Recent blog entries for marnanel

Gentle Readers: like an apple tree

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 1
1st September 2014: like an apple tree
What I’ve been up to

I've been up to surprisingly little in the last few days. I'm trying to be peaceful and spend time reading and taking things in, instead of always being on the go and trying to make things, otherwise I'll wear myself out. That may be crashingly obvious, but I've managed to avoid noticing it for years.

A poem of mine

TRANSPLANTED (T120)

Let an apple tree be planted
close beside a ditch of mud,
let its roots be parched and aching,
ever waiting for the flood;
so its small and bitter apples
overhang the streambed dry,
cursed to live and never flourish,
painful grow, and painful die.

Yet, this tree shall be transplanted
to a meadow by a stream;
clouds shall shower down their mercies,
sunlight throw its kindest beam;
roots recall the feel of fullness,
by the river, in the rain,
branches shall be pruned and ready,
hope and apples grow again.

A picture

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/happy-birthday-eve
Adam: "Happy birthday, Eve!"
Eve: "It's today, not tomorrow."

Something wonderful

Mitochondria are tiny living things, rather like bacteria. They live inside the cells of almost all animals, plants, and fungi, where their job is to process glucose in order to provide a source of power for the rest of the cell. Without their help, we wouldn't be here.

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/mitochondria
Two cheerful little mitochondria from a lung cell. Each is about 0.00025 millimetres across.
Photo by Louisa Howard, public domain.

What fascinates me particularly about mitochondria is that they have their own DNA, which is not at all like human DNA and much more like the DNA of bacteria. They're essentially a different creature. And because you inherit all your mitochondria only from your mother, mitochondrial DNA is very useful in tracing your ancestry.

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/mito-inherit
So how did we come to have these creatures living inside our cells? The most commonly-accepted explanation is that two billion years ago, when complex cells were just starting out, the mitochondria discovered that the cells were a good place to live inside, with lots of glucose to feed on. It was just as useful for the cell, which needed the glucose processed. Symbiosis! The mitochondria hitched a lift, and they've been with us ever since. So even when you think you're alone, remember you're also a sort of walking mitochondrial city.

Something from someone else

A BIRTHDAY
by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

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/311201.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-09-01 23:16:53 from Monument

Gentle Readers: harmless phantoms

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 20
25th August 2014: harmless phantoms
What I’ve been up to

It's been three months! This is the last issue of volume 1, and next week volume 2 begins: it'll be more of the same, except that I'm adding reviews of some of the children's books I've loved in my life. I'll be collecting the twenty issues of volume 1 together in a printed book, which I'll be emailing you about when it's ready.

This week has been busy but uneventful, which I wish was a less common mixture, but it was good to drop into Manchester during the Pride festival. I apologise for this issue being late: I had it all prepared, and then there was a server problem, and then I found I'd lost one of the sections completely, so it had to be rewritten. Never mind: you have it now!

A poem of mine

ON FIRST LOOKING INTO AN A TO Z (T13)

My talent (or my curse) is getting lost:
my routes are recondite and esoteric.
Perverted turns on every road I crossed
have dogged my feet from Dover up to Berwick.
My move to London only served to show
what fearful feast of foolishness was mine:
I lost my way from Tower Hill to Bow,
and rode the wrong way round the Circle Line.
In nameless London lanes I wandered then
whose tales belied my tattered A to Z,
and even now, in memory again
I plod despairing, Barking in my head,
still losing track of who and where I am,
silent, upon a street in Dagenham.

(Notes: the title is a reference to Keats's sonnet On First Looking into Chapman's Homer. "A to Z" is a standard book of London streetmaps.)

 

A picture

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/on-sweet-bathroom
On-sweet bathroom

Something wonderful

In the poem above, I mentioned Berwick-upon-Tweed, or Berwick for short, which rhymes with Derek. Berwick is the most northerly town in England, two miles from the Scottish border. It stands at the mouth of the river Tweed, which divides Scotland from England in those parts, but Berwick is on the Scottish bank: for quite a bit of its history it was a very southerly town in Scotland instead. The town's football team still plays in the Scottish leagues instead of the English. Berwick has been in English hands since 1482, though given next month's referendum I'm not going to guess how long that will last.

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/berwick-map

As befits such a frontier town, it's impressively fortified, and the castle and ramparts are well worth seeing. But today I particularly wanted to tell you about the story of its war with Russia.
 

