Monday, July 6th, 2015 11:43 pm
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 4, number 2
6th July 2015: boil it to a brilliant blue
What I’ve been up to

Surprisingly little, actually, though I did go to a rather interesting conference, about the meaning of love, at a housing co-op in Manchester.

A picture

https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/thou-art-a-scholar

Mar. Thou'rt a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.
Hor. Well, who knew... I mean, what are the chances you'd ask me that just after my college's "Speaking To Ghosts 101" course was oversubscribed? I mean I tried to get a place on it, but it's, like, the most popular course in the whole university, isn't it? Duh.
 

A poem of mine
 
SHATTERED
 
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said...
I couldn't comprehend his speech;
he spoke a tongue I didn't understand.
It might have meant “a statue's on a beach”...
at least, he let me see vacation snaps
and there was quite a lot of sand about
and one old statue, African perhaps,
or Indian, I'm in a bit of doubt.)
   So anyway, I saw the statue's face:
   its nose was crinkled, like a lord who sniffs.
   And then there was some writing on the base;
   I couldn't read it. It was hieroglyphs.
It all seems kind of strange, and far away,
but must have had some meaning in its day.
 
Something wonderful
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/salford-rainbow

The end of the rainbow-- it was in Salford all along

I'm pretty sure you were taught the order of the colours of the rainbow-- maybe with "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain", or perhaps with someone named "Roy G. Biv". Either way, the standard colour sequence is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The obvious question is: what on earth is indigo?

The sequence we all learned is taken from a book called Opticks, written by Isaac Newton in 1704. In this book he sets out his discoveries about the way light breaks up as it passes through a prism. Newton was a rather superstitious person, and he believed that the number seven is really important, so it seemed good to have seven colours. Here's the diagram he drew.
 
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/newton-opticks

The colour Newton calls "blue" comes immediately after green. So it's a greenish blue-- what we might now call cyan, or turquoise. Indigo, then, must be blue-- and in fact it's the name of a dye with a deep and brilliant blue colour.

Blue has always been a difficult colour to produce. The Ancient Egyptians knew the art of making things blue, but with the fall of the Roman Empire their technology was lost. In the Middle Ages blue was so rare that it was worn only by the very rich. One of a very few places you could get blue dye was from the indigo plant, Indigofera tinctoria, a kind of bean. You take the plant's leaves, soak them in water, and wait for them to ferment. Then you drain off the water and mix the residue with a strong alkali, such as lye. Heaven knows how they discovered this.
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/indigo-plant

The indigo plant comes from India, as you may have guessed from the name. By the eighteenth century it was also grown in other hot parts of the world, such as Mexico and the southern United States. Predictably those who farmed the plants and extracted the dye were soon slaves; there was a major non-violent revolt in Bengal in March 1859, which was severely suppressed.

Must indigo be grown? Can it be produced in a lab instead? Yes, it can: Adolf von Baeyer discovered how, which won him the 1905 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. These days almost all indigo dye produced is artificial, and most of it goes on dyeing denim jeans.

The indigo plant can only grow in hot climates. But there's another plant with similar properties, which grows even in Britain: a kind of cabbage called woad (Isatis tinctoria). There is a story that the Picts used to dye their bodies with woad, and strip naked to scare invaders. It's probably untrue, and based on a misreading of Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico. Which is a shame, because there aren't many things more likely to make you run away than naked blue people smelling of rotten leaves.

Something from someone else

WOAD SONG (to the tune of "Men of Harlech")
by William Hope-Jones

What's the good of wearing braces,
Vests, and pants, and boots with laces?
Spats, or hats you buy in places
Down the Brompton Road?
What's the use of shirts of cotton,
Studs that always get forgotten?
Such affairs are simply rotten:
Better far is woad.

Woad's the stuff to show men.
Woad to scare your foemen:
Boil it to a brilliant hue
And rub it on your back and your ab-do-men.
Ancient Briton never hit on
Anything as good as woad to fit on
Neck, or knees, or where you sit on!
Tailors, you be blowed.

