk about languages for a moment, there's still no consensus on how humans as a whole started to speak. But it's still pretty obvious that individual humans learn language as they grow up from the people around them, that language exists by consensus, and that there are certain necessary features for language to be language. I don't see Esperantists going around telling everyone that they can't understand how we can speak English if we don't know who started Proto-Indo-European.

ETA:  Then again, if the Esperantists did do that, I probably wouldn't understand too well anyway.

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 13
14th July 2014: faster than fairies
What I’ve been up to

Still mostly tidying the house, preparing to move up to Salford. If all goes well, we'll be moving in a week today. Things haven't shown as much sign of going well as I'd like, though: a number of mishaps, ranging from the serious (someone driving into the back of our car) to the ridiculous (trying to pick up a beanbag when the fabric dissolved in my hands, and the floor filled with a million polystyrene beads) have made me wonder whether I'm actually a character in a sitcom.

I mentioned this to my brother Andrew, who said, "And have you noticed that when you sit down to dinner, people only sit on three sides of the table?" And he's right! I'm just hoping I won't close my eyes and see those ominous words...

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/you-have-been-watching

"You have been watching..."

I was very glad to hear that the Church of England will now be consecrating women bishops, and not only because it caused me to imagine The Bishop of Dibley. (You see, I can't get away from sitcoms.) And I doodled a twelve-second film about a hungry skyscraper, though I'm not really sure why. I think I just needed the distraction.

Other than that, I've been setting up a Twitter account for Gentle Readers: @gentlereaders. Do follow it if you're on Twitter-- and, as ever, tell your friends.

A poem of mine

STATIONS OF THE CROSS

I watched from Farringdon as Satan fell;
I've battled for my soul at Leicester Square;
I've laid a ghost with Oystercard and bell;
I've tracked the wolf of Wembley to his lair;
I've drawn Heathrow's enchantment in rotation;
at Bank I played the devil for his fare;
I laugh at lesser modes of transportation.
I change at Aldgate East because it's there.

The Waterloo and City cast its spell;
I watched it slip away, and could not care,
the Northern Line descending into hell
until King's Cross was more than I could bear;
he left me there in fear for my salvation,
a Mansion House in heaven to prepare:
so why return to any lesser station?
I change at Aldgate East because it's there.

Three days beneath the earth in stench and smell
I lay, and let the enemy beware:
I learned the truth of tales the children tell:
an Angel plucked me homeward by the hair,
to glory from the depths of condemnation,
to where I started long ago from where
I missed my stop through long procrastination.
I change at Aldgate East because it's there.

Prince of the buskers, sing your new creation:
the change you ask is more than I can spare;
a change of spirit, soul, imagination.
I change at Aldgate East because it's there.

A picture

 
http://thomasthurman.org/pics/mind-the-gap
"Mind. The gap."
Something wonderful

Harry Beck (1902-1974) worked for London Transport as an electrical engineer. His great idea was born, as all great ideas are, by looking at something familiar and seeing it anew in terms of something quite different.

One day in 1931, he sketched the tube map as if it were an electrical circuit diagram: the map he drew showed the order of stations, and the connections between them, but not their geographical positions, nor the length of the lines between them, nor the physical routes they took. Nowadays, we would call this a topological map, but although topology had been well-studied by mathematicians back then, this sort of practical use was new and nameless.

Unsurprisingly, Beck's bosses were sceptical. After all, it was an untested skunkworks project by someone without expertise in mapmaking. Nevertheless, he persuaded them to give the design a try. It proved so popular that it has been used in London ever since, as well as copied by countless other railway networks around the world.

In this way, Beck made daily life slightly easier for millions of commuters over nearly a century. Most of them have never heard his name.

Something from someone else
 
FROM A RAILWAY CARRIAGE
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!
 
This is an old favourite. Like the best poetry, it evokes memories in everyone, similar but each different; like the best poetry, the sound of it is half the joy. Don't just sit there: read it aloud!

