The Lemure


It was a weird week. @Dicksnensian was running the @WetheHumanities Twitter Rotation-Curation account and re-tweeted this image from the Cole Museum of Zoology, at Reading University; that same week saw the death of Sir Terry Pratchett who was, without a doubt, my favourite living author.

I was advised that the zombies, as I called them, would be more correctly referred to as lemures (from the Roman mythological term.) I woke up, thinking about the image, and how animate the characters appeared. Wheels started to turn in my head leading, a couple of days later, to a spate of frantic keyboard-bashing, as a piece of weird fiction began to emerge.

What more fitting way to honour Pratchett, and his works, than to write? I am not a good writer, and I am not a frequent writer; one takes practice, the other takes dedication. I have, however, been a voracious reader, ever since I acquired the ability to do so. My current piece of work, The Lemure (what else?) finds influences in the Twitter conversations of that week (thanks to @organicperson for an important idea, and to @Dicksnensian and @IJColeZoology for the initial inspiration,) H. P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Ksenia Anske, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Cherie Priest, Bram Stoker, and Terry Pratchett’s words on reading broadly for inspiration.

Plot Summary

25 BCE: Roman army surgeon in occupied Egypt is fascinated by the tradition of mummification, and wonders whether it would possible to change the process to confer genuine immortality. Jump forward over 2,000 years, to a young couple renovating a cottage in the Cotswolds. They discover a Thing in the back of a bricked-up wardrobe, which possesses one of them, and much fun and games ensues.

I spent a day agonising over whether I was going to integrate this work into the legacy of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, but decided this will not happen. Probably.


To envisage plots, I have to believe in my characters, so they have to be real people; my character notes go into vast detail – backstories include history of parents, siblings, education, musical tastes, and much more. In a way, the characters ARE all real, in that they are composites of persons living, deceased, or fictional. One character from The Lemure, for instance is an unholy fusion of Prof. J. R. R. Tolkien, and Stoker’s Van Helsing, whereas another bears a certain resemblance to my dentist. (I actually got that little gem of inspiration whilst she was descaling my teeth.)

It’s Happening

I am not going to impose ridiculous, and artificial deadlines on myself; this exercise is part pleasure, part therapy, and part personal development in use of language. (I believe that writing fiction will make me a better writer of software – and vice-versa.)

So, no “I will be publishing on the nth of Xuary,” but I will be seeing this work to the bitter end, and, after an initial draft/edit cycle, will release as a beta version  in whatever electronic formats my writing software, Scrivener, permits.

There. Now I have told even more people about it, it is incumbent on me to knuckle down and get the job done.

To those who have offered ideas, and encouragement, my most grateful thanks.


Adelaide Central Bus Station, 28th March, 2015.

Songs The Brothers Warner Taught Me – A Review

As this is a review of a piece of art (an album) I should start by declaring that I have a potential conflict of interest, in that I know the artist through social media. But that doesn’t stop me liking it any the less, so any enthusiasm detected is that of a music-lover, rather than a shill.

Weird title, eh? The brothers Warner – or Warner Bros if that doesn’t ring any bells – produced a large number of cartoons under the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies brands – but have you ever wondered why? Until my encounter with this piece of work, I most certainly hadn’t. I had been quite happy to see cartoon characters fall off cliffs, get blown up, have anvils dropped on them – and always walk away. (A sort of guiltless violence, as the victim is always back in the next scene – but that’s another story altogether!)

This work, by Megan Lynch, aka @may_gun is, well, best let her describe it:

Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies were originally created to popularize songs from Warner Bros. musicals and songs that Warner Bros. owned the publishing rights to. So music and song has always been integral to them. Like many of my generation, my first exposure to classical music and jazz standards was via Warner Bros. cartoons. However, we usually only hear 5 seconds or less of the lyrics. Now you can hear these songs in context, as they were written.

Bear in mind that the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons were produced from the early 1930s to the late 1960s – so, considering the previous statement, the songs in question would pre-date these. (I may be wrong.)

So, we have a collection of songs from the early C20th, played on acoustic instruments, with vocals. When I listened to it, something seemed – wrong. It was then that I realised that there was nothing wrong at all, it’s just that I was expecting the clipping of mechanical (or early magnetic) recording, and the scratches of a shellac disc! [This is from someone who regularly listens to classical music, 100s of years old, played on period instruments; but there were no recordings of the original performances – this must be the difference.]

