Recent blog entries for marnanel

Zophobas morio

We got some crickets in the post today, so I put them into a tank we use for feed insects, and there were some Zophobas morio worms in there still. Z. morio is a long wriggly worm when it's a larva, and this is the form in which it's used as spider food. I was surprised, because we haven't had new Z. morio in for months, and I'd assumed that if there were any leftovers they'd be dead by now. But then I noticed the large number of small brown-black beetles in the tank and realised that the worms were (at least) second generation. I don't think I'd ever realised what they looked like when they grew up before: they're small, about a centimetre across, around the size of a new halfpenny.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/315227.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-10-22 21:11:06 from Monument

and now, a word from 13-year-old me

A few years back, sorting through some of my old papers, I found this poem. It's dated 11th December 1988, when I was nearly fourteen.

FRIENDS

They will stand beside you
When all things are good.
And in the times when things are bad
Beside you they have stood.
They always tell the truth to you
As every good friend must
And they are reliable:
Friends you always trust.
They never will say nasty things
About the clothes you wear
They'll stand up for you against others
When you're not there.
You can always trust your friends
To hold your place in queues.
They'll always tell you "You played well",
Even if you lose.
Always keeping by your side:
Friendship never ends.
Yet, after all, we're only human:
Who has friends?

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/315117.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-10-19 02:00:23 from Monument

Why, why, why, Eliza?

Tell me some more about when you saw light on my window.
Earlier on you were lost like a slave I can't free.
I understand you.
Is it because I deceived you that you came to me?
My, my, my, Eliza!
Why, why, why, Eliza?
I can see you're just a conditional tree
But you remind me we came here to talk about me.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/314265.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-10-16 23:54:00 from Monument

today's bit of sexist nonsense

Here's a conversation on Twitter between me and a man I don’t know in China. (FWIW I have a rather androgynous-looking user picture.)

He said, “Is it true that less than half of UK MPs voted for the resolution to recognise Palestine?”
I said, “Yes. But that’s irrelevant to the validity of the vote.”
He said, “Oh, I think it’s the most relevant thing in the world, sweetheart.”
I said, “I can only tell you what the standing orders of the House say. And I don’t appreciate being called ‘sweetheart’.”
He said, “sorry but when I hear a little dumb-dumb girl talking silly things I think of my 8 year old girls.”



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Syndicated 2014-10-14 01:47:33 from Monument

multipart

Today I received an email from someone who said they'd attached a file I needed, but I couldn't see the attachment. After some digging, I found that the message was structured like this:

multipart/alternative: (i.e. "these are alternative versions of the same thing")
-- text/plain (a version of the message in plain text)
-- multipart/related: (i.e. "these parts belong together")
-- -- text/html (a version of the message in HTML)
-- -- the attachment

So if your email program shows HTML for preference, you would see the attachment, but if it shows plain text for preference (as mine does), you wouldn't. Of course it *should* have been structured like this:

multipart/related: (i.e. "these parts belong together")
-- multipart/alternative: (i.e. "these are alternative versions of the same thing")
-- -- text/plain (a version of the message in plain text)
-- -- text/html (a version of the message in HTML)
-- the attachment

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/313678.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-10-04 21:39:27 (Updated 2014-10-04 22:02:50) from Monument

Gentle Readers: inheritance powder

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 3
22nd September 2014: inheritance powder

What I’ve been up to

Firstly, a very happy birthday to my (no longer little!) brother Andrew, who is rather younger than eleventy-one today.

As for me: I'm still ill, still working on getting better. Here's a story: a few months ago I was hit by a car when crossing the road. I escaped with only a sprained ankle and bruised ribs, but I was so anxious to get over it that I ignored much of the advice about keeping my ankle iced and raised. Instead, I took painkillers and went on with my everyday life. This certainly had its problems in the short term-- I attempted to carry a powered wheelchair through a doorway, put weight on my bad leg, and ended up dislocating my shoulder-- but I suspect it made the sprain slower to heal as well. And now I'm thinking about this as a metaphor for healing in general. What are the equivalents of ice and elevation, for example, in living with chronic depression?

A poem of mine

REQUIEM FOR AN OAK

I thought I saw an execution there.
The fascinated public gathered round.
The cheerful hangmen stripped the victim bare
And built their gibbet high above the ground.
The rope was taut, my wildness filled with fear.
I saw him fall. I heard his final cry.
Yet when the hangmen left I ventured near
To find my fault: I'd never seen him die.
In fact, I think he'd died some years ago.
There's blackness of decay in every breath.
The sound of flies was all that's left to grow,
Now free to come and feast upon his death;
Prince of the trees, I have a simple plea:
I will not die till death has come to me.