Romans came across the Channel
All wrapped up in tin and flannel:
Half a pint of woad per man'll
Dress us more than these.
Saxons, you can waste your stitches
Building beds for bugs in breeches:
We have woad to clothe us, which is
Not a nest for fleas.

Romans, keep your armours!
Saxons, your pyjamas!
Hairy coats were meant for goats,
Gorillas, yaks, retriever dogs, and llamas.
Tramp up Snowdon with your woad on,
Never mind if you get rained or snowed on.
Never want a button sewed on.
Go, the Ancient B's.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at https://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. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.
 

Sunday, July 5th, 2015 07:00 pm
We have tickets to see an open air performance of the Carmina Burana in an hour. 10 minutes ago, it went dark outside, 5 minutes ago the storm started and I could hear thunder. One minute ago, the storm turned into something worse.

The hail is predicted to reach 3 centimeters in diameter...

Guess we're staying inside?
Sunday, July 5th, 2015 05:24 pm
(Technically it's not because we used sausage instead of octopus -- but it came out pretty well!)

Saturday, July 4th, 2015 06:20 pm
38 degrees Celsius outside today. Wow. That, like, never happens in these regions of Germany.

I am so glad we moved to the house in spring. Being able to lie in the shade in my own garden is so much better than sweating in the apartment under the roof for the last five summers. I also did some gardening and grocery shopping, but mostly today was just relaxing and trying to enjoy the sun.
Tags:
Saturday, July 4th, 2015 02:51 pm
Sometimes I like throwing puns into a discussion without marking them as such, and seeing whether anyone notices. I'm at a conference thing, and they're doing massages for the people there. I had one, and afterwards the massage person said, "Sorry to cut it short, but I have three more people to go in the next twenty minutes. I didn't realise I'd be so busy!" I said, "Well, everyone wants to feel kneaded." They agreed, and I smiled, and went on my way.
Friday, July 3rd, 2015 09:51 pm
(I haven’t finished Act 2 yet, but here’s the first part. More soon.)

I'm reading a book
That I took from my school.
Polonius comes in.
(He’s a pompous old fool,
But also my girlfriend
Ophelia’s dad.)
I’ll scare him away!
I’ll pretend to be mad!

He said, “Who am I?”
And I looked all about.
I said, “You’re the fellow
Who sold me a trout.
But have you a daughter?”
He said, “Just the one.”
“Be careful,” I said,
“If she walks in the sun
Where meat becomes maggots
And milk becomes curds.”
He asked what I’m reading.
I said, “Words…
words…
words.”

“But what do they say?”
And I said, “I detect
Some satire, some slander,
Some lack of respect.
It says: when you’re old
Your eyesight gets hazy.
Your whiskers go grey.
You start to go crazy.
Your eyes fill with goop.
And yes, it’s all true
But seems a bit rude
To codgers like you.”

He hurried away.
But my uncle instead
Strode into the room
And called me and said:

“I will open the door!
I will show you a thing!
You will like what I show you!”
(Said Claudius King.)
“Your friends came to visit!
Come quickly and see!
Some friends, and I call them
Thing R and Thing G!
They came to the castle
To be a surprise!
They might cheer you up!
And they’re not at all spies!”

They said, “We’re in Denmark
To see how you are!
Would you like to shake hands
With Thing G and Thing R?”
Friday, July 3rd, 2015 01:22 am
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 4, number 1
2nd July 2015: proof by elephant
What I’ve been up to

I'm back! I've been ill for quite a while, and I've missed writing Gentle Readers enormously. But today I'm back.

A picture

Metro gnome

Metro gnome

Something wonderful

The voyage of Columbus didn't convince anyone that the world is round. Nobody needed convincing, because nobody believed that the world was flat. Nearly two thousand years earlier, a Greek scholar named Eratosthenes had demonstrated it-- not only the shape of the earth, but even how far it was around. (He went to two different cities, and measured the angle of the sun when it was at its highest point on Midsummer Day. Then, since he knew how far apart the cities were, he could work out the circumference of the earth.)

But a century before Erastothenes, Aristotle's book On the heavens (Περὶ οὐρανοῦ) gave five reasons to believe the earth is round. And one of them is a proof by elephants.
How to find the shape of the earth using elephants
What do you find if you go as far west from Greece as you can, to Africa? Elephants!
What do you find if you go as far east as you can, to India? Elephants!
So obviously if the east and the west both have elephants, it stands to reason that they're next to one another.

