Recent blog entries for marnanel

enter price

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.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/306752.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-07-21 20:57:34 from Monument

kids' fascination with death

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."

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/306537.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-07-19 20:06:47 from Monument

ttto TheI'm a centaur, I'm a centaur, From Manchester way I drink lots of beer an Manchester Rambler

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.
This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/306328.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-07-18 23:03:37 from Monument

"duck tape"

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.
This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/306087.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-07-18 20:10:02 from Monument

airship

"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)

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/305778.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-07-18 10:48:42 (Updated 2014-07-18 10:50:28) from Monument

Gentle Readers: gold is for the mistress

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.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/305463.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-07-17 23:00:24 from Monument

limericks

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.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/305215.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-07-17 18:35:02 from Monument

God versus Zamenhof

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.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/305102.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-07-17 15:31:01 (Updated 2014-07-17 15:36:39) from Monument

Gentle Readers: faster than fairies

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.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/304160.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-07-14 23:56:48 from Monument

Alice's protocol

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?

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/303793.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2014-07-11 21:28:35 from Monument

1092 older entries...

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!