A Circle of Salt – A Novel Märchen

Review: A Circle of Salt by E J Weaver

The original title for this piece ended “A Novel Fairy-Tale” but I have an intense dislike for that term, and “folk-tale” doesn’t convey to me the same genre of fiction. Feeling the English language is selling short a much-belovèd form of story, hence my use of the German “Märchen.” (Britannica advises me that is the term by folklorists, so I’m obviously not alone in looking for a suitable term.)

There are certain conventions that I tend to expect in Märchen, such as the Power of Three, Anglo-Western European context, and a third-person narrative. In a Circle of Salt, @Joi_the_Artist uses some of these conventions (Power of Three,) but uses a Russian-analogue setting, and borrows from Russian mythos (eg: Baba Yaga.) Most surprising to me is the use of first-person narrative, and with a twist – the protagonist is an amoral non-human, who doesn’t understand humans. As with my taste in visual art, I am drawn to those who buck the trend; in this book, @Joi_the_Artist does just that, making the work very much HERS, as opposed to an “in the style of” generic.

The body of the tale is a set of linked scenes, each a story in itself. Some scenes are of the “and they all lived happily ever after,” but some anything but. An early review of The Lord of the Rings mentioned “By turns comic and homely, epic and diabolic…” – A Circle of Salt made me think of that quote. Whilst the Power of Three often gives a hint at what happens next, sometimes what happens next can be a shocker. The ending is – different. I won’t say any more, because I wouldn’t have wanted to know before I got there. I hope I haven’t given too much away as it is – this is a work to be read, and enjoyed, without spoilers. This is a work that delights through ongoing change, and revelation.

All in all, whilst this beautiful work includes many familiar conventions from traditional Märchen, there is nothing clichéd about the overall effect. A Circle of Salt is an original addition to a classic genre, and I a look forward to seeing more work from this author.

Thank you, Joi, for bringing back some of the magic of my childhood. It is a long time since a story moved me as much as this.

A Circle of Salt on Amazon.com

So what is NAIDOC Week?

We all stand on sacred ground. The ground on which I stand has been the homeland of the Narungga people for time immemorial.

The 5th to the 12th of June 2015 is NAIDOC week. From the official about page:

NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. The week is a great opportunity to participate in a range of activities and to support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Last year, I may have heard of NAIDOC week, but I couldn’t have told you what it is. This year, I’m making it my business to find out, and I hope others will join me.

Mainstream media coverage of Indigenous matters in Australia tends to be thin on the ground; the phrase that springs to mind being “bugger all.” The only way that I have begun to learn of them is through Indigenous voices, and advocates on social media, primarily Twitter. It is through these voices that I have learnt many uncomfortable truths about the lot of Australia’s First Peoples – including that in which the current administration appears to be doing anything but improving the situation.

For those who want to join me in this learning journey, allow me to share some resources. Firstly you can follow, the #NAIDOC2015 Twitter hashtag. Here are a couple of “Follow Friday” tweets I made, being a go-to list of accounts to follow. Tweet 1, and Tweet 2. (Note: I made a transcription error in the second – first account should be @flashblack.)

Most essential reading, at the moment, is @IndigenousX, where current curator, Law PhD candidate, Darren Parker is talking about the history of the Australian Constitution, as relates to Indigenous peoples. Go back to Friday morning on the timeline, to get the story from the beginning. (History of Law may sound like a dry subject, but Darren is making it fascinating reading.) Also @WeAreAustralia is under the curation of Indigenous voices for the week, including IndigenousX founder, @LukeLPearson.

@mskieralouise has curated the @IndigenousX tweets on the Introduction to Australian Constitutional Law. Here’s another account, from @InflappableAK. (Kudos to them.)

Here is a Storify of tweets by @LukeLPearson, summarising the results of the @IndigenousX Constitutional Recognition Survey.

If I find further resources, I will add them here.

Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/1HEoDJl

Blogging Against Disablism Day – My Annual Rant #BADD2015

Is this disablism? I don’t know. In this article (rant?) I will discuss how I believe that society – at least, that part of it that is responsible for employing people – is engaging in disablism. OK, it is a rant; if you don’t want a rant, please go Google for “fluffy bunnies,” or something.

This rant is about employment, and my perceived failure of most organisations to employ purely on the basis of talent, and potential output, rather than the ability to turn up to a specified location, then go home a certain number of hours later (without specifying what needs to be achived within this time.)

Let’s try to summarise my personal position, from the point of view of a potential employer, at least, let’s look at the “obvious” negatives:

  • Can work only 12-16 hours per week. (More than that, my eyes get well, and truly buggered.)
  • Can’t drive distance – even the process of driving a relatively short distance to work would impact on my ability to do said work.
  • Frequently sick.
  • Can’t always tell one day to the next whether I will be able to work the next day.

Read these, think what they imply. And, when I say imply, I mean what would common prejudice imply? You may notice that one word I do not address above is “productivity.” Because I am anything but unproductive:

  • I have been told by many people that I work incredibly fast; I also don’t take chat/coffee/smoke/watching porn/more chat/more coffee/unspecified indolence breaks. [If I stop working, I stop the clock. Always.] Hours != work accomplished.
  • I work from home; this means that, when required, I can generally jump on top of urgent work at times when the office-bound couldn’t.
  • I only don’t work when I am so incapacitated that I can’t even crawl into a recliner and work (can’t remember the last time that happened,) and only veto work entirely, when I am so feverish, and/or brain-fogged that I would be likely to make so many mistakes that working would result in negative productivity. [Yes, I’ve been there, I know my limits, I know when to quit.]
  • I don’t have fixed working days – or hours. It all evens out. Unless I have promised to do something at a fixed time and can’t (very rare,) clients never know; well, actually they probably will – because I keep them informed even if there is no impact to what is being done.

I could summarise the above by saying that I can do my job proficiently, and deliver on promises as well as the next person – but how would this be read by the likes of recruiters, and HR people? Do they have the training (the quality of recruiters I’ve come across says “no way,” from that aspect) to see what a person can deliver, or do they just look at the traditional model of employment – that draws in any number of incompetents, and time wasters? Is a failure to assess what someone has to offer in terms of output, rather than anything else, and to accommodate those who may have specific needs to achieve that output (like working from home,) not discrimination, not disablism?

I have (so far,) managed to keep my head above water (just,) but I often feel trapped: if I don’t have enough business to pay the bills, I don’t have the energy, or other resources that the fully able-bodied do, to get a part-time job, run a marketing campaign, or whatever. But, above all, I can’t just go, and get a job. And I don’t ever want to be unproductive. (I also don’t see myself ever retiring; I can’t think of anything worse than not working, even if it’s on my own projects, of which I have many.)

Where is the discrimination? Totally engrained in society, as far as I’m concerned. But I think I’ve got it lucky; sure, I’ve got health issues that impact my employability, in a conventional arena, BUT, I’m a white, cis/hetero, English-speaking (and born) male. Now consider my situation in an intersectional context – what if I were coloured, female, LGBTQIA, on top of my issues? That I will leave you, good reader, to ponder.

End of rant. You may enjoy this article A History of Disability: from 1050 to the Present Day, if you want something less ranty. (Thanks to @starrysez for the link.)

More BADD goodness available at Diary of a Goldfish. (Kudos to her, and Mister Goldfish, for keeping this thing going.)

The Lemure in the Closet


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.

Not-so-minor edit 2015-04-03: I gave the piece its correct title, “The Lemure in the Closet,” this article was originally titled just “The Lemure.”

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 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!