mirrorshard: (Terrella)
2014-12-03 11:41 pm

December Days: Art & science

I had a choice of two icons for this post, both very appropriate in different ways. One is one of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, and of course he's seen as the embodiment of the crossover between the two. The other, which is of course at the top of this post, is a terrella - a spherical magnet, a little Earth - used by William Gilberd in his research into magnetism. They're both my own photography, and being in the presence of these artifacts - in the V&A and the Science Museum respectively - was a wonderful feeling.

Part of the reason I decided not to use the da Vinci icon was because the need for a crossover at all is a modern illusion. Art, as in artisan and artificial, has only recently acquired the airy & impractical ivory tower connotations it has today. In previous centuries, the artist was a tradesman, or at best a professional, on a conceptual level with a plasterer or a chemist rather than with a prince of the Church or of the counting-house, and their labours were devoted towards distinct objects rather than concepts or creations.
As so often happens... )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2014-11-20 06:15 pm

Pie recipe

If you're of a similar mind to me, one of your reactions to the onset of Fimbulvetr is "time to make stew!" And if you're even more like me, you have stock left over once you've served it out. Usually I make Unconquered Stew, ie. put more vegetables and protein in the next day, but this time I decided to do Pie instead - and not entirely because I'd run out of suet to make dumplings, either.

Boil potatoes for mashing as normal, but using the leftover stock and some extra water. Mash them all up together, for a semiliquid potato sludge, and add lots of chopped leeks and mushrooms - let them sit off the heat while you make up the pie crust.

The pie crust (and yes, this is a heretical pie, because I cooked it all in the same dish that then goes in the oven) uses one part wholemeal flour, one part porridge oats, and one part butter-substitute, with salt and a hefty dose of Scarborough Fair herbs, then the whole thing gets liberally sprinkled with nutritional yeast.

Technically, this is sort of an upside-down vegan homity pie, I suppose. The best way to de-veganise it would be to use cheese (a good sharp cheddar or goat's cheese) instead of the mushrooms.
mirrorshard: Photo of a small leather-bound notebook, filled with mirror writing (Da Vinci)
2014-11-17 06:52 pm

December Days

If you give me topics in the comments, I will attempt to write about them. Because "every day" is a bit much for me, I'm going to put up 15 slots, and a further 10 as stretch goals, ie. for if I end up with writing energy left over when I've done the first set.

1. Art & science
2. Being a Quaker
3. Conversation
4. Is the trend towards urbanisation sustainable?
5. Trying to balance multiple factors in self-care (inspired by Soylent)
6. How I define artistic success, and how the gap between that and others' notions affect my art
7. Universal Basic Income
8. Interesting things in Derby

mirrorshard: (Terrella)
2014-11-13 05:51 pm

Adventures in Multiverse Theory

So, I did this survey a while ago.

Actually, when I say I did it, it was carried out by an alternate-universe version of myself, in the parallel branch where I decided actually to do the work, but nothing else changed. To be precise, by selves in an infinite number of alternate universes. And since everything is possible in the infinite multiplicity of infinite worlds, an infinite number of those selves were also genius inventors, and beamed the results of the survey over to me (and an infinite number of other selves who hadn't done the work) so here we are.

Or would be, if they hadn't all got slightly different results.

Not that that matters, because an infinite number of other genius-inventor selves also decided to use this technology to broadcast persistent musical earworms instead.

So the results consist, apparently, of a really complex Fourier transform.

What do we learn from this? - that in the final analysis, which is in this case much the same as the most cursory application of common sense, multiverse theory is to all intents and purposes total bollocks.

But it still makes more sense than this particular pile of foetid shite. (Warning: that site is a nearly-TVTropes-grade memetic hazard.)
mirrorshard: A book growing from a tree branch, captioned "Books where fruit should be". (Books where fruit should be)
2014-11-08 04:46 pm

(no subject)

Oh, goodness, why didn't I know there was a Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell re-read going on at Tor.com? Fantastic insightful discussion.
mirrorshard: (Justify God's Ways to Man)
2014-11-07 12:59 pm


Revolutionary socialist coffee followed by rosehip tea. I am a stereotype.
mirrorshard: (Heart's Desire)
2014-11-04 07:36 pm

Social graph expansion

Navigating social graphs is hard, in several senses.

