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I was sleeping in, but the doorbell woke me up. Two bright-eyed enthusiastic girls in their late teens were standing outside. One of them did all the talking.

She: Hello! I'm ___ and my friend here is called ___. We're doing a survey. Would you like to take part?
Me: (blearily) Go on.
She: Do you think morality is declining in our society?
Me: No.
(her friend writes it down)
She: Can you explain why?
Me: I don't have any reason to believe that previous ages behaved any more morally than we do. And if morality does seem to be declining, it may be because of increased visibility and better reporting.
(her friend is scribbling frantically)
She: Right. And what do you think could improve the morality of society?
Me (thinking slowly, still half-asleep): Well... there are many reasons for unethical behaviour, but it seems to me that much of it is due to lack of ability to choose otherwise. If your family's hungry, you're more likely to steal to feed them. And even when things improve, this turns into a habit of behaviour. So we need to reduce social inequality.
She: More freedom for people?
Me: Yeah-- freedom means you have more choices.
She: Thanks. And finally, do you think religion has a part to play in increasing morality in society?
Me (suspicions confirmed): Yes, because in order to play a part in society you have to be aware of your context within it... the big picture, and religion is often a good way to learn to think on that scale. Of course you can get that in other ways, as well-- it's not restricted to people of faith.
She: Thank you. Er, did we wake you up?
Me: Yes, but it's okay. It's not often people get me out of bed to discuss ethical philosophy.
She: This has been very philosophical. Here's a card with some more questions-- we'll be back next week to talk about what you think about those. Is the house next door number ___?

Good luck to them. If they're going house-to-house in Salford asking questions about ethics, I hope to God they stay safe.
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Three people I met today:

1) His granddaughter was a chorister at the cathedral, and she has to work very hard at Chetham's both on her schoolwork and on practicing. He'd done his national service in the army as a young man. It was a terrible two years, being ordered around by people who weren't fit to lick your boots. But he was glad of it, because he'd learned to play the system, and this knowledge comes in useful anywhere. If you were "a follower" you'd probably have got far more bored than he did. The other good thing about it was that having to learn discipline meant you got self-discipline thrown in, and that had been really useful for organising himself after he was demobbed.

2) She was in charge of all the cathedral volunteers: there were about seventy of them of all faiths and none. She herself was a Roman Catholic, which she said made very little difference in an Anglican cathedral. When she was a young girl living in Ireland, her grandfather was asked to send the kids to the local Church of Ireland school by the headmaster. The school's intake was too low to be sustainable that year otherwise. Her grandfather agreed. Soon he saw the RC priest walking down his front path to talk to him. He wouldn't go out, but he told someone to tell the priest that he was doing what was best for the community.

3) He was in the Arndale Centre, begging via psych manipulation techniques. If I hadn't been trying to get to the loo, I'd have had more fun with this.

He, walking up: "So, do YOU speak English?"
Me: "Yeeeessss...?"
He: "Ah, I like the way you say yeeesss. My name's Daniel. What's yours?" (puts out hand; I shake it automatically; he now has eye contact. He smiles warmly. I grow increasingly suspicious.)
Me: "I'm Thomas."
He: "Well, Thomas, I was..."
Me: "Look, what's this about?"
He: "I was just wondering whether you could spare me some money for a coffee."

I gave him £1 (which was more than I could really afford) for a good try, and for teaching me a beautiful opening line. "So, do YOU speak English?" breaks the ice, and indicates he's been trying to talk to a bunch of people so he's frustrated and you'll want to help him, and makes you want to do better than all the people so far. [Edit: It also has an unpleasant racist dogwhistle side that I'd missed entirely-- thanks to Abigail for pointing it out.]

Lost

Mar. 26th, 2013 09:40 pm
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Odd thing this afternoon: I was tidying up when I suddenly remembered I had to ask the doctor for more medication before the Easter break. So I walked off towards the surgery.

On the way I passed a woman walking around anxiously beside an expensive car with British numberplates that was parked beside the road. There was a toddler in a car-seat inside, but no other adults around, which makes it all the odder that the car carried L-plates.

The woman asked me in broken English if I could tell her the postcode where we were, so I wrote it down for her. She repeated it into her phone in a Romance language I don't know (this combined with her eastern European accent makes me think she was Romanian). Then she asked how she could find some petrol, but she didn't know the word and in the end resorted to pointing at the petrol cap. I drew her a map. She said, "I am here with my baby. I am lost." I said, "I was getting that." She asked me the way to the M11, which I had no clue about, but I drew her a map of the way to the M25. I said, "Can I help you with anything else? Can I leave my phone number with you?" She said, "No, no," and pointed at her phone, "my husband".