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/berwick-miller


Fans of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, and anyone who had to learn The Charge of the Light Brigade at school, will remember the Crimean War, a conflict which remained an infamous example of pointless waste of life until at least 1914. Now, because Berwick had changed hands between England and Scotland several times, it was once the rule that legal documents would mention both countries as "England, Scotland, and Berwick-upon-Tweed" to be on the safe side. And the story goes that when Britain declared war on Russia in 1853, it was in the name of England, Scotland, and Berwick-upon-Tweed, but the peace treaty in 1856 forgot to include Berwick, so this small town remained technically at war with Russia for over a century.

In fact, the tale is untrue: Berwick wasn't mentioned in the declaration of war, as far as I know, though I admit I haven't been able to trace a copy-- can any of you do any better? But such is the power of story that in 1966, with the Cold War becoming ever more tense, the town council decided that something had to be done about the problem. So the London correspondent of Pravda, one Oleg Orestov, travelled the 350 miles up to Berwick for peace talks, so that everyone could be sure that Berwick was not at war with the USSR. The mayor told Mr Orestov, "Please tell the Russian people through your newspaper that they can sleep peacefully in their beds."

Something from someone else

from HAUNTED HOUSES
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

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/310953.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-08-30 13:44:45 from Monument

Not the ice bucket challenge

I spent like two hours making this. I'm sure there was some good reason for that.



This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/310657.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-08-27 00:24:13 from Monument

ice and elevation

My ankle and side are still painful, but it's nowhere near as bad now as the first few days after the accident. But this puts a metaphor into my head. When I was told to rest and elevate my ankle, I didn't: I grabbed a crutch and went on with my ordinary life as best I could. It was foolish, but staying still for that long made me very anxious. In hindsight, I see I should have iced and elevated, at least for a few days.

And here I am also trying to get over PTSD/anxiety things, and it seems I have the same problem there as well. So, what's the mental health equivalent of ice and elevation?

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/310434.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-08-25 18:44:05 from Monument

gas/electric keys

(in answer to resonant 's question)

Some people in the UK get bills from their power company and pay in arrears. But people with bad credit, and tenants generally, aren't trusted to owe the power company money, so they have to pre-pay. In the old days the meter had a coin slot, and you'd put a shilling in and the power would come on for some number of hours. But the power company got fed up of sending people around to collect the money, so they came up with the key scheme. You have a physical object called the "key". When you want to prepay for something, you go to a newsagent's or similar, hand them some money and say e.g. "Please put £5 on this key". (The newsagent gets paid by the power company to do this; they don't take a cut of the amount directly.) Then you go back home and put the key in the meter, and the meter says "There is £5 on this key" and increases your prepayment balance by that amount.

For no reason I can discover, although our electricity and gas are supplied by the same company, the electricity key is a long folding strip of plastic containing an integrated circuit, but the gas key is an ISO/IEC 7810 card.

Prepaying for your gas and electricity in this way tends to be a lot more expensive than getting bills, but it's not easy to switch away from it.

Edit: Oh, this was behind the joke in "A Tall Story" :

Just as she’d finished knitting, the light in their room went out with a quiet click, and so did the lamp at the top of the tower. [...] "Don’t worry," said the lighthouse-keeper, though he looked a bit worried too. "It’s probably just that I need to put some more money in the meter. We’ll have it right as rain again in no time at all."

because it would be ridiculous to charge a lighthouse for electricity in this way.
This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/310025.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-08-24 17:30:26 (Updated 2014-08-24 17:34:30) from Monument

gas

One of the minor annoyances I haven't mentioned before is that the letting agent switched us to a new gas company, who sent us a new meter key with a letter saying "This is so you don't have to deal with bad debts from former tenants." So I was not much amused to discover that the new key already had a debt of £73 on it. We phoned them, and they cancelled the debt, but it'll take a week to go through (because their computers are actually powered by gnomes or something). Until then, we get 10p of gas for every pound we put on the meter, because 90p goes towards the debt, and 10p of gas is not quite enough to run a bath. This wouldn't be as much of a problem if we had more spare cash at present, and if the weather wasn't starting to get cold.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/309791.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-08-24 12:54:16 from Monument

22 Aug 2014 (updated 22 Aug 2014 at 15:06 UTC) »

Gentle Readers: to cut a cabbage leaf

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 19
21st August 2014: to cut a cabbage leaf
What I’ve been up to

I've been looking into PhD possibilities. But more of that later.

And we visited the John Rylands Library for the first time, a beautiful place in Victorian Gothic made as a memorial to a local industrialist. (The law students among you may know him as a party to Rylands v Fletcher.) It has an impressive collection of books and manuscripts, including the oldest known fragment of the New Testament, part of John's gospel copied only a few decades after the book was written.