"Hence one should not be too sure of the incredibility of the view of those who conceive that there is continuity between the parts about the pillars of Hercules and the parts about India, and that in this way the ocean is one. As further evidence in favour of this they quote the case of elephants, a species occurring in each of these extreme regions, suggesting that the common characteristic of these extremes is explained by their continuity."

Thomas Aquinas helpfully pointed out the flaw in this reasoning:

...they make a conjecture as to the similarity of both places from the elephants which arise in both places but are not found in the regions between them. This of course is a sign of the agreement of these places but not necessarily of their nearness to one another.

Something from someone else

This is a famous retelling of a very old story.
 
THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT
by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

At this point I should include my parody; I wondered what might happen if blind elephants had tried to find out about humans.
 
It was six jolly Elephants
(And all of them were blind),
That all agreed to search a town
To study humankind,
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The first one felt a person's head;
In puzzled tones he spake:
"This wonder of a Human Man
Is flat as griddle-cake!"
The others solemnly agreed,
"'Tis true, and no mistake."

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at https://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. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.
 

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015 08:06 pm
Random happy memory:

Once, in a needlework class at secondary school, I overheard the girls at the next table, gossiping about a Korean girl who wasn't in the room. She was in our year, but she'd only just started at our school, so they didn't know her very well. One particular thing they didn't know was that she was my cousin.

"Did you see that new [redacted] girl?" one said.

"Yeah," said the other. "Looks like a sumo wrestler."

It was a beautifully satisfying moment when I turned round and said, "Is that my cousin you're talking about?"

They spluttered for a few moments, then said, "But she can't be your cousin!"

"Look, I ought to know who my own cousins are."

"But, but...," they said. "Are you adopted?"

I hope it was a teachable moment for them in more ways than one.
Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 05:37 pm

What if Dr Seuss had written Hamlet?


The sun did not shine.
There were clouds overhead.
I sat in the castle
And wished I was dead.
My father had perished.
My dad lost his life.
My uncle usurped him
And married his wife!
An action more evil
Than man should commit.
And I did not like it!
Not even one bit!

My mother, the queen,
And her husband, her kin,
They knocked on the door.
They said “May we come in?”
They opened the door
Of the room where I sat.
And they said to me,
“Why do you sit there like that?
Did you know derrières
Are a bit like your dad?
For everyone’s got one.
(Or everyone had.)
You cried for a night
When he died without warning.
But you can have lots
of good fun in the morning!
There’s plenty of fathers!
They’re twenty a dime!
They don’t last forever.
They die all the time!
So stop going round
In a suit of black cloth.
You’re sure to be sad
If you dress like a goth.
Don’t run off to college.
Just chill for a while.
Now I’m your new father.
So give us a smile!”

And then I was sadder
Than ever I’ve felt.
My body’s alive
But I wished it would melt.
My mum, like a beast,
With my uncle was lying,
In less than a month
From her mourning and crying.
They jumped into bed
While her tears were undried,
And I wished that the Lord
Would allow suicide.

My friends came to tell me,
“Come quickly! Come down!
We’ve seen on the ramparts
A GHOST in a CROWN!
It gave us a fright
Like we never have had!
It shines in the dark!
And it looks like your dad!”

I went to the ramparts
High over the town.
I looked! And I saw him!
The GHOST in the CROWN!

He said, “Listen closely,
For everyone’s sake!
They said I was killed
By a venomous snake.
My bruv did the deed!
Not a serpent that hisses!
He wants to be king
And to sleep with my missus!
Tell your uncle from me
He’s a murdering swine!
Or your haircut will look
Like a mad porcupine!”


I’ll be posting these over the next few days, one for each of the five acts of Hamlet. When I’m done I’ll work on some illustrations. Feedback and sharing are very welcome.
Monday, June 29th, 2015 12:42 pm
Right, so two things to start with:

1 - I belong to an all women gym. The steady exercise helps with joint pains, builds up my abs to help with some deteriorating back disks, lowers the severity of cramps and depression fits and does help with my weight. Though the weight is more of a visual one, I have a body that puts on muscle really well, so the scales can actually say that I weigh more than when I started.