On my way back, I passed the car again, but the woman and child were gone. I took one of my business cards and wrote "We spoke earlier. If you need anything, call." and put it on the window. I haven't heard from her, though.
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Yesterday I went to mass first thing. Our priest had just come back from seeing his new granddaughter and was full of the news; it was very happy.

Then I went on to the dentist. They took X-rays of my teeth, but I kept gagging on the thing they put in your mouth, so they had to take a picture with the big X-ray machine. For that I had to take some of my piercings out, and some of them healed up in the time it took to put them back in again.

The dentist was very friendly and helpful. He says I have a broken wisdom tooth, and it'll have to come out. That will be next Tuesday, when the dental surgeon comes in. Until then, I have painkillers.

In the time I was waiting for the dentist, I mostly finished the last chapter but four of the current novel. I believe I might be able to get it done entirely today (Thursday) if I put my mind to it.

Later I went shopping for new trousers with Fin, since we're going to Tracy's wedding.

I cooked dinner (it was ravioli and meatballs) and while I cooked I talked to Kit on the phone: it was her birthday. So it was a pretty good day.

2010-02-20

Feb. 20th, 2011 04:41 pm
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A cat on a bed


Rio has been learning poems by Eleanor Farjeon and A. A. Milne, and reciting them to me. Impressively, when she makes mistakes they are starting not to affect meaning or metre. I am very proud of her.

The spring is beginning to arrive, and I'm feeling quite a lot better than I was. I'm reminded of the stories about how a hundred years ago kids would be sewn into their winter underwear in the autumn and cut out again in spring; leaving the winter behind feels like finally getting free of your winter underclothes must have felt. I was talking to Sumana earlier about my poem May and how I think of it this time of year, and how people seem to like its description of seasonal change, even though they perhaps often miss the extra meanings about Revelation 22.

My grandfather was buried on Friday. They put my sonnet into the order of service.

We found his medal collection: I thought you might like to see it.

I spent far too long yesterday hacking: something I love to do, and in a way it defines me, but if left to my own devices I would spend the whole day doing nothing else. That would be bad. Yesterday I started adapting the imgur integration to use the new API, and built part of a test harness I had been daydreaming about, and made a start on debianising some fonts I need, and played around with an idea I had for a LiveJournal/Dreamwidth to Atom adaptor which allows you to read friends-only posts in a desktop feed reader. (I call it ljferea. I may be the only person amused by this.) I also tried to explain things to someone who was creating a new programming language, and told the story of where Firinel's name comes from.

There's much more I'd like to write, but little time, and it's only a half-formed wish anyway.

2011-01-30

Jan. 30th, 2011 09:36 pm
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Today involved: church, editing proofs, coding, and cake. Ah yes, birthday cake. \o/

Cake

2011-01-29

Jan. 29th, 2011 10:53 pm
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I spent perhaps too much of today coding. I didn't really mean to spend quite that long on it, though it was a lot of fun. Will Thompson's help fixing DBus problems was invaluable. Version 0.50 of imgur integration will be coming to a Maemo repository near you soon:



Later, since it's my birthday tomorrow, we went out for a curry. It was pretty good, but rather mild. I was amused that the people at the next table to us were clearly English as well. Then we went to the bookshop, came home, and had some coffee. A pretty good day, all told.
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I woke up to snow.  In this part of the world it's the law that you have to shovel the pavement in front of your house, and our house is so shaped that we have rather a lot.  Fin had shovelled a bit of the way, but I said I'd take over.

The world is rather beautiful this early in the morning.  I put on my mittens and my waking-up music and got to work.  After a while, the man who sometimes appears at the door with the snow, asking for money to shovel it, appeared.  I don't know his name, but I think of him as Shovelling Matt.  I apologised for doing the work myself, and he said, "That's all right.  Do you know which streets might be good ones to shovel?"

After a few more plays of the music, Fin appeared with hot coffee for me.  Then I passed a neighbour I don't recognise, who looked a bit like John Linnell and was clearing the snow off his car.  He said, "You have quite a stretch.  Let me help you."  We started from opposite ends of the stretch, and worked towards one another until there was only one shovelful left.  He said, "Now this is your bit."