So, how does it actually sound? Well, it feels authentic. The recording sounds dry – and that’s a technical term – what you hear is what was recorded, hasn’t been buggered around with, tarted up, and all those little delights that make a “studio” album. I’m pretty sure that things WERE done to the recording, but it’s subtle, and doesn’t detract from the period nature of the pieces. If I were sitting in a studio, say, 90 years ago, this is what I would expect to hear. (Although, to keep with the times, I’d probably be choking to death on cigarette smoke.)

I feel that Megan’s voice is particularly suited to this genre – but then this is probably doing her a disservice, as I haven’t heard how she deals with other genres! (We’re talking about a professional vocal artist, here.) The instrumental side Just Works. The guitar on one of the tracks (sorry, wasn’t taking note,) recalled to mind Reinhardt, which probably further made my mind listen for the non-existent scratches, since these abound on all my Reinhardt/Grappelli recordings.

I feel strangely moved by having listened to this; I’m not great at processing speech (I tend to treat most song lyrics as music, rather than spoken language,) but I caught quite a few of the words listening to this – likewise for pieces actually recorded in that period – and picked up a lot of humour, often ironic, and a certain joie-de-vivre.

How to conclude? Oh, that’s simple – just go and buy the bloody thing, support the artist directly, and enjoy some great music from a century or so ago, as it should be heard.

Here it is, on BandCamp. Enjoy! (Because I did.)


The Information Age has enabled human relationships that could not have existed in an earlier time, by creating discussion spaces that transcend regular geographical and social boundaries.

Some of these relationships go beyond what might be the norm for IRL (In Real Life,) as the online medium can be conducive to a greater degree of self-revelation than in a physical, public, space. We can, in quite a short time, come to know more about someone that we may have never met – and indeed may never meet – in person than someone with whom we have lived or shared a workplace for many years.

For some time I have pondered terms that could be used to describe those with whom we enjoy these relationships, online sharings of the soul, if one will, and have found most to be wanting. ‘Contact’ is a word I use frequently, but I find cold, sterile, and highly impersonal. ‘Friend’ is a word with which I am rarely comfortable as, to me, there are both an implication of commitment that is hard to quantify, and the fact that the word has all but been lost to the language due to its bastardisation by social media companies – where ‘contact’ probably would be an appropriate term.

Examining my own spontaneous (rather than considered) use of language, I find myself tending to the use of the Australian informal ‘mate.’ Whilst communication through language has to be based on consensus of definition, I often have perceptions of the meanings of words that transcend the (dictionary) consensus. Mate, to me, implies a relaxed, and unforced relationship, but one that may involve profound respect for, and a sense of privilege in knowing the person in question. I also consider ‘mate’ to be completely gender-neutral, and unsullied by the complications of any of the Deadly Sins, such as lust or jealousy.

If I call you ‘mate,’ I like you, and respect you as a human being, pure and simple, and in one, single syllable.

Taming Ello

As I have mentioned previously, I am using the new social network, Ello. New, and not without problems – the worst of which (for me) involve the user interface. Pale grey icons on text on a white background do not make for good readability, so I had a poke around in the page source to see if I could use some custom CSS to make it more readable.

Different browsers use different ways to override the CSS provided by sites; Google Chrome has an extension called Stylish, which does this for me. (Also available for Firefox, I believe.)

For anyone wanting to try this out, here is the CSS I am using. It’s a bit rough and ready, but fixes colour contrast and scrolling issues that were breaking things for me.

#drawer, #peops {
 overflow-y: scroll;
.btn--ico {
 color: #000;
 font-weight: bold;
.svgicon {
 stroke: #000;
 stroke-width: 2px;
.postbar {
 color: #000;

Smiffy Says Ello

There is a new entry into the world of social media, in the form of ello. Yesterday, I was given an invitation, and signed up as @schamiyam, my regular identity already being taken. (The problems of having a common name, including nickname.)

The following is the text of the first significant post I made, preserved for posterity, should ello cease to exist (or get bought by FaceBook, in which case I would delete my account.)  The first section was written in modern/brief English, and was partially re-phrased to match the second.

So pondered have I how might this novel medium me serve, how might it be a part of the way within which, with the world, I interact. From the outset, worried I that another might it become, something soon to abandon, perceiving no obvious virtue, and taking away time from the other media in which I can communicate in a productive manner.

@ello has its faults but, ignoring for now accessibility issues, the faults for me are primarily cosmetic, unlike the ghastliness that is Facebook. The faults of my primary medium, Twitter, have been, and remain manifold. In looking into how this medium might serve me, I look therefore to those virtues which it has, of which others lack; the answer lies in what I have written here so far – in a single message, I have written what would have taken in the order ten, disjointed, truncated, tweets.