A picture


http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/sheep-worryingDog, to sheep: "I saw the farmer making mint sauce."
Caption: My dog has been sheep-worrying.

Something wonderful

In 1800, there lived in Berlin a young woman named Sophie Ursinus. She was married to a senior politician, who was much older, and (possibly at his suggestion) she had a boyfriend, who was an officer in the Dutch army. Between 1800 and 1801, both her husband and her boyfriend died suddenly; so did her elderly aunt, leaving her a good deal of money. No questions were asked. But in 1803, shortly after Mrs Ursinus argued with her servant, he became ill, and became suspicious; he took the plums she had given him to a friendly chemist, who confirmed that they appeared to have been laced with arsenic. The law was called in.

But there was then no reliable test for arsenic, and the pathologists could not confirm beyond a reasonable doubt that the exhumed body of her husband contained the poison, any more than it could have been detected at his post-mortem. Fortunately they were more sure when they examined the body of her aunt, and so Mrs Ursinus was sent to prison for thirty years.

Arsenic was nearly the perfect poison: readily obtainable if you claim you're trying to kill rats, easily administered by mixing into your victim's drink, causing symptoms plausibly similar to those of various then-common illnesses such as cholera, and-- should you be found out in the end-- almost undetectable in the body by any reliable test. So many people used it to remove rich and elderly relatives who had survived inconveniently long that it became euphemistically known as "inheritance powder".

In 1832 a man named John Bodle was accused of murdering his grandfather by putting arsenic in his coffee, and the prosecution called a chemist named James Marsh as an expert witness. Marsh discovered arsenic in the body, using the test developed by the homeopath (!) Samuel Hahnemann, which was the best available method at the time. But a positive result with Hahnemann's test deteriorates so fast that by the time of the trial the jury were not convinced, and Bodle was acquitted; he confessed his guilt as soon as he was protected by double jeopardy. Marsh was stung, and set out to discover a reliable test for arsenic.

He found one, and published it in 1838: it has become known as the Marsh test. It builds upon the previous work of Carl Scheele, who had shown in 1775 that arsine gas (AsH3) would result from treating arsenic with zinc and nitric acid. Marsh's breakthrough was to set fire to the arsine gas in the presence of charcoal, producing arsenic and water vapour, and staining the vessel with a silvery-black colour that came to be known as "arsenic mirror". (I apologise to my chemist readers if I have misunderstood any of this, and invite corrections.) Marsh's idea had its first successful outing in 1840, in the trial of a French poisoner named Marie Lafarge; so widely was this success reported in the news that poisoning one's relatives with arsenic became passé almost overnight.
 

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/marsh-test
Marsh and his test

One interesting footnote: modern detective fiction began in 1841, with Edgar Allen Poe's story The Murders in the Rue Morgue. I doubt there's any direct connection, but the timing amuses me: detective fiction would be far less interesting with the easy availability of undetectable poisons!

Something from someone else

LUCIFER IN STARLIGHT
by George Meredith (1828-1909)

On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
above the rolling ball, in cloud part screened,
where sinners hugged their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
now his huge bulk o'er Afric's sands careened,
now the black planet shadowed Arctic snows.
     Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
     with memory of the old revolt from awe,
     he reached a middle height, and at the stars,
     which are the brain of heaven, he look'd, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
the army of unalterable law.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://gentlereaders.uk/ , 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.
 
 

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/313263.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-09-23 02:25:33 from Monument

The Aubergine Song

Probably the most risqué song I've ever sung on stage. Now with dynamic text: tell your friends!



This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/312961.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-09-20 21:22:23 from Monument

#indyref

I hope Scotland votes Yes today. But remember: William Wallace sold you a lie. Scotland can be just as unfree under Holyrood as it is under Westminster. Freedom isn't increased merely by changing masters, whether those masters live in London or Edinburgh. Good luck, but be wary.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/312708.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-09-18 13:17:17 from Monument

The handle to raise and lower Kent

(first draft of song)

Oh, I was down in Maidstone,
I called at County Hall,
And in the council chamber there's
A handle on the wall.
They said, "Don't touch that lever!"
I asked them what they meant.
They told me, that's the handle
To raise and lower Kent.

