Category Archives: General

The Lemure in the Closet

Preamble

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.

Characters

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.”

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.

 

Smiffy’s Further Rules of Following

Preamble

Whilst this article stands alone in its own right, it follows on from Smiffy’s Rules of Following.  If you have not yet read this, I would suggest that you do so before returning to this text.

In the first article, I stated that:

Like fire and electricity, Twitter presents hazards if untamed; follow too many and/or indiscriminately, we risk information overload and excessive, unproductive, use of time.

Twitter has value, and I will justify this statement later in this article. Like many things of value, one needs to make a certain investment in order to obtain that value. Rather then the usual analogy using the likes of cars, football fields or Olympic swimming pools (none of which have much interest for me,) I will use a mining analogy instead. Consider gold. You have to prospect to find a suitable ore body, dig a big hole, take out the ore, refine it. Things we shouldn’t do include following the ore body when it becomes to dilute or awkward to get at to make it worth extracting. Yes, Twitter is like a goldmine; there is much of great value to be extracted, but we need to invest in prospecting, carting away spoil, and evaluating whether there really is enough gold in a particular place to continue delving for it. (I will no doubt be receiving comments from mining engineers saying that I’ve got this all wrong, but you can’t please everybody.)

My previous article was all about following promising seams – following being the active word. What about followers? (And here I will drop the analogy before some Slashdot reader comes up with witty remarks like “In Soviet Russia, gold seam follows YOU.”) Whilst we are carefully managing those whom we follow, our list of followers is steadily growing longer and longer. Does this matter? I believe it does.

Relationships Matter

The main reasons that I follow people on Twitter are that I either wish to interact with them in some way (business, social, combination of the two,) or that I regard them as a relevant/useful/interesting one-way information stream.  In the latter case, it is more generally the case that the twitterer in question is the voice of a body corporate rather than anyone identifying themselves as an individual.

With the latter case only consituting a small percentage of those I follow, the rest of it is really about interaction – relationships.

Going back to this ever-growing list of followers, let’s look at those I choose not to follow back.  Barring the obvious spammers whom I block immediately,  who are these people who remain, and what should I do about them?

Triage

I had a follower notification today that persuaded me to revise my Rules of Following and, as a knock-on effect, write this article which has been pending now for quite some time.  The reason that I was followed, I will go into in the section Attack of the Robots.  For now, it suffices to say that I was followed by a dealer in ammunition.  As in the stuff people put in guns so that they can shoot each other.  I am not going to get into a debate about the pros and cons of guns and neither will I respond to the pro-gun trolls that so often pop up in cases like this. Sufficient to say, I was not happy about being followed by someone in the munitions industry and wondered exactly what I should do about it.

After a brief, internal, debate I decided that there were quite a few people on my followers list that, in some way, made me uncomfortable (to put it plainer: gave me the creeps,) or annoyed me for whatever reason.  Whilst I am quite happy that some people may wish to read my ramblings but be too shy to interact I question why many followers follow me, other than in the hope that I follow them and get exposed to whatever product, service or scam that they happen to be peddling.

Up to this point, the only reason I had ever blocked anybody was because they were obvious spammers.  Only today did I realise that blocking is not necessarily a spam-reporting mechanism.

As a result of today’s cogitation, I have decided to change the result of my “should I follow this person?” process from the simple follow/don’t follow to a triage: follow, don’t follow, block.

Smiffy’s Further Rules of Following

Having introduced the triage process, my criteria for those I will follow remain unchanged.  The rest I will simply ignore (don’t follow) unless:

  • I feel that their morals conflict with mine in a way I find to be unacceptable.
  • I find them creepy.
  • I find them annoying.

These I will block.  Following is not a term I would use when the follower does not tend to interact; the term I use for this is ‘stalking’ and I do not relish the idea of being stalked.

Creepy 101

What do I mean by creepy? In the ‘Evaluating a Profile’ section of my original article, part of my scoring system included negative points for:

  • Creepy profile photos (really creepy, not just artistically creepy)
  • Updates that make me feel uncomfortable  (Hateful, bigoted, intolerant.)

These are what I have condensed into the ‘I find them creepy’ bullet-point above.  I will expand on ‘Updates that make me feel uncomfortable’, having just read a few.  I will most likely block anyone whose updates contain any significant evidence of:

  • Excessive bigotry (I have yet to meet anyone who is not, in some way, bigoted.)
  • The more unpleasant “isms” (racism, sexism, nationalism (that’s just non-specific racism,) etcetera-ism.)
  • Aggression (by word or reported/threatened deed.)
  • Intolerance of various things that don’t have their own “ism” words.
  • What I consider to be excessive (or obsessive?) enthusiasm for beliefs in what, for want of a better term, I will call “the Unprovable”, whether it be religion, the “paranormal”, little green men or over-elaborate conspiracy theories.  Belief is a fundamental part of human nature and can be the cornerstone of many peoples lives.  When I hear nothing but a certain belief from somebody, or that belief gets interwoven into every subject, that I find creepy.