It's mechanically hard, especially for those of us who don't get to get out to parties much, and because both Facebook and Twitter actively discourage private communication between people who don't already list each other - on Twitter, you can't direct-message someone unless they follow you, and on Facebook, your direct messages get sorted into a disused filing cabinet in a dark cellar.

But more interestingly, it's conceptually hard. It's easy to think "that friend of my friend(s) looks like an awesome human" but less easy to go from that to "they should be my friend too". In the first place, I don't know how they are friends, whether they have something close that they don't want to share, or whether she's an acquaintance (or an ex) who thinks she's a closer friend than she really is. There's no coded mechanism for us to recommend friends, beyond the list of mutual friends we all see, and there's a definite social disincentive to use that as a recommendation - even if it weren't a patently silly thing to do, and a trivial violation of Geek Social Fallacy #whatever.

There's also a definite feeling that it's wrong to want more friends - it feels like being dissatisfied with what I have, and looking for upgrades, rather than an attempt to increase the flow of awesome across my eyeballs, and - with luck - theirs too.

It's certainly possible to ask for an introduction, but I'm not completely certain that anyone has done that since 1896 - they've certainly never asked me for an introduction to another friend, and if they did I'd probably assume it was for romantic purposes. For that matter, approaching someone and saying "please tell your friend that I'm awesome" is difficult enough, even if you have the kind of relationship where you know perfectly well they think you're awesome.

Of course, like everything else, it's very gendered. Women and female-presenting people often say "not looking for friends, I have enough friends" (and whilst I've heard that from men & male-ish people, it's not nearly as common) and that's a really, really good way to protect themselves from the kind of Nice Guy who treat social interactions as some sort of commando raid through the barbed-wire-and-explosions battlefield of the dreaded Friend Zone, into the enemy camp. As a result of the existence of these douches, all us male-ish or -presenting people are Schrödinger's Nice Guy, and it's very difficult to go "hello, would you like to be friends" without worrying about ruining someone's day. (Standard disclaimer: it's far worse for the female-ish half of this interaction. I'm not currently interested in the effect at the end, just the mechanism by which Not Doing It happens.)

(This post brought to you by noticing some points of congruence on Facebook and overthinking things.)
mirrorshard: (Ink & Paper)
2014-11-04 01:04 pm

DW communities

Recommend me some interesting and active communities to join? Art- and/or SF/fantasy based for preference, but I'll consider anything you find interesting. I'm trying to be here more, and More Stuff will help with that.
mirrorshard: A book growing from a tree branch, captioned "Books where fruit should be". (Books where fruit should be)
2014-11-03 06:00 pm


We all have our own favourite mythological monster. (Mine is the selkie, though I have a soft spot for the manticore.) But there are some who turn up ever and again, in so many variations - vampires, werewolves, mermaids, elves, zombies, witches & wizards - and there's one thing that they all have in common, which the less successful varieties don't. They take you out of this view of the world and into another, and if you're lucky you'll get to be like them - if you aren't, you'll have to watch your friends changing sides first. They can all do so much more than kill you.

Vampires exude dangerous and polymorphous sexuality, and the way to render them harmless is to enact missionary position on them. (Seriously, Dracula is destroyed - in the original - by van Helsing kneeling on top of his prone form and hammering a three-foot piece of wood into him from above.) They're positioned as the Other by casting them as predatory women - there's one male vampire in the original, Dracula himself, and it's actually made a feature of in the book that he does all his own domestic duties, which in the 19th century was even more of a thing than it is now. First Lucy and then (nearly) Mina are seduced to the dark side, and on them it looks just as tempting as the original Brides of Dracula do to Jonathan - specifically, lots more feminine imagery and lustful behaviour, which of course was considered a specifically feminine mode of Bad Manners. Even the Twilight style vampires keep the "if you are worthy you can join us and Become Awesome" aspect, when they keep nearly nothing else.

