Mate

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 app.net 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, maott.org (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

Preamble

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

IN WHICH TWO WOMEN HAVE A CONVERSATION NOT INVOLVING MEN.

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!”

EXEUNT OMNES

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.

Freedom Board Resources

Introducing The Freedom Board

This article lists some resources useful for experimenting/working/having fun with the Freescale Semiconductor / Element14 Freedom Board KL25z.

The Freedom Board KL25z is an inexpensive (about 12 AUD) Arduino form-factor compatible platform which sports a microcontroller with a 32-bit ARM Cortex M0+ core, rather than the humble 8-bit AVR CPU of the Arduino itself. The board includes an OpenSDA debugger/programmer so no other hardware is required, other than a USB cable.

Official Documentation

Other Resources

At the time of writing, it appears that the Codewarrior for MCU 10.3 beta is no longer available. This is a shame as, using gcc for ARM, this beta (Windows only) gave unlimited code size. The regular Special Edition (free) only allows up to 64kb code size. This isn’t to say that other development environments can’t be used, as an ARM Cortex M0+ is an ARM Cortex M0+, whatever the manufacturer. However, I like to use this Eclipse-based IDE as it features the excellent Processor Expert, which allows rapid configuration and code generation for on-board peripherals and common tasks.

Another reason I like to use Codewarrior is that Erich Styger’s blog is an absolutely first class learning resource for both Codewarrior/Processor Expert and the Freedom Board itself. Combine this with the Freescale Community site, and you will be well-supported in your efforts to make your Freedom Board do Cool Stuff.

Caveat

I – and others – have been through some very frustrating times with the Freedom Board due, in my mind, to poor documentation. It will not debug from Codewarrior out of the box. The supplied firmware allows for drag-and-drop programming. To go to more conventional debug/programme with Codewarrior, it is necessary to change the firmware to get the full benefit of the OpenSDA goodness. Erich Styger describes the necessary process here.

Conclusion

All in all, the Freedom Board KL25z is an excellent tool at an exceptional price – made all the more valuable when combined with Erich Styger’s learning resources.

For those interested, an alternative product from Texas Instruments exists in the Stellaris Lauchpad. This ARM Cortex M4F-based tool comes in at a similar price point. Rather than following Arduino form-factor, the Stellaris Launchpad follows on from TI’s previous MSP430 Launchpad, and is compatible with some of the Booster Packs (equivalent concept to the Arduino shield.)

Whether experimenter, student, or embedded professional wanting to do rapid prototyping, the Freedom Board and the Stellaris Launchpad have made working with ARM Cortex microcontrollers very simple and affordable.

Beautifully Haunting: A Blessed Unrest by The Parlour Trick

Most of my recent musical discoveries of recent years have been a serendipitous process, with one discovery leading to the next. The most recent gem, however, came from literature, rather than music. I spotted a post on Twitter by William Gibson – one of my two favourite living authors. (Twitter: @greatdismal) Gibson was giving a plug to this Kickstarter project, crowdsourcing funding for the production and promotion of an album of “retro sci-fi/quasi-Spiritualist parlor songs.”

I had a look at the Kickstarter page and decided that this sort of musical project was most certainly up my alley, so backed it for the price of a retail CD. (For which the artist generally gets only a very small percentage.) I restrained myself from looking at/listening to any of the preview media, as I wanted the album to come fresh, as a surprise, once the project was funded. (It had already reached the funding goal at the time of my backing, so I knew that Things Were Happening.)

The Parlour Trick – Meredith Yayanos (Twitter: @theremina) and Dan Cantrell – is an awful lot of musical talent manifesting in two people. In the sound of A Blessed Unrest, acoustic instruments predominate, with electronics there, but not blatant – a very sensitive and satisfying combination. (The Theremin, played by Yayanos manifests to me almost as though it were a “real” instrument rather than an electronic one. Hearing a Theremin so well used, I am quite inspired to get back into my Building An Electronic Instrument project.))

I don’t want to insult a piece of art like A Blessed Unrest by tearing it apart and subjecting it to critical analysis (thinking of the books I was put off for life, by their treatment at school) so my review of this work will be two simple words: hauntingly beautiful. Or possibly beautifully haunting. Both reflect my perception of this most excellent project.

I really hope that we will be hearing more from The Parlour Trick – ready and willing to support their next Kickstarter, should there be one.

The digital version of The Parlour Trick can be obtained through this Bandcamp page.

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