It was a good way to start the day.
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This morning, since I was up early, I thought I would visit a church within walking distance that I hadn't visited before. There are two services, one at eight and one at nine, and I went to the eight o'clock one, which was Rite I (i.e. 1970s liturgy in 1660s language). I was welcomed by an usher with a friendly handshake. There were about forty people present; it was a little more High Church than I was expecting (chasubles, ad orientem, intinction…), which is certainly no bad thing. The oldest memorials were in honour of members of the family of the founder of this town, which makes this place quite old for a building in these parts.

The text was the parable of the unjust steward, which usually makes for interesting sermons, but in this case turned into a discussion of the current state of the church's bank account (the implication that they have unorthodox methods of balancing the books is presumably unwarranted but amused me). They seem to be dealing with money difficulties by spending less, which I think is commendable. Somewhat to their apparent surprise, people have started giving more than they'd promised.

Unlike almost everyone else, my neighbour held her hands aloft at appropriate moments during the service, and nobody seemed to mind her doing her own thing, which made me glad. The Peace was also a happy moment: I think almost everyone shook everyone else's hand.

a swordAfter the service, I was about to leave when someone said, "There's cakes and coffee in the back, and you'll be very welcome." I thanked my informant and explored the building until I found "the back", where there were indeed some coffee (less than stellar; dear Lord, if You ever put me in charge of the coffee after a service, I will make actual ground coffee in a cafetière, and there will be rejoicing) and some extremely good chocolate cakes. Several people came up to talk to me. One recognised me from having met me in a different church in a different town. Another said, "I can see you've been an Episcopalian for a while." The priest, who was apparently fairly new in the role, talked to me for several minutes. He invited me to the Alpha course dinner that evening, where they were having a speaker from England; I thanked him but told him that I had a lot of editing work to finish today.

On the whole, it was a good visit, and I think I would like to go back.

On the way home, I found a sword.
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I thought I would walk to the Collabora party from the conference. It was four miles, a pleasant walk. On the way I had to stop to write a sonnet.

If anything should happen to The Hague,
if someday they abandon Amsterdam,
philosophers will take these strange and vague
descriptions, and derive each tree and tram
by mathematical necessity:
should nations shake their fists across the seas
with words of war, it follows there must be
a middle ground, a people loving peace.
And is this scrap alone a netherland?
Not so: we spend our nights beneath the sky,
and every country's low for us, who stand
a thousand miles below the lights on high;
if only I could learn to live as such,
and count myself as kindly as the Dutch.


I passed the Palace of Justice on the way, which is very beautiful. Collabora's party was as impressive as always, with barbecues and beer. This morning I managed to pull myself out of the resulting hangover enough to give part of a talk on xzibit. (It was really Guillaume's talk, but he was kind enough to give me a timeslice.) The talk went well except that the demo failed, due to my having tried to fix something and breaking it further. There will presumably be video of it all at some point.

Many thanks to Collabora for organising the party, but still more for sending me here (and to Cambridge).

I have written a nautilus plugin to post photos online. I might tidy it up a little and package it.

The MeeGo book is fast approaching publication. It feels like levelling up.
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You and I spend our lives beneath the heavens, beneath the stars; in some sense we all live in a nether land, and we are all inhabitants of the Low Countries. I therefore surmise that I have arrived at the centre of the planet.

In England, you will sometimes see a bee drawn into the glaze on a toilet bowl. This is a Latin pun: the word for bee is apis. In the toilets at Schiphol I saw such a symbol, and had to rush outside and find a Dutch person to verify that the same pun works in Dutch. (It does.)

Last week, I heard that the house of my great-grandmother, Nono, had changed hands and name. This is unfortunate: it's in the village of Turvey, and Nono had the good sense to name it Topsy. Her postal address was therefore Topsy, Turvey, Bedfordshire.. The new owners do not share her sense of humour.

On Monday, very little happened, except that I broke my laptop. I was certainly in the right place to do so, because four or five people congregated to help me bring it back online. One person from Canonical said, "You need a bootable USB key. Just shout and ask for one." When I demurred, he shouted, and one was lying on the desk in front of me within ten seconds.

We went to Chinatown for lunch, and ate dim sum. The afternoon was spent working on xzibit, with red wine substituted for coffee, and I made a rather homesick call to Fin and Rio. I'm pleased to report that you can now share menus in xzibit. I would like to give a lightning talk, but I think I've left it a bit late to register.