Werewolves are uncontrolled violence and the pure fuzzy essence of dick-waving. They're nothing like real wolves (though there was this one series I read recently, where they behaved much more interestingly - one, out of hundreds) but are instead the distilled & uncut essence of Those Guys The Writer Went To School With. But, unlike Those Guys, they've got the narrative potential to accept you, make you one of them, give you furry superpowers, and then admire you for not giving in to the urge to rip everyone's teeth out. Or, of course, they might just eat you, but nobody tells them they have to be elegant and restrained and use the right fork for your liver.

Mermaids are another interestingly gendered one. Women & feminine-of-centre genderqueer people tend to be much more attracted to mermaids as a concept than men do, probably because it's men they choose as their victims, dragging them down into the deep cool depths of a thinly disguised metaphor. It's not normal to become a mermaid, but their equivalent - the selkie - is something that anyone could return to being.

Elves (faeries, sidhe, the Tylwyth Teg) are famed for stealing children & poets, and anyone who escapes - or who's returned - comes back Interestingly Broken in an awesome sort of way. We all dream of that - of having a disability that makes narrative sense and actually gives you something in return, that you can find an actual reason for. And if you're as awesome as Sir Huon of Bordeaux, you may even become King of Faerie yourself.

The mere existence of zombies changes the world you live in: it becomes survival horror, because eventually, no matter what you do, these things are going to come after you. They are your future, and you will become either one yourself, or its brutalized reflection, the zombie hunter. If zombies exist, you have no choice but to step up to the plate and become awesome.

Concerning witches & wizards - again, their existence changes your world. The possibilities become so much more possible. Even just by meeting one, you learn so much more about the way the world works, and they teach you: yer a wizard now, Harry, and those mean girls are in So Much Trouble. Like it or not, you'll never see the world the same way, and you've got a job to do, whether your name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden or Juanita Louise Callahan.
mirrorshard: (The Book of Rainbows)
2014-10-19 07:41 pm

All to do - all to do!


Our new greenhouse! It has a few panes missing, but a friendly neighbour on the allotment site has donated us some replacement panes (the right size, at that) and it will all be lovely when we've cleaned it up a bit. The picture links through to a set of photos, showing all the salient features of our allotment. We have a large and overgrown strawberry patch, a thicket of sage & fennel, two vegetable beds each 2x8m, a couple of square metres of raspberry canes, a group of currant bushes (red & black) and a little orchard with two apple trees, a pear tree, and a plum tree. The beds will take a bit of weeding, but not more than a few days' worth, and there's lots of long grass to cut.

We're planning on planting herbs & flowers in the orchard area, for a bit of companion planting to keep pests off the fruit. More flowers around the willow bower, and I'll have to strengthen it a bit more - there'll be enough withies and more coming off the top to add all the density we could ever want at the bottom, and we'll put in a loveseat and probably some solar-powered fairy lights. I'll have to experiment a bit with willow weaving, but in a few years it should have enough strength in it to keep off most of the rain, and to put in a shelf for a cup of tea.

Next job, establishing a new compost heap - the last tenant's heap has rotted down very nicely indeed - and filling it with weeds. After that, hedging! The site's got some lovely thorn hedges, and it's our responsibility to keep the hedge at the front of our own plot trimmed - it's been neglected almost as much as the willow has. When that's done, we can start working out how to remove the Enormous and Almost Certainly Verminous Sofa from the shed, and start clearing that up.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2014-10-17 04:55 pm

(no subject)

We have an allotment, complete with a willow arch leading into it! A half plot is huge, and we have inherited not only a shed (which I'd been hoping for) but a greenhouse, a willow bower (to match the willow arch), redcurrant bushes, a blackcurrant bush, raspberry canes, strawberry plants, an artichoke, a huge sage thicket, two mature apple trees loaded with fruit, a pear tree, and a plum tree. I am delighted, and currently trying to work out what variety the SEVEN BILLION APPLES on one of the trees are. (Small-to-medium green eaters.)
mirrorshard: Grass stalks against a summer sky (Summer grass)
2014-10-14 05:08 pm