These ‘creepies’ are very much personal to me.  However, everyone has their own ‘creepies’ (I may well be on some peoples lists) so I invite them to substitute their own when implementing their own Rules of Following.

Annoying, moi?

If I were to list everything I have found annoying on Twitter, I would still be writing this next Michaelmas.  Instead, I will single out Twitter users who:

  • Tweet nothing but quotations.
  • Tweet nothing but RGs.  (RGs, or regurgitations, are like RTs, re-tweets, except that they are done gratuitously.)
  • Tweet nothing but links that look suspiciously as though they have been pulled straight off someone else’s RSS feed.
  • Add no genuine content of their own.
  • Do not interact with others (no @replies) or interact without meaning (@replies for the sake of it, probably so they don’t get listed under the first part of this bullet point.)
  • Any combination of the above.

Talk to Me!

Not so much a Rule of Following but a Rule of Wanting Someone to Follow You: If you decide to follow someone with whom you would like to interact, contact them to say “hi!”  I sometimes miss new follower messages, so don’t be silent.  Whilst you can’t DM (Direct Message) someone who is not following you, you can always start a tweet with @smiffy (if it’s me you’re wanting!) and I will see it in my ‘Mentions’ (as it is called on Accessible Twitter.)

There is probably little point in doing this for accounts with vast numbers of followers (generally ghost-written anyway,) but if you want to network, the best way to introduce yourself is to – introduce yourself!  Be a talker, not a stalker!

On the flip-side, I try to make a point of sending a DM to all my new followers with whom I intend to interact.  Just a little courtesy that can make the whole experience more pleasant for all.

Attack of the Robots

Where do all those Twitter followers come from?  Many of the genuine ones (those wishing to interact) come as the result of #followfriday [mashable.com] tweets and reading what I call friend-of-a-friend tweets: @replies from those you follow to others unknown to you.  There are also folk out there who use Twitter search to try to find like-minded people.  And then there are the robots.  Some robots are useful things, working tirelessly for the betterment of mankind.  Others are Evil Robots, close relatives of the Spam Harvesters that haunt the web.

Simply by including certain terms in your tweets, you can attract the attention of the Evil Robots and their Dastardly Masters.  In fact, if you want to pick up a large number of worthless followers in a short time, just include some of the following terms in your tweets and watch the followers come flooding in!

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation.)  I am glad I am not in this industry as it seems to be getting a somewhat unwholesome reputation.
  • Affiliate Marketing.  This appears to be a modernisation of the old “Make $$$ in your spare time!!!” advertisements. And they’re on Twitter, looking for you.
  • MLM (Multi Level Marketing.) See Affiliate Marketing.  In fact, I’d steer clear of the term ‘marketing’ altogether.  If you need to use it, find a code word like “sheepdip” that you can share with your contacts.
  • Jesus Christ.  Yes, it seems that some Christians are giving Evil a shot and are in relentless pursuit of anyone who happens to mention JC, in any context.  (I would not be at all surpised if other Christians don’t get annoyed with these mavericks.)  Curiously enough, I can only attribute one follower to a tweet in which I used the word ‘atheism’.  He didn’t seem dastardly at all; I even followed him.

I have, unfortunately, mislaid some of the notes I was making on this subject during a fun game of Twitter-bot baiting.  Those above seem to come out tops though. Observation suggests to me that those that follow on the tips of Evil Robots tend to have some of the keywords in their Twitter profiles.

And the reason I was being followed by an ammunition seller?  As part of a tweet (actually an @reply to a contact,) I commented on the night’s rainfall: “… 18.9mm since midnight.”  As I am a very heavy user of regular expressions, it only took a couple of seconds to work out that the Evil Robot in question was looking for, amongst other terms, “9mm” – a common ammunition calibre.

There may be people out there using robots (the non-Evil kind) for what I would deem acceptable purposes, like watching out for mentions of a specific brand or business.  The Masters of Evil Robots just want volume; they will latch on to a term or fragment of term and then follow (or stalk) you indiscriminately.  With my Further Rules, these guys are going to get blocked.

Pruning for Health & Increase in Fruit

To mix metaphors/analogies, your gold mine will be healthier and yield more fruit with regular pruning.  In the previous article, I recommended regular review of those you are following.  Pruning your followers list – a repeat of the triage process – should help keep the list manageable.  You may even find the odd gold nugget that you decided not (or forgot) to follow previously.