After work I walked back to the hotel with Danielle, stopping at a supermarket to buy licorice, bread, and some of that hard, sour cheese the Dutch are so fond of. Then I went back to my room and ate cheese sandwiches, and hacked until I fell asleep.
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They have a poster on the wall at Cambridge railway station which says: "Please be courteous to our staff".

The flight left at three-fifteen, which meant I could get a decent amount of sleep and still have a chance to go to LSM.  At LSM the bishop of Port Moresby told us about life in his diocese.  Afterwards I told the priest that I had been made very welcome at his church, and he gave a little happy jump and the thumbs-up gesture.  I also went to the market to try to find an England shirt for Alex, but I think the stall must have gone away, or perhaps doesn't open on Sundays.

We took a train to Stansted and a plane to Schiphol; I sat next to a very polite Dutch child who kept offering me chewing gum.  The flight takes only forty minutes.  The security guard at Stansted demanded to know what the white powder was all over my luggage.  We went out to eat at a cafe in the marketplace, but I left early and slept deeply.

I have had Stuart Davis's beautiful song Windmills and Wheatfields stuck in my head all the while. (I would quote it here, but people would probably complain.)
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This was a game of scratch cricket on Parker's Piece I watched from my hotel room window. The building in the foreground is Hobb's Pavilion.

Rupert Brooke wrote:

For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile.

Gentle reader, am I urban, squat, and packed with guile?  I suppose I must be.  One thing I have learned anew during the past week is that I am indeed Cambridge people, and will probably always be so.  I feel more at home here than anywhere on earth, even the town in which I grew up.  I am the starfish and this is the sea, and I need to come back more regularly for fear of drying up.

On Friday night I went home by train to my parents' house, where we ate pie and drank beer.  On Saturday morning we went again to see my grandfather.  He seemed somehow older, far more than four days older: his eyes were tired and his speech lacked hope.  He talked to me about family history, and poetry, and the war.  When the others had left he asked me whether I was, in fact, happily married.  There was none of the solemn joking and laughter which usually fills his thoughts; he seems to be preparing to leave.  I told him I would try to be back in the autumn.  "If I'm spared," he said.

Later we went with my grandmother to the Crown in Shillington, where she bought us a very good lunch, and we ate it sitting in the sunshine while we talked.  The ringers in the belltower next to the pub were ringing call changes for a wedding throughout the meal: if you had decided to arrange a perfect meal for me as a treat, you would not have gone far wrong with this one.  I do worry about my grandmother, and how she will cope when her husband is gone.  I'm not sure how I can help.

My mother had kindly washed my clothes when I came back to their house.  I packed them up and returned to Cambridge, and slept for a while, then walked to Churchill where Collabora were throwing a party, with much food and good beer.  I left early and came back to the hotel to get ready to fly to Amsterdam tomorrow.  It seems so strange to be leaving.
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This is a bridge at Sidney, my college. The blue porcupine is one of the supporters on the college's coat of arms; there is or was a drinking society called the Porcupines, but they were apparently banned when the members climbed up on the Master's roof while he was entertaining guests, and vomited down the windows. So the story goes, anyway.

Thursday was spent working on xzibit, and building unit tests. They were very much needed, but didn't directly contribute to getting the system into a demonstrable state. I need to put in some hours on that over the weekend, as well as on the book.

On Thursday night I went to church. It was the feast of St Mary Magdalene, and the sermon was about how Mary didn't recognise Jesus out of context until he said her name. As I was on my way out of the building, someone said, "Marnanel". It was Carys, from my LJ and Facebook friends lists, and I hadn't recognised her out of context.  The coincidence amused me greatly.

Afterwards, I walked to the Carlton to see some chiarkers, drink a good pint of mild, and eat fish and chips. It was a good evening.

Friday was spent on team-building exercises at the Møller Centre, at Churchill.  Afterwards I went home to see my parents and get ready for seeing my grandfather one more time on Saturday morning, which I shall write about in Saturday's post.

It's been a wonderful, productive, and memorable week.  I have many people to thank, including my parents, and Fin and Alex, but I particularly want to say thank you to Collabora for making it possible.
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Corpus Christi playroom
This building is rather near where I work. In the real world, which Cambridge occasionally approximates, I assume it means a theatre.  However, I sometimes imagine that behind that door is a ballpit and bouncy castle kept ready for the relaxation of the students of Corpus after a hard day at their books.