Right, so we have (will have contingent on viewing and accepting, etc., but we will) an allotment, less than a hundred yards from our house. So now it's time for me to start making a list of plants I want to grow in it. I'm assuming that we won't have anything resembling a greenhouse, so some of these will be aspirational at best, but nevertheless I am going to list them, and in a few years' time with any luck I'll have tried the lot. Someone did suggest putting the wishlist up so we could be sent presents of seeds - if you do fancy that, we will be utterly delighted, but it isn't in the slightest necessary. (NB: I like turnips and Florence fennel, but Elly doesn't, and Brussels sprouts are low priority for both of us, so seeds for those would probably get passed on to someone else who'd eat the results. Same for chillies.)

I'm using The Real Seed Co. here, since [personal profile] kht originally put me on to them and they've done wonderfully in the past, but interesting seeds from any source are good. If anyone localish fancies going in on an order, their packets are large and plentiful, so it'd be very possible to split them between us.

For herbs and flowers, Thomas Etty have a much larger variety.

Beans: I have some 'Trail of Tears' beans, but some Cosse Violette stringless beans would also be good. I have some 'Wizard' field beans as well, which are supposed to be very cold-hardy.
Peas: I have some 'Serpette Guilloteau' peas, but it would be lovely to grow the 'Golden Sweet' mangetout peas too.
Squash: I'm looking at all the lovely varieties there and goodness, how does anyone narrow it down.
Cucumbers: Given the amount of cucumber we eat, growing our own is a priority. Edible skin is good, because I get annoyed with peeling things. Exploding cucumbers are probably not ideal, given wildlife and children. Neither of us are gherkin people.
Lettuce & salad greens: yessssss. Some seed, more always good. Rocket.
Tomatoes: ditto, all down the line, but concentrating on eating varieties rather than cooking varieties.
Peppers: sweet peppers yes, chillis no, because I can't be doing with the heat (can't taste anything else) and wouldn't want to risk them crossing into the sweet peppers.
Root vegetables: Interestingly coloured carrots, parsnips, and Hamburg parsley.
Potatoes, of course.
Melons: I would dearly love to grow melons, and it does seem to suggest that they can do OK outdoors. I would grow Prescott Fond Blanc for the look of them alone.
Kale: I have a fondness for Thousand-Heads because Soyer talks about it, but other varieties are also very nice indeed.
Leeks: I've never met a leek variety I didn't like, see. A combination of Jaune de Poitou and Bleu de Solaise looks like a very good idea indeed.
Broccoli: Green heading Calabrese & purple sprouting.

Herbs: Generally, my attitude to herbs is "the more the better" and I'd love to have as many as possible in the kitchen garden (the knotweed will still let us put herb plants in, I'm just reluctant to do actual vegetables next to it) and on the windowsills.

Soft fruit: We are Extremely Keen on growing a great number of raspberries, and I'm also keen on gooseberries. If the management like fruit trees, putting in a Mirabelle would be a very good thing - if not, we may do that in our own garden.

Flowers: We're both very keen on things which will attract and feed bees, and on British wildflowers.

(Admin note: the Livejournal version of this post will be locked for spam reasons, but the Dreamwidth one will stay open and should allow comments from people without accounts.)
mirrorshard: (Default)
2014-10-09 02:47 pm
Entry tags:

Garter research

Another instalment in my (very) occasional efforts to research the historical antecedents of people (usually female) wearing pictures of other people (usually male) on their garters. I should stress that I'm doing this for artistic and marketing reasons!

This research is difficult, and usually turns up boring pr0n and members of the Order of the Garter. One common result is from modern wedding tradition, in which it's often a picture of a deceased family member - though putting a photo of your grandfather on your garter under your dress seems counterintuitive.

The only other results so far are two films: Red-Headed Woman (1927, with Jean Harlow in an uncharacteristic non-platinum role) and Getting Gertie's Garter (1927, remade 1945 with Marie McDonald). That's an interesting result, and in isolation implies that it wasn't a widespread Thing.