Note: people who follow you who then get suspended (mostly spammers) will still appear in your followers list.  Having the list full of dead accounts gives all the more reason for a regular prune, until such time as Twitter fixes this issue.

Conclusion

It was probably the lack of a ‘Report Spam’ button on Twitter that caused me to regard ‘Block’ as having this function.  I now regard it as a ‘No, thank you, not today’ control instead – and I would advise others to do likewise.  Followers, like Following can be kept to manageable levels.  Remember, you want to own a gold mine, not just a spoil heap.

Dedication

I would like to dedicate this article to all those who said nice things about or re-tweeted my last one, and especially those brave souls who decided to adopt my Rules.  Special thanks to those to whom I promised a follow-up and have waited so patiently.  This one’s for you!

TinyURL for this page: http://tinyurl.com/lvavzd

Updated 2009-06-09: added sub-section ‘Creepy 101’, revised ‘Jesus Christ’ bullet point in section ‘Attack of the Robots’ after I realised I was being followed by a bot-wielding atheist.

2008 Makeover

The "Forty Shades of Green" style that was adorning Smiffy's Place is gone – I was sick of it.

The site has now been redecorated in soothing pastels – which also pass the colour analysis tests at Juicy Studio. (The old colours did too but I can only take Shades of Swamp for so long.)

Other changes involve the fixing of a date formatting bug in the search results and the 'unhiding' of the 'skip to navigation' link at the top of the page for the benefit of sighted keyboard navigators. (Like me. I would just hit <TAB> <ENTER>, but that's because I knew it was there.)

Enjoy – or something.

Aussie Thyroid

As a sufferer of a thyroid disorder and also being married to one, I am pleased to announce the creation of a new patient-to-patient site, AussieThyroid.

This site is still in the early stages of development, but features forums, feed aggregations from related sites and links to other online thyroid resources.

Whilst this site is primarily aimed at Antipodean thyroid patients, visitors and contributors from the international community are, of course, always welcome.

Update

This post has been preserved for posterity – the AussieThyroid site never achieved the promised support and is now defunct.

Mmm – more beer!

The Belgians have a lambic beer called Kriek, containing cherries. It was, therefore, only natural that when I chucked a load of cherries into my beer fermenter, the result would be Kroak.

Kroak nearly went down the drain at bottling time, reeking of aldehydes. However, I bottled it and left it for some months – actually having forgotten that I had made it. When I “found” it again, in the shed, I tasted and was quite smitten with it. It did not take long for the Kroak to disappear.

Today, I brewed up again, but with a revised recipe. As my beers tend to sit in the fermenter longer than the usual homebrew (like up to three months), it will probably be Christmas before I actually get to try today's batch.

Here's what went in it:

  • 2.5kg Munton's light DME
  • 0.5kg Munton's dark DME
  • 870g cherries – pitted and frozen a while back, when they were being sold off cheap.
  • 30g Saaz hop pellets, made into hop tea
  • 5g Saaz hop pellets, straight into the fermenter
  • 20 litres rainwater, filtered to 1 micron (mesh, then charcoal)
  • ½ packet Safale S04 yeast

The original gravity was about 1058.

Stockland, revisited

Ten years ago, I considered creating a personal web page but could not really think of anything to say about myself; instead, I created a site about Stockland, my local village.

Now living quite some way from Stockland – about 10,100 miles (about 16,000 kilometres) in fact – I have revisited the Stockland web site and have made several “technological” updates.

The most significant update has been made to the Tour; this provides a photographic tour through the village and beyond. The original version, a monstrosity in JavaScript, has been replaced by a far more accessible version, written entirely in Perl, with a MySQL backend. The focus is on the image files – all other parts, titles, adjacent images, are stored as metadata, furthering my aims towards producing fully semantic (web) applications.

Enough of the techo-talk: go have a look at this beautiful village, which will now be in the full bloom of Spring. (In the real world, that is; not on the web site.)

Pool Ornament (Class: Reptilia, Order: Squamata, Suborder: Sauria)

Lizard
Lizard
Lizard with my finger, for scale

Having had a strimmer around the swimming pool yesterday, I went out to fish out some of the grass and discovered a live pool ornament. I managed to catch it – getting it to sit on my wrist – and relocated it to under the fennel in the kitchen garden.

Anyone know like to tell me the species?

UPDATE – this is a dragon; which specific one, still unknown. Come on, all you herpetologists out there, let’s have a name! (Both Cecil and Rodney have been suggested, although that wasn’t quite what I meant).