My walk was the walk of a human child, but my heart was a tree.

"Whenever you see an oak-tree felled, swear now you will plant two."

8/24/14 06:29 pm - 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.
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8/24/14 01:54 pm - 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.

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8/22/14 12:19 am - 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.

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8/18/14 09:11 pm - 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.

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8/11/14 06:54 pm - "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.]

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8/8/14 12:02 am - 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.

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8/5/14 06:29 pm - Salford Royal is not a cheese shop

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

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8/5/14 02:13 am - Who better to quote for the centennial?

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.

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8/1/14 03:59 pm - date format

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?

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8/1/14 01:15 pm - Gentle Readers: blissful quires

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.

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