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. Love and peace to you all.

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You can send anything at all
With Alice's Protocol.
You can send anything at all
With Alice's Protocol.
Send your files from A to B
Just email her and ask for her public key
You can send anything at all
With Alice's Protocol.

Well, it all began when Alice tried to send a private message, a message that was private, to Bob. I don't know what Alice wanted to say to Bob, maybe she was just askin' him to take out the trash, but she knew it was private, so she encrypted the message with an encryption. Now Bob has this friend called Eve who's always hangin' around trying to eavesdrop on his conversations, I mean, she isn't droppin' from the eaves like a bat, she's listenin' at doors and windows and keyholes. So this time, instead of listenin' at doors and windows and keyholes, she intercepts the message, the message sent by Alice-- remember Alice?
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
10th July 2014: rules of co-operation
What I’ve been up to

I've been filling boxes with things— mostly books— ready to move up to Salford. We still don't know for sure that we have the house, but our time here in Surrey comes to an end in less than a fortnight. The Cat Yantantessera, who hates travelling, was happy to stay in the north with Kit's parents.

On Wednesday I paid my first visit to Nantwich, which is a pleasant town in Cheshire (rather than a tic affecting grandmothers). Most of the town burnt down in 1583, and Elizabeth I sent £1,000 to rebuild the town. The result is that most of the streets are filled with those black-and-white buildings for which the Tudors are renowned.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/nantwich
Nantwich. Photo by Jonathan White, public domain


I've also added another Saki story to my website: The Stalled Ox. As before, the story is both written down and read aloud. If you'd like a bedtime story, take a look! This time I've added some cartoons; I think I'll go back and do similarly for the other stories as well. What would you like next? I'm thinking of Sredni Vashtar.

And a friend of mine complains that in this weather the mosquitoes treat her as a hors d'oeuvres trolley. I can only suggest that she should shelter under a canapé.

A poem of mine

PUPPY DREAMS

My puppy always starts to growl as soon as he's asleep:
"I've caught a hundred waterfowl and killed a thousand sheep;
I felled and ate a buffalo, then swam across the sea,
And when I found where squirrels go, I chased them up the tree!"
And though his dreams are not the truth, who'll wake him up? Not I!
I've firmly held it since my youth that sleeping dogs should lie.


A picture
 
http://thomasthurman.org/pics/arse-sir-robert
Queen Victoria: "For your invention of the typewriter: arse, Sir Robert."
Sir Robert: "('Arise', your Majesty.)"
Queen Victoria: "Well, it looks like arse here."
 
Something wonderful

Sometimes you read an idea which changes the way you view the world. For me, one such experience was reading about the work of Paul Grice (1913-1988). Grice studied what people try to achieve when they're having a conversation, and he reduced it to a set of rules of co-operation: rules that the person who's speaking generally tries to follow, and the people listening expect to hear followed. The four rules have become known as the Gricean maxims, and they are:

Quality: Speak the truth, as far as you know it.

Quantity: Include as much detail as required, but not more. For example, Alice asks, "Do you have any children?", and Bob replies, "I have two sons." Alice assumes from this that Bob has two children, both boys, because if Bob had daughters he would have mentioned them.

Relation: Be relevant. For example, Alice says, "Business has been slow today", and Bob replies, "It's raining." Bob doesn't have to add "...and people often don't go out when it's raining, so they won't get to visit this shop", because Alice assumes that what Bob says is relevant to the conversation.

Manner: Speak in the way people expect. This covers quite a few things: for example, we assume that people aren't being deliberately ambiguous.

The maxims become particularly interesting when you consider how they can break down. For example, equivocation— that is, saying carefully-chosen truths in order to deceive people— involves breaking the maxim of relation. And sometimes people assume the maxims are not being followed— for example, people under hostile cross-examination often have no reason to wish to cooperate, and so answer the question asked rather than the question intended.