As if that weren't enough, the building is quite breathtakingly beautiful. Here's part of the reading room:

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/rylands-1

The library also contains a dragon named Grumbold. Regular readers who remember Not Ordinarily Borrowable, a story of mine largely about dragons and libraries, may judge of my surprise to discover it coming true.

A poem of mine

STORYTELLING, PART II (T80)

When Merlin looked upon this land,
he knew by magic arts
the anger in the acts of men,
the hatred in their hearts:
he saw despair and deadly things,
and knew our hope must be
the magic when the kettle sings
to make a pot of tea.

When Galahad applied to sit
in splendour at the Table,
he swore an oath to fight for good
as far as he was able.
But Arthur put the kettle on,
and bade him sit and see
the goodness that is brought anon
by making pots of tea.

When Arthur someday shall return
in glory, with his knights,
he'll rout our foes and bless the poor
and put the land to rights.
And shall we drink his health in ale?
Not so! It seems to me
he'll meet us in the final tale
and share a pot of tea.

A picture

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/caught-the-sun

I was out fishing all day,
and I seem to have caught the sun

Something wonderful

Suppose I asked you to name the world's great heroes? (For example, as you may recall, some talk of Alexander.) Well, in the Middle Ages, a fair amount of thought went into the list. Who was an example of virtue and valour; whose chivalry was worth emulating?

One such list is known in English as the Nine Worthies. It was drawn up in the early 1300s, and remained a popular theme in art for centuries after. Here they are in 1460, looking for all the world like a medieval pack of Top Trumps:

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/nine-worthies

Even though some of these men had lived (or were supposed to have lived) millennia earlier, they are all drawn wearing armour of the time, and bearing their own coat of arms, as if they lived in that very moment. This is because they are deliberately idealised-- after all, as a careful perusal of the Old Testament will show, not all of them were in fact models of chivalry.

They are divided into three groups of three: three Jewish heroes, three Christian heroes, and three pagan heroes-- that is, pagan in the old sense of not following an Abrahamic religion.

The Jewish heroes are: Joshua the son of Nun, who led the invasion of Canaan; David the son of Jesse, who became king and wrote psalms; and Judas Maccabeus, who led the revolt against the Syrians now commemorated by Hanukkah. (Don't confuse Judas Maccabeus with Judas Iscariot.)

The pagan heroes are: Hector of Troy, a great warrior of the Trojan War; Julius Caesar, the first emperor of Rome; and Alexander the Great.

The Christian heroes are: Arthur, the hero of the Matter of Britain; Charles the Great, also called Charlemagne, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire; and Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the first crusader king of Jerusalem but disclaimed the title.

I am particularly interested by the heraldry. How did they make up new and unique coats of arms for people who had been dead for three thousand years? David has a harp because he composed psalms (and not because he was king of Ireland). Julius has an eagle rather like the one on the Roman standard; Charles has the same, appropriately for someone who was also trying to become Emperor of Rome, but combined with the lily pattern known as "France Ancient". Others of them are baffling to me: what is Joshua bearing, for example? I did find a reference to the arms they made up for Alexander in a book, but frustratingly I ran out of time to research this.

I am glad to report that there were also nine female Worthies to balance out the nine men. Unfortunately none of the writers seem to agree about which nine women they were.

Something from someone else

When a certain Charles Macklin claimed he could repeat any sentence he heard, no matter how complex, Samuel Foote allegedly composed this sentence impromptu:

THE GREAT PANJANDRUM
by Samuel Foote

So she went into the garden
to cut a cabbage-leaf
to make an apple-pie;
and at the same time
a great she-bear, coming down the street,
pops its head into the shop.
What! no soap?
So he died,
and she very imprudently married the Barber:
and there were present
the Picninnies,
and the Joblillies,
and the Garyulies,
and the great Panjandrum himself,
with the little round button at top;
and they all fell to playing the game of catch-as-catch-can,
till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots

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/309388.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-08-22 00:30:41 (Updated 2014-08-22 14:23:39) from Monument

18 Aug 2014 (updated 18 Aug 2014 at 22:06 UTC) »

file upload thing

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.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/309205.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-08-18 20:11:56 (Updated 2014-08-18 21:21:15) from Monument

11 Aug 2014 (updated 11 Aug 2014 at 19:08 UTC) »

"miracle in the alcohol aisle" etc

...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.]

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/308748.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-08-11 17:56:19 (Updated 2014-08-11 18:17:13) from Monument

8 Aug 2014 (updated 22 Aug 2014 at 00:06 UTC) »

Gentle Readers: fought and feared and felt

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.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/308692.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-08-07 23:28:42 (Updated 2014-08-21 23:23:50) from Monument

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