Whilst Twitter begets brevity, teaches terseness, vanquishes verbosity, it makes also for a marring, and a mangling of language, a literary laxness, which oft do I find to be a right, royal pain in the arse.

The very name under which I write, @schamiyam, was one I created for a writing project, many moons ago. It is meet, therefore, that this become a place to write as Art, rather than as a mere vehicle for factual information.

Thus do I rest my use-case.

FOOTNOTE: It appears that one cannot copy and paste from this composition screen. Browsers crash, so probably best to compose offline, and paste the completed text.


Identity, Nationality, and Culture

Whilst Scotland held a referendum on independence, at the helm of the @WetheHumanities Twitter rotation/curation account, @cristobál started a discussion about identity with an environment/environments:

So, I would like to know your opinion about identity in your environment, how you would define it and if there is space for multiple ones.

With nationalism rearing its ugly head, I recounted how the occurrence of the Falklands Conflict in my high school years cured me of that sentiment for life. (I have two mementoes of this: the Pink Floyd album The Final Cut, and Raymond Briggs’ book The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman. Both highly poignant.)

I had long thought that my aversion to nationalism had stripped me of any real national identity, but a couple of hours sitting on a tractor, mowing weeds, gave me  time to ponder this, and  related issues. Realising that I had more thoughts on the matter than would fit comfortably into a tweet, or three, I decided to unburden myself here, instead.

It did not take me long to realise that my antipathy towards nationalism was as strong as ever – “we are better than everyone else who lives outside of this artificial boundary” does not sit well with me. Sexism and racism, where there is generally a fairly well defined means of demarcation of “them” and “us,” are pretty despicable things, but when the demarcation is an imaginary line – no, I’m just not going there.

To mis-quote Socrates, I am neither English nor Australian, but a citizen of the world – or am I? My tractor-time gave rise to the realisation that whilst I might not identify with the concept of a nation, there are cultural artefacts with which I do identify, things that are So Very English. PJ Harvey’s White Chalk [Youtube] says something about the landscape of my early childhood, and never fails to move me. Likewise the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, a good India Pale Ale, the accents of South West England. Yes, I realise that people from the other side of the world can love these as well, but it’s the collection of these cultural artefacts that make me think that, culturally, I am English. [Note: I don’t use ‘British’ as I come from one specific place; if I used British, I might as well use European.]

So, this culture, that which I assimilated in my early years, is part of my identity. I don’t particularly miss the country I left – I am now somewhere else, this is my home. Is Australia part of my identity? If it is, in any way, it’s the landscapes.

And the Scottish vote? Important – a people deciding its future in a very significant way. (I do not regard a nation choosing its way forward as nationalism – unless that way forward involves something like the annexation of a neighbour.) I regard voting as a duty more than a privilege, and was delighted to see such a high-turnout, from a country where voting is not mandatory, as it is in Australia.

There is a certain irony in that, despite my views on voting, I am voluntarily disenfranchised. I won’t cast a postal vote for the country in which I no longer live (I left, I am no longer part of it,) but am unable to vote in the country in which I do, as I am not a citizen. I have rejected the idea of becoming a citizen, as this requires swearing an oath to be, as I see it, a flag-waving nationalist. If the oath were changed to “I swear to obey the law and pay my taxes,” just tell me where to sign.

Measure All Of The Things!

I spend much of what free time I have doing research and development, working towards having a hardware design side of my business. There is currently a fair amount of overlap between this work and my near-obsession with measurement.

With a growing collection of odd and vintage measuring equipment and the design of my own, I decided that I would start to share images and explanations of some of this and thus created a new blog, (Measure All Of The Things.)

So far, I have written about Geiger-Müller tubes, electrostatic voltmeters, and a vintage Japanese milliameter I was fortunate to acquire. The next article I have planned is a description of large voltage divider I have been working on for a few months. (The divider itself is complete and tested, I am just awaiting for the laser-cut parts for the case to turn up from Ponoko in New Zealand.)

If this is your type of thing, please join me at MAOTT!

Bechdel Café – A Writing Exercise


This little exercise started off when I was looking for fun ways in which I could analyse the archive of my Twitter feed, on which I had just laid my grubby mitts. The estimable Dr Yobbo introduced me to the concept of the Bechdel Test, which set me to thinking: exactly how hard is it to write a piece about two women having a conversation that doesn’t involve men? I mean, why should it be hard? Can’t authors give female characters personalities? (Of course they can. But that’s for another post.)