Something from someone else
 
 
LOVE, DRINK, AND DEBT
by Alexander Brome

I have been in love, and in debt, and in drink,
This many and many a year;
And those three are plagues enough, one would think,
For one poor mortal to bear.
'Twas drink made me fall in love,
And love made me run into debt,
And though I have struggled and struggled and strove,
I cannot get out of them yet.
There's nothing but money can cure me,
And rid me of all my pain;
'Twill pay all my debts, and remove all my lets,
And my mistress, that cannot endure me,
Will love me and love me again—
Then I'll fall to loving and drinking amain.

Love, drink, and debt are such evergreen concerns that this poem could have been written in Victorian times, or in the twentieth century, or yesterday! Only the rhyme of "love" with "strove" gives us the hint that it was written in the seventeenth century.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. Love and peace to you all.

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
7th July 2014:
What I’ve been up to

We may have found a house. Or rather, we have found a house, but whether we get to live there is down to the whims of the credit check fairy. Nevertheless, we live in hope. I suspect the next fortnight at least will involve a lot of motorway travel and helping the movers, but at least it means I get to put the beautiful word "pantechnicon" to more use.

Gentle reader Timothy Hunt suggests that Yantantessera the cat gains her powers of disappearing by passing through the fourth dimension, in the manner of A Wrinkle in Time, and that her name is short for Yan Tan Tesseract. I have no reason to suspect this to be false. I also note that "tesseract" is an anagram of "reset cat", which surely can't be coincidence.

I have been making a page of stories on my website; each story is both read aloud and written down. At present there are two there, both by Saki; I'll add some of my own, and other people's, later. The next to be added will be Saki's The Stalled Ox, at the request of gentle reader Louise Etheridge; other suggestions of stories unencumbered by copyright are welcome.

If you didn't hear Kathryn Rose's choral setting of my poem I walked in darkness earlier, do listen to it now. It's very beautiful.

A poem of mine

Pittsburgh is a rather hilly town. I wrote this one while standing in a small park halfway up a steep hill overlooking the city centre, as night began to fall. You can hear me reading it if you like.

(T18) PITTSBURGH
 
 
This moment, I am God upon this town.
I compass every window spread below:
each pinprick point in total looking down
a pattern only overseers know.
I feel the human flow and ebb each minute
perceiving both with every passing breath;
each lighted room has home and hoping in it,
each darkening a sleeping, or a death.
And nothing, nothing makes it wait to darken;
had I the power it should be shining still.
Some other one you have to hope will hearken,
some other on some yet more lofty hill—
whom priests and people plead to, not to be
as powerless to hold these lights as me.

A picture
 
http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/thermals.jpg
Human: "What are you doing in my underwear drawer?"
Raptor: "Looking for thermals."
Something wonderful

The ambition of Edmund Clerihew Bentley was to get a first at Oxford. When he didn't manage to do so, he devoted his energies instead to an attempt to get his middle name into the dictionary. He invented a verse form named the "clerihew", and published a collection of them,Biography for Beginners, which was enough of a success that he achieved his lexicographical aim. That book helpfully begins
 
 
The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.
 
The clerihew has four lines, rhymed aabb; it generally begins with the name of its subject, and it is in roughly conversational metre. Another of Bentley's examples which shows their usual surreality:

I do not extenuate Bunyan's
Intemperate use of onions,
But if I knew a wicked ogress
I would lend her "The Pilgrim's Progress."

Since then, many others have been written: here are some to be going on with. Feel free to send in your own compositions. And let me know: if you decided to get your name into the dictionary, what would you invent?

Something from someone else
 
 
UP-HILL
by Christina Rossetti

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
— Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
— From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
— A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
— You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
— Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
— They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
— Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
— Yea, beds for all who come.
 
In Chesterton's phrase, the decent inn of death.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. Love and peace to you all.

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