2 - I can have a hard time saying no if I get a pushy salesperson.

Now, this doesn't mean I wind up spending money on shit I don't need, but it does mean that when my gym was hosting a woman who sells a makeup/cleanser line - kinda like Avon, or whatever the current in one is - I wound up agreeing to put my name in a draw for a bunch of products just to get her to leave me alone so I could go to work. I didn't win the big basket, but I did win a free consultation.

It was a lot of fun and the woman was really nice. They had some exfoliating creams for like hands and stuff, the kind you just rub until it turns into a putty like mix of cream and dead skin. I find those endlessly fascinating. So I wound up buying some of those to play with and then I wound up buying a facial cleansing thing.

It's like 4 bottles (technically 5, but two interchange, one for 'day' and one for 'night'). And it was fun to use at first. The extra attention to my chin helped with fading some zit scarring and I had a good speed worked up. But, well, for one thing, I am a lazy woman by nature, and this was a lot of extra work. Teh other thing became that I was paying closer attention to my skin. The nature of the products - anti-aging! sun protection! shiny promotion words! - meant that I was starting to focus more on making sure I covered all the areas and such. And you have to do it twice a day, once in the morning, once at night.

I started skipping out on the night routine because I would get so caught up in the computer that it would be bed time when I finally logged off and I just couldn't be bothered to spend the extra minutes staying up to wash my damn face. And I started noticing my wrinkles more. Don't get me wrong, I'm only 34, so I don't really have much, some smile/squint related crows feet and a couple of grooves. But I didn't like that I was automatically checking them for changes while I spent the time messing with all these creams. I was already decided that once the bottles ran out, I was going back to my old routine.

But I got up this morning for my shower and I looked in the mirror. And my skin looked a bit dry and unhappy and then my eyes went straight to the wrinkles and I decided: fuck it. So I went back to my old routine, which is to slap some Noxema on like a face mask and leave it there while I do most of my shower, wash it off after the conditioner and go about my day.

It was a very freeing morning.

I don't like being someone who worries about her wrinkles, or worries about tanning too much from the sun (I walk three miles a day - back and forth - to get to work and then home), I am never going to be the woman who enjoys applying make up or spending time applying tons of products to get a specific look. And I'm okay with this.
Sunday, June 28th, 2015 12:39 pm
Poll #16803 Favorite Harry Potter books
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 25


What are your three favorite Harry Potter books

View Answers

Philosopher's Stone
11 (44.0%)

Chamber of Secrets
5 (20.0%)

Prisoner of Azkaban
18 (72.0%)

Goblet of Fire
12 (48.0%)

Order of the Phoenix
13 (52.0%)

Half-Blood Prince
9 (36.0%)

Deathly Hallows
7 (28.0%)

What are your two least favorite Harry Potter books?

View Answers

Philosopher's Stone
6 (24.0%)

Chamber of Secrets
10 (40.0%)

Prisoner of Azkaban
2 (8.0%)

Goblet of Fire
6 (24.0%)

Order of the Phoenix
8 (32.0%)

Half-Blood Prince
6 (24.0%)

Deathly Hallows
12 (48.0%)

Tags:
Sunday, June 28th, 2015 11:49 am
In an effort to start reading again, I am once again rereading the Harry Potter series. This must be at least my fifth, maybe even my sixth or seventh time reading them, and I am currently up to Prisoner of Azkaban.

And for the first time, I think, the first few books really annoy me. Not all the time, then I wouldn't continue reading. But still, some of the character decisions that are needed to advance the plot (like Harry not telling the teachers about what Draco said after the first incident in CoS, or not telling Remus about the Grim) rub me wrong. Also, this time it's really obvious to me, more so than usual, just how dangerous things at Hogwarts are without anyone caring about it (the first Quidditch match in PoA taking place in a thunderstorm, only the Prefects guarding the Great Hall later, students having detention in the Forbidden Forrest, etc.). Or, how sometimes, because something needs to be shown, the PoV just changes. There's no way Harry could have heard what Hermione and Ron were talking about during the first Quidditch match in PS, for example. It happens rarely, but it throws me off.

