Monday, July 21st, 2014 09:56 pm
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.
Monday, July 21st, 2014 07:15 am
Need 'prosumer' Digital SLR camera recs (or warnings!) for photographing small animals, artistic photography, and video.   Previous camera was a Canon PowerShot S5 I1 that lasted me just over 6 yrs.  Cost to repair it is quoted ~$250-$300 which is around what it cost at the time :-(
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Sunday, July 20th, 2014 11:42 pm
Today was the broadcast of Monty Python's last performance together. It was by turns predictable and surprising. All of the most popular sketches were represented, but there were some new songs, some rewritten songs, and some celebrity guest appearances. Carol Cleveland was there and looked amazing, although it gave me whiplash to see her play the confused old woman being tortured by the Spanish Inquisition one moment, and then the beautiful young receptionist at the Argument Clinic the next.

I've followed Monty Python from my 1989 discovery of the Flying Circus and the feature films, through the subsequent incessant repackaging and remarketing of all their material, through all the various projects of the individual members in the years that followed, through the zany camaraderie of alt.fan.monty-python on Usenet, through the live show "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python" and the Broadway musical "Spamalot" - all the while saying they would never perform together again. And then finally they did, and it was glorious.

And as the show wore on, they started cracking each other up, and flubbing lines, which cracked them up even more - oh, they seemed to be having so much fun. And there was one adorable unscripted moment when Cleese and Palin stopped mid-dialogue, and looked up toward heaven, and gave Graham Chapman a thumbs up.

And then they came back on stage one last time to lead a global singalong of "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life" and I started crying because it was THE END. And it felt very final. I am still pretty teary to be honest.

But I'm glad they got to have a last hurrah and go out together with a smile.
Sunday, July 20th, 2014 12:31 am
RIP Susan, bugland's (and mine, but mostly bug's) little black cat. She was at least 20 (years, not lbs.   in lbs the most she ever got was a bit over 5 I believe).

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Saturday, July 19th, 2014 09:05 pm

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."

Saturday, July 19th, 2014 12:03 am
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.
Friday, July 18th, 2014 09:09 pm

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.
Friday, July 18th, 2014 11:47 am
"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)
Thursday, July 17th, 2014 10:18 pm
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.

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 07:34 pm
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.
Thursday, July 17th, 2014 04:30 pm
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.

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 07:34 pm
Power came back :) I feel a bit silly posting the previous entry now -- figured once darkness hit the power company would be forced to stop working because of how dangerous it isn't, so I went and posted expecting to be gone another night.

But they've exceeded my expectations! I feel super grateful to them now. Power come to meeeeee
Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 05:46 pm
Big storm went through my area knocked out power in basically the whole metro. Coming back slowly area by area but I'm not sure when mine will have power again.

(Maybe tomorrow! Power company's been doing a reasonable job especially considering a lot of electric poles were downed by the wind)

Minimal flooding as far as I can tell, though cell signal has also suffered pretty bad in my area from the storm so I haven't been able to go online much to get news. I wander over to my dad's radio every once in a while to get some idea of what's going on but you know.

I've had a couple people email me asking if I'm well and I just want to reassure you all I'm safe <3

(And now going to hope this email post gets through somehow through the magic of background connections!)
Monday, July 14th, 2014 11:58 pm
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.

Monday, July 14th, 2014 01:34 pm
MAMBC screenshot

Caption transcription )

It's called Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake and you should play it. It's available for iOS, Android, Kindle, and Steam. Here's a review!

The other game I've loved this summer, Monument Valley, is 50% off in the iTunes Store this week. It's a relatively short game, but it's enchanting enough to reward multiple visits, and they're going to add new levels soon!
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Monday, July 14th, 2014 07:55 pm
* flight from Frankfurt to Seattle on October 6

* flight from Las Vegas to Frankfurt on October 23

I am now going to study the Lonely Planet and Stefan Loose travel guides as well as websites obsessively for a few days and then book the rest of the things I want to have booked this weekend: hotel in Seattle (probably 3 nights), hotel in Las Vegas (1 night), hotel in San Francisco (3 nights, and booking will mean having to decide whether to drive or take a plane from Seattle) and rental car.

This journal might become a lot of holiday planning and brainstorming for the next days or weeks. I am really excited about this trip, which I think is really good for me right now.

And as an aside, the most complex travel I have planned so far in my life was one including a flight to London, a train ride London - Edinburgh and back and plane back to London. I have been on a plane for three holidays within the last 10 years. Booking those flights was really quite nerve-wrecking.
Monday, July 14th, 2014 08:44 am
1) Years late to the party, I've finally been watching Fringe. I now understand why all of you were raving about Olivia Dunham. I love how she's a woman in a man's world in so many ways - she has some of Sam Carter's hard edges and defensiveness and "I can take care of myself" that comes with that. But she also has stereotypically female traits that she doesn't let get in the way. She has emotions, she has a nurturing side, she's good with people lots of the time. I love that we see her protecting the men she works with about equally to them protecting her. And I love that she wears clothing appropriate to her job - pants and shoes you can believe she could run in (none of that high heel bullshit).

I also really enjoy the rest of the characters (although, I just started season 2, and CHARLIE AH). Walter is fascinating and believably broken and everyone's patience/impatience with him just works. Astrid is awesome competent and infinitely patient. They particularly do a great job with Peter (and I'm not just saying that because my inner teenager is remembering her crush on Pacey). He's smart but one of his things has clearly always been people skills and they *show* that instead of telling it in all sorts of small ways - how he finds something to divert people's attention or connect with them somehow.