Up, up if we pull!
Down, down if we press!
Our goals are Kent's
Controlled ascents
From here to near Sheerness.

We made the airfields higher
To help the Spitfires land.
And when the Normans landed,
We took away the sand.
We built the Channel Tunnel
By using this control,
And if we like, the Medway
Can vanish down a hole.

We've kept this secret weapon
Of ancient Kentish kings,
Who kept Invicta guarded
By mounting it on springs.
When tourists get too rowdy
Then given half a chance
We'll shake the earth beneath them
And bounce them into France.



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Syndicated 2014-09-14 19:45:44 from Monument

Gentle Readers: phrase and foible

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 2
11th September 2014: phrase and foible
What I’ve been up to

I've been ill. It was rather worse than it should have been, because I hadn't registered with a new doctor up here yet, and then quite a lot of paper had to fly around giving various people permission to do various things. So I haven't been in a fit state to write this for a week or so, which is frustrating because I had a lot of interesting articles planned. I may start adding in some extra days in order to make up the time.

A poem of mine

FUNERAL
 
I don't intend to die, for I have much to finish first.
But if you plan my funeral, if worst should come to worst,
I want some decent hymns, some "Love Divine"s, and "Guide me, O"s.
Say masses for my soul (for I shall need them, heaven knows),
And ring a muffled quarter-peal, and preach a sermon next
(“Behold, that dreamer cometh” should be given as the text),
Then draw a splendid hatchment up, proclaiming my decease.
And cast me where the lamp-post towers over Parker's Piece
That I may lie for evermore and watch the Cambridge skies...
I'll see you in the Eagle then, and stand you beer and pies.

A picture

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/in-bed-with-gregor
"...and not only did he run off in the middle of the night,
he even left a creepy-crawly in the bed for me to find in the morning.
I tell you, that's the last time I go home with Gregor Samsa."

Something wonderful

Sometimes, when I read about people from the past, I wonder what it was like to have a conversation with them. Can you imagine going out to get fish and chips with Carl Linnaeus, for example? You'd be chatting about something, and all of a sudden you'd hear him gasp "Oh, Veronica," so you'd look round and he'd be on his hands and knees saying, "My goodness, a hitherto undiscovered variety of speedwell!" And of course it's rather easier to imagine what Johnson was like to meet socially, since that's how so many of his biographers observed him.

Another such person is a Baptist minister named Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (1810-1897), the owner of an inquisitive mind, a formidable beard, and one of the strongest things in the world: a good habit. As he read, and he read a great deal, he would write down every question that crossed his mind. When he found the answer, he would write it on the same piece of paper, then file it. You may imagine that paper files formed a large part of his life, and also a large part of his house.

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/e-cobham-brewer


In his mid-twenties, he collected many of these questions together into a popular science manual entitled A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar. This sold so well that it enabled him to leave Norwich and travel around Europe, investigating and learning. Because the book also brought him into the public eye, he began to receive a great deal of correspondence about questions the book had raised, which nourished his files still further.

He returned to England at the age of forty-six, to begin his greatest work: Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Many of the questions he had considered were about mysterious allusions in his reading; what did this phrase mean? or what story was referred to there? He determined to answer as many as possible, in alphabetical order. The job took fourteen years. Even though he was sixty by the time the book was published, he went on to produce a revised edition in 1891 at the age of seventy-four.

It's still in print, and I urge you to find a copy if you can-- it's easily found second-hand. Discovering Brewer enriched my childhood; I would wander through his pages and learn things fascinating enough that it didn't matter how useless the knowledge might be. It often came in useful, though, years later. And Brewer's own touch is on every line: you really can imagine that it would have been much the same to have a chat with him, darting from subject to subject with the dazzling randomness of a dragonfly.

Something from someone else

"Monsieur" here is Francis, duke of Anjou (1555-1584), who had been courting Elizabeth I. They were both interested, but politics is rarely an easy game, and in the end he gave up and went back to France.

ON MONSIEUR'S DEPARTURE
by Elizabeth Tudor

I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly to prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned.
Since from myself another self I turned.

My care is like my shadow in the sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be suppressed.

Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die, and so forget what love ere meant.

As someone who knew her once said, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
 
Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://gentlereaders.uk/ , 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.
 
 

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/312079.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-09-13 01:37:35 from Monument

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