Yesterday, as we were walking back from lunch on Christ's Pieces, the bells at St Edward's started ringing.  It turned out to be a quarter peal of St Clements College Bob Major, which I enjoyed for the next three-quarters of an hour sitting at my desk.  (It was a successful attempt; the striking was a bit off.)  I'm a little regretful that this visit is not going to involve ringing; after work, I heard bells and went to investigate, but they stopped before I found the tower, and did not continue.

Interesting fact about St Edward's: it is, as far as I know, the only Anglican church in Cambridge not part of the diocese of Ely; it reports only to the Crown.  This is known as a "royal peculiar".  [Update: Apart from the college chapels; thanks for reminding me to clarify this, emperor]

Last night was the only night this week I hadn't planned to do anything in particular, and though it's been very good to see people, the break was welcome.  I had dinner at Wagamama's with the Collaborans, though, which included a pint of ginger beer and three scoops of ice-cream.

But I spent most of the evening hacking on work stuff, which might explain why I dreamed about X.  I realised that part of my system isn't working because I'd made the elementary mistake of confusing keycodes with keysyms, so I worked on rectifying that.  I also have some surprisingly dull work to do on the forthcoming book, which involves laboriously applying paragraph styles to several chapters.  Many pages of this still remain to be done sometime today, unfortunately.

I am hoping to give a lightning talk on my work on xzibit at GUADEC.  Today is the last full day I can work on the system (at least, on work time) before the conference, so I'd better use it well.  Tomorrow is a training day.

Tonight, I'm hoping to see some of you in the Carlton.
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This is the churchyard of Little St Mary's, so called because there's another church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, called Great St Mary's. There was a tabby cat standing beside this tombstone, but he ran away when I took my camera out. LSM is a very friendly high church which has mass every day, but I didn't drop in today because it's during work hours on Wednesdays.

Last night I went to see ghoti, Jon, Bene't and Judith (with Ian and Clare also making welcome appearances) at Relativity. It was so good to see them all again! We had some rather delicious stir-fry, and summer pudding, which isn't something I've had for a very long time. After dinner I played my first game of RoboRally, which Bene't won.

xzibit is progressing rather excitingly, and yesterday I played minesweeper (Simon's version) on an X display other than the one it was actually connected to. Next I have to learn a great deal more than I know already about MPX.

Tonight is the only night of the week when I'm not due to go and see someone. An old friend of mine has turned up living in one of the villages, and I might go out there to see them, but I might also just have a spare peaceful evening when I'm not going anywhere— especially because the second draft of one of my chapters is due tomorrow.
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The motto of the University is Hinc lucem et pocula sacra, "light and sacred drinks from here". Because of this, it soon became customary to represent Cantabrigia, the spirit of the University, as a profusely lactating woman, who is or was known locally as "Leaky Lizzie".  (I read this part in an old book and cannot find a citation.)

In case you think I am making this up, here is a photo of a statue of her which I took this morning.



Yesterday Marble and Psyche came over, and we had curry and talked, mostly about window managers. It was lovely to see them both. Today I am playing with VNC servers; it's appropriate that I've returned to Cambridge, where VNC was invented, to do so. Also, I spent this morning in a crypt.

Today

Jan. 29th, 2010 10:06 am
marnanel: (Default)
Wearing: Orange fleece, tshirt with Collabora logo (the company I work for), blue jeans, no shoes.
Reading: In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent, a slightly early birthday present from [profile] floatyfish.
Writing: Current fiction WIP is eight chapters in, about 11,000 words. I really want to see how it turns out. However, it's on one side because I'm supposed to be writing a tech book and I was up until 2am last night finishing a chapter.
Planning: Tomorrow I am 35, but apart from dinner out, I don't think much is planned. On Monday we get to see [profile] floatyfish, which is happy. Other than that I need to tidy the house and write more book. I might play with localising Mozilla as well.
marnanel: (Default)
Feeling much better today than yesterday.  Had a doctor's checkup in the morning, which went reasonably well.  Work is being particularly enjoyable.  Later we went to the gym.  And Alex made quesadillas, which are a great talent of his.  I read another chapter of The Neverending Story to Rio.

I have released a reworking of Lingua::EN::Alphabet::Shaw.  It's a great improvement.

I think I will not do the valentinr thing this year.  I probably already know the people who love me, and if after all you want to declare anything, you have my email address. :)

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