I really really really hope this doesn't fall down the "J J Abrams is a hack" hole that I've placed everything else of his that that I've seen.

2) I've also been reading. A lot. I tried to read some "popular" fiction - mainstream titles that I've heard the names of or were made into movies or made bestseller lists. And they kept being terrible. Characters with no emotional depth, very little plot, flat worlds. I kept reading stories of "boring undeveloped character is unhappy with their life, makes decisions with no clear reason, has suprisingly little reaction to changes in their life, keeps being vaguely unhappy" and then the story ends. Why do people read this stuff? Why does anyone publish it?

So I gave up and went back to genre and decided to finally give a try at Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Now THAT is plotting and world-building and characters who have motivations and care what happens to them and those around them. They have such a vivid world (plus, well, it's always fun to read something set in a city you know really really well) and are so hard to put down, I don't care too much that the main character is a misogynistic chauvinistic asshole and the author has no idea how to write women. One of those cases of turning off my inner critic and enjoying the ride.
Sunday, July 13th, 2014 07:36 pm
Wow, you people are great, lots of interesting info on my last entry already. Keep it coming :-)

New info after some discussions and reading : looks like we'll do the West Coast version, possibly flying into Seattle and possibly flying out of either LA, SF or Las Vegas (where we don't plan to spend any time, but if there's a cheap flight from there to Germany...) I still need to check with work, but we are hoping to fly in mid to late September. Which means I should probably book the two international flights within the next few days.

Unfortunately, right now I don't have an actual computer, so commenting is kind of hard, but the boy will set me up with his old laptop for planning and booking later or tomorrow, then I can also respond a bit better. I'll have to do pretty much all of the planning for this trip (checking in with him of course) because of the looming PhD thesis deadlines (6 weeks and I can have my husband back...)
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Sunday, July 13th, 2014 10:30 am
So, the boy and I have now decided on the US for our really belated honeymoon this year.

Which, while narrowing it down to a country, of course narrows it down to one of the biggest countries of the world and I suppose the country with the most options. So for the next days I'll try to come up with a few ideas and plans. We will have somewhere between two and three weeks to spend. Some ideas so far

* cross-country car road trip (probably a stretch on three weeks at most)
* West Coast based: flight to San Francisco, few days there, road trip across California and a bit of the neighboring region (Yosemite, Rocky Mountains), then Seattle and flight back
* East Coast based with NY, DC and Boston and maybe road/plane/bus trip to Chicago, flight back from there
* Big cities : NY / DC / Boston, flight over to California, few days in SF, flight back from there
*???

(Yes, I know even just NY and DC could easily fill one week each and this is all very "Europe in two week" like, but just as those "Europe in two weeks" people it's not like we can just come back next year and the year after that...)

So, since a lot of you have either been on trips to the US or live there, any and all tips are appreciated. In terms of big cities we are interested in the ones mentioned above, but know we can't get to all of them. What about logistics for example : can you rent a car, drive to another city and hand it over to the rental company there with no problem? How much does it roughly cost? Is taking a bus from for example SF to Seattle something that you would recommend? How far in advance should domestic flight be booked? Is it generally doable to just drive on a highway and look for a motel to stay in or is more planning needed? How many miles a day are doable without going crazy (Europe is very different in that regard, I suspect...) Any good websites or books you'd recommend for planning this?

So many questions already. Any help totally appreciated.
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Saturday, July 12th, 2014 11:22 pm
I just blinked and July is almost half over. But I've been unusually productive since I got back from Portland, thanks to a fresh outlook and a new to-do list manager. I even wrote some code for Dreamwidth for the first time in, oh, almost a year.

Our Fourth was pretty low key. We stayed home, and Heather came over to help us grill things. I watched the Boston Pops broadcast, which was on the 3rd because their 4th got rained out.

[personal profile] sporky_rat and her husbandthing were in town for a few days after that. We met up at the Lindsey Stirling concert on Monday night and then toured the Southern Museum of Flight together on Tuesday. It was good to hang out without the pressures of SCA responsibilities hanging over us.

The Lindsey Stirling concert was breathtaking, just from the sheer level of energy as well as talent that she brought to the stage along with her backup musicians and dancers. Sporky posted some pictures and one of Heather's friends posted a video clip on Instagram of her performing the theme from the Legend of Zelda.

Another thing I've been doing on Monday nights this summer is rehearsing with a small choir that is planning to record a local composer's tribute to the Birmingham church bombing 50 years ago. This is a different piece from the one I participated in last autumn that commemorated the same events. The recording is scheduled for the first week of August, a few days before the boys start school.

Will got an eye checkup and needed his prescription adjusted, but his vision is still much improved with no regression detected since discontinuing the eye drops. I also took both boys to get their teeth cleaned this week, and for the first time I can recall, neither one had any cavities! But I still had to schedule a followup for Connor so that he could get his six year molars sealed.

I figured out how to download games onto Will's 3DS, so he has started working on the more recent Picross releases. Also, we found the Wii U version of Scribblenauts Unlimited at the library on Thursday, and the boys finished it today. Connor found a cute game for the iPad called "Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake" and I have been helping them play through that.

Today was my wedding anniversary, and we had a nice dinner out while Mom kept the boys. Tomorrow we're going to sing a duet in church.

I'm still frustrated by the fact that some of my loved ones are struggling a lot right now and I can't help them. But otherwise, things are pretty good right now.