Friday, August 1st, 2014 03:59 pm
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?
Friday, August 1st, 2014 01:15 pm
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.

Friday, August 1st, 2014 12:47 pm
If you use Skype, you may have noticed the number of people online on your contacts list dwindling a little lately.

I myself was signed out of Skype last night. I can no longer log in; my old version of Skype, 5.10, is now considered to be too old.

I can't say I'm *entirely* surprised about this; I was given ample warning that this would happen, and I just didn't heed it because the older version still worked long past the cutoff dates given to me. Unfortunately, this has left me with the problem of how to tell everybody that I'm probably not going to be using it any more. This is a shame, because I actually used it quite a lot.

Why will I not be using it any more? Why can't I just update to the newest version?

Well, for some people the answer will be that they're still using Windows XP, which the newer versions of Skype don't support. That's not the case for me, but if you know that a contact of yours has Windows XP and you haven't heard from them for a bit, that may be why.

But no, the thing for me is that I've been hearing a lot about how Skype is connected to the NSA. I probably don't need to explain why this is a bad thing, but it's possible some people reading this may not realise that the NSA collects data about you in bulk, including recording audio of phone calls, recording IMs, web sites you visit, and a lot of other things. Recently news came out that they were targetting the privacy-conscious.

To put it lightly, the NSA are violating your privacy quite deliberately and knowingly - even if you live in the US. (The NSA's states that it only applies data gathering to foreign countries, but I'm willing to bet that there are sites you visit that aren't sited in the US. Same applies if you live outside of the US and thought you were safe; if you use sites sited in the US (note: Dreamwidth is such a site), then the NSA is interested in you.

The NSA also lies about how much data is collected. It was thought that the NSA "only" recorded metadata about phone calls such as time/date, phone numbers of each party, etc. Turns out that's untrue; apparently, "At least 80 percent of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US". I am a little doubtful about that figure (and there is no evidence for this, unlike with Edward Snowden's leaked files), but if the figure is off then it probably isn't off by much. Even if the figure was 60%, that's still a frighteningly large amount.

I see no reason to believe that Skype is exempt from this, especially as there are news stories about Skype being connected to the NSA. (The linked article is just one such article.)

I also found out today that Skype comes pre-installed with Windows 8.1, which follows their phase-out of Windows Live Messenger (also known by many as MSN Messenger). This makes Skype an incredibly attractive target for not just the NSA but also for hacking/cracking groups. Mostly the NSA, though.

So what is someone to do? I believe I can no longer use Skype as a permanent solution. Note that using an alternative Skype client will not solve the problem; any recording of data would be server-side, so it really doesn't matter what client you use to connect to it. (Not that Skype has exactly had the best of compatibility with third-party clients anyway.)

Does anyone have any ideas?
Thursday, July 31st, 2014 10:22 pm
Exhausted from traveling.  Tatra Puppy is sleeping in guest room.   Gotta shop for new camera now to share the pics.
Sunday, July 27th, 2014 06:02 pm
Other than holiday planning, which is also going slow these days, I am not leading a terribly interesting life at the moment. I am usually either

* working or commuting to work
* reading way too many blogs
* exercising (handstand kicks are progressing nicely!)
* doing housework (is it September yet so I can have my husband back?)
* rewatching old TV series (Buffy season 3, The West Wing season 1)
* playing Ingress (almost level 14!)

No, this entry doesn't have a big point...
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Saturday, July 26th, 2014 02:12 am
I'm living with my parents again.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. :/
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Friday, July 25th, 2014 09:50 pm
The gymnastic rings have arrived! And they are so very awesome. Yay, shiny new toy :-)
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Thursday, July 24th, 2014 11:05 pm
My availability is going to be very low from now until Aug 7 due to a combination of travel, getting the kids ready to reenter school, and rehearsals for a piece I'm performing Aug 5.

I will probably end up rescheduling the Aug 2 dev chat for Aug 9 unless someone else steps up to take charge for the day.

Further updates as events warrant.
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Thursday, July 24th, 2014 11:43 pm
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 15
24th July 2014: catch them, Rimeq
What I’ve been up to

I read a choose-your-own-adventure science fiction book when I was little. It concerned the efforts of an alien named Rimeq to take over the world, and the hero's efforts to stop him. This was made more difficult because Rimeq possessed the ability to move objects around with his mind (telekinesis). The only part which has stayed in my head is towards the end, when the hero has reached Rimeq's room but Rimeq has paralysed him by telekinesis, the police have been stopped similarly, and so have the spaceships bringing help, and the stress is showing on Rimeq's face. Finally the hero manages to take some rings off his fingers and throw them at Rimeq, shouting, "Catch them, Rimeq, they're grenades!" This is the final straw; the stress on Rimeq's mind is too much, and he is taken away catatonic.

So as I mentioned earlier, we have been moving house, and several moments have made me think, "Catch them, Rimeq"-- in particular, I meant to put out an edition of Gentle Readers on Monday as usual, but exhaustion won. Sorry for the interruption in service; meanwhile, I've been very encouraged by the messages I've had telling me how much you enjoy reading Gentle Readers.

Many people are due public thanks for helping us get through the last week. In particular, I want to thank the people of St John's church, Egham; as the obstacles to getting moved grew more and more formidable, so more and more people from St John's turned up unasked to help. We couldn't have managed without you. Thanks also go to the Gentle Reader who offered a garage when the movers needed to deliver before the landlord could give us the key. And thanks to the people from the Runnymede Besom, who turned up to take away some furniture we'd donated, but then came back later to help clean up. That's what love in action looks like, and I'll do my best to pay it forward. Thank you all.

A poem of mine

THE ECHOES OF AN AMBER GOD
(T54)

Electric sparkles in your touch,
the echoes of an amber god.
You fill my batteries with such
electric sparkles in your touch,
that Tesla would have charged too much
and Franklin dropped his lightning-rod:
electric sparkles in your touch,
the echoes of an amber god.

A picture

I was going to draw you a cartoon as usual, but my tablet is still packed away. Instead, here are some photos I took when I was working in London earlier this year.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/clapham-junction
Trains in the sidings at Clapham Junction, the busiest railway station in Britain.
More than a hundred trains an hour come through.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/binder
The tombstone of Jason Binder:
"He respected all living things. His inspiration lives on."
And it lives on with me, too, even though his epitaph is all I know about him.

 

Something from someone else

Does this one really need an introduction? Well, if you've never seen it before, then you have the joy of seeing it for the first time; the Guardian has a decent analysis if you're interested in digging into it. "Baggonets" is an archaic form of the word "bayonets", and Kensal Green is a large London cemetery, one of the magnificent seven. There is a pub called "Paradise" near there now; it was named for the poem.

THE ROLLING ENGLISH ROAD
by G K Chesterton

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

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 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."