Anyway, looking forward to reading the books I like most afterwards. Because I am one of those (apparently) Rare people whose favorite isn't PoA or CoS. Instead, mine is Half-Blood Prince. If I had to put them into order, mine would be something like :

Half-Blood Prince
Order of the Phoenix
Deathly Hallows
Goblet of Fire
Chamber of Secrets
Prisoner of Azkaban
Philosopher's Stone

Basically, I like the main characters a lot more when they are older, and the one thing putting CoS above PoA is that I really love Harry interacting with Tom Riddle. And there are days I'd probably rank Deathly Hallows above them all. Yes, despite the camping.

How do you rank the Harry Potter books?

Edit : here, have a poll :-)
Poll #16803 Favorite Harry Potter books
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 25


What are your three favorite Harry Potter books

View Answers

Philosopher's Stone
11 (44.0%)

Chamber of Secrets
5 (20.0%)

Prisoner of Azkaban
18 (72.0%)

Goblet of Fire
12 (48.0%)

Order of the Phoenix
13 (52.0%)

Half-Blood Prince
9 (36.0%)

Deathly Hallows
7 (28.0%)

What are your two least favorite Harry Potter books?

View Answers

Philosopher's Stone
6 (24.0%)

Chamber of Secrets
10 (40.0%)

Prisoner of Azkaban
2 (8.0%)

Goblet of Fire
6 (24.0%)

Order of the Phoenix
8 (32.0%)

Half-Blood Prince
6 (24.0%)

Deathly Hallows
12 (48.0%)

Tags:
Friday, June 26th, 2015 09:16 pm
The us supreme court decision on marriage! omg. omg. I've only read snippets but the ones I've seen have made me tear up with how strong and definite they are. No wishy-washy "well there's technically no legal reason we couldn't..." but just outright saying that this is the right way to treat people. Empathy? Love? Fuck yeah.

I've seen so much happiness today, feel warm and mushy.

The ones where it's like "two 80-year-olds who have been together x years" make me tear up the most because asdfhfhfh to have been denied that for so long but then to have it within their lifetimes. I don't understand being able to look at them and still deny that they love one another and have made a life together. They've already made the lifetime commitment; being able to go to the courthouse to have the government formally acknowledge that doesn't change anything within their relationship, but it changes so much everywhere else. (And I wish it could have come sooner, but I'm glad that it happened *now*).

(I am so looking forward to SF Pride parade this Sunday. First time I'm able to attend; seems like a good year to go! My brother is all "wave a flag for me" :D)
Friday, June 26th, 2015 06:57 am

It was Amy’s (and her class’s) end-of-school party yesterday; their elementary school years will be over in two and a half weeks and then it’ll be off to secondary school for the children.

The class performed a few acrobatics and a couple of songs, including a surprise one for their teacher which they had secretly practised with a couple of the parents. The teacher showed a slideshow of the class’s highlights over the last four years, using photos she had received from parents. (Ms Schamne had only been their teacher for a year and a half, after their first teacher had to take a longer break for medical reasons.) There was also a “then and now” bit with photographs of the children in 1st and 4th grade, which got a fair number of laughs out of the children :) ("Look how you looked back then!")

Afterwards, there was food, and then general “free time”. At 10, the parents got kicked out (though I didn’t stay that long) and the children stayed behind to spend the night at school. This morning, they’ll come home at around 10.)

While I was playing “keep the balloon in the air” with Amy, Dilara from her class came up to me and asked me whether I was Amy’s father and whether I speak English with her.

I said yes, and added, “Ve sen, Türkçe konuşabilir misin?” (And you, can you speak Turkish?). She was surprised and asked me where I knew that from :) (I’m learning Turkish now; started about five weeks ago.) She said that she’s a Turkish Kurd and knows five languages: German, Turkish, Kurdish, English, and Arabic. Not bad.

Arabic she says she only knows a bit in, just some sentences, and I’m guessing that English also refers to 4th grade school English rather than a fluent command. But still; I was impressed.