There are some literary allusions as well, but I've not found anything before the 1970s yet, and that refers to embroidered names, not paintings or photographs. More research remains to be done!
mirrorshard: A book growing from a tree branch, captioned "Books where fruit should be". (Books where fruit should be)
2014-10-02 12:06 pm
Entry tags:

The Nine Tailors

I finished The Nine Tailors last night, and I'd forgotten just how incredibly bleak and affecting the ending is - and how Sayers does it through what she doesn't write.

Knowing rather more about Wimsey's PTSD than I did the last time I read it helps me understand the book more, but having experienced it myself makes it hit home all the harder, with a kind of helpless gut-wrenching empathy, and brings the arc of the book around to completion in much the same way as the Great Belzoni would treat an iron bar.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2014-09-28 05:43 pm
Entry tags:

Vegan apple pie

On a whim, I ended up making the apple pie yesterday after all, so here's the (experimental) recipe.

Grease a loaf tin (or something else if that's what you have) with your butter substitute (I use Pure sunflower, since it's fine for the lactose-intolerant person, the milk-protein-intolerant person, and the person who can't have soya) and start the oven heating up to around 200C.

Three Jazz apples (it's what we had), peeled and cored and chopped into interestingly sized bits, go into the tin, followed by a handful of raisins & sultanas, and a hefty sprinkling of mixed spice.

For the pastry, take about three tablespoonfuls of white self-raising flour, about the same of your butter substitute, and a scant tablespoonful of sugar. I used builder's sugar, ie. granulated white, but next time I'll use something more interesting to see what difference it makes. Mix them all up till the mixture no longer sticks to your hands (add more flour if you need to) and add a little water, or almond milk if you have it. Roll it out thinly, drape it over the top of the apple mixture, brush it over with almond milk or the equivalent, and sprinkle more sugar on the top.

Put it in the oven till it's done - it'll take 20 to 30 minutes. Eat with cream or custard - the Alpro soya versions of either are delicious.
mirrorshard: (Justify God's Ways to Man)
2014-09-26 06:17 pm
Entry tags:

Gaude, Sabaoth, John, Jericho, Jubilee, Dimity, Batty Thomas, and Tailor Paul

I had forgotten just how good Dorothy L Sayers's writing is when she's writing about something she really loves.
mirrorshard: Grass stalks against a summer sky (Summer grass)
2014-09-26 01:15 pm
Entry tags:

Not a Sunday roast

Yesterday, I roasted a chicken, and I want to talk about that for a while.

I've been trying to eat more vegan, partly for health reasons and partly because that's the easiest way to opt a little way out of the dietary Omelas of doing harm to animals and ecology and communities, but I'm not about to give up free-range chicken, for personal as well as ethical reasons. (It's a very resource-light meat, very low opportunity cost compared to other meat, and whilst I don't have the numbers it's comparable to processed vegan food.) Mostly, though, it's a family history thing - my mother used to cook roast chicken or lamb every Sunday, and whilst I'm not so bothered about the days of the week it's a nice thing to do. It still feels special, it gives another couple of days' food with the leftovers, and it actually works out quite cheaply.

There's another reason, too... )
mirrorshard: Grass stalks against a summer sky (Summer grass)
2014-09-26 12:43 pm


I should start using this thing again. Which also means I should follow more people. Recommend me some? I'm hesitant just to do a random walk through my friends' friends, because that feels intrusive.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2013-11-08 12:19 pm

(no subject)

There's a strong bias - at least amongst the policy-making classes - that "a handup, not a handout" is the way to go when dealing with poverty. The problem with this culture is that it's based on two three four fundamentally bad assumptions. (There are also other problems, mostly based around business interests, but that's for another day.)

First, that everyone should be middle-class, with a nice middle-class job at a desk, in a tertiary sector industry, and a car and a mortgage - so there's already a well-defined route "up".. And as a corollary to that, choosing to take a route which isn't that one is a bad thing, because other life choices are just temporary aberrations - the kind of thing you do in your gap year for the experience, or something you do for pin money, or to keep yourself busy.

Second, that "dealing with poverty" isn't the business of poor people