The result is this. The café is based, albeit loosely, on a real one in Melbourne. The characters are pure works of fiction, but are dedicated to all those wonderful women of my acquaintance who have to deal with arsehattery of the academic publishing system.

Bechdel Café


An unadorned, narrow, entrance off a steep, narrow, street. Open the door and it’s like the TARDIS – certainly larger than the frontage suggests – but a very noisy, packed, TARDIS, where the aroma of coffee manages to overpower even the smell of Wet People coming in out of the rain and shouting their orders.

A small side-room, possibly a former broom cupboard, houses two tables, one just vacated and covered in empty cups and a carelessly forgotten cellphone, the other occupied by what appears to be a version of the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” advertising campaign. Although the appearance of the owners gives the impression that they may have just swapped laptops.

Mac user is looking at her screen with distaste, PC user is viewing hers with a half-smile, of the more ironic variety. Mac breaks the silence:

“It’s complete garbage! How did this ever pass peer-review, let alone get picked for publication by Nurtura? This isn’t a case of flawed methodology, there IS no methodology! This is pure marketing bullshit, passed of as science!”

“Hyperbole, Daphne, please; marketing HYPERBOLE.”

She sighs.

“But you’re right; things have been getting just a bit silly with what Nurtura’s been putting out of late, but this is just going to kill their credibility altogether. It’s sad to see an old, niche, journal going this way, but we’re already covered by two Open Access publications with impact factors that just keep going up.”

“Impact factors are just as much marketing bollocks as this ridiculous piece of pseudo-scientific drivel!”

She glances at the clock on her screen, then at her watch.

“SHIT, Jules, my watch has stopped, I’m late for the dentist!”

“Daphne, it isn’t possible to be late for a dentist. If you turned a day late, you’d still have to wait to get in. But get you going, girl, I need to move, too.”

Daphne rises, slips her Macbook into her tapestry bag and looks to manoeuvre past the harried young man clearing the adjacent table.

“Good luck with the Ethics Committee, Jules. See you in the morning.”

“Good luck with the dentist – not quite sure which of us is getting the worst deal. HEY – don’t forget your umbrella!”


Farewell, Madiba

Nelson Mandela, or Madiba, to use his clan name, passed away today at the age of 95. If you have been living under a rock and don’t know his history, try Wikipedia.

The point of this post is to acknowledge how this man has influenced my life. Whilst I was at school, there was a song: “Free Nelson Mandela” – and, like most things at school, meant nothing to me. (Now I look back on it, my school needed its arse kicked up hill and down dale for not getting world current affairs into the curriculum.)

I came to know, with a certain amount of horror, what Apartheid meant and, when it finally ended, it seemed so fitting that the man who had struggled and suffered for so long should come to lead the country.

Mandela was active before I was born. His influence has been there through my entire life. In his passing, I feel the loss of (yet another) father, the father of a New World Order, or an example of it, at the very least.

I have spent most of the day close to tears, and am not ashamed to admit it. Vale, Madiba  – I can only hope that, to some degree, I can live up to at least some of the standard that you set.


Violence Against Women Stops Here

The title of this post may be an unrealistic expectation, but it’s a good thing to work towards. I am breaking a personal rule in writing this – never to post in anger – but I have been sufficiently upset on this, of all days, to publish and be damned. Social inclusion is one of my core tenets, so I am not going to let this pass unmarked.

Today, in Australia, is White Ribbon Day –  “White Ribbon Day celebrates the culmination of the annual campaign and global recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  As such, men and women are encouraged to wear a symbolic white ribbon on 25 November.”

I signed the oath, and didn’t think too much of it; to me, raising my hand against a woman, and especially a loved one, is a concept I find totally alien. I really cannot get my head around how anyone can physically abuse a partner. (Note: I’m talking partners here, as this appears to be where the bulk of abuse is happening. Sickening? Yes!) But, the thing is, I thought I should sign the oath because it’s something I can be seen to be doing, rather than just an (invisible) personal attitude. It’s about standing up, putting up your hand, and showing solidarity.

This is the oath: “I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women.” Is that so very hard?

Australia isn’t  exactly coming up tops where human rights are concerned – and I won’t even start on the list there. But today – let’s make it special. Let’s try to get this ONE issue into the light, recognise that violence against women never is, never was, never will be, acceptable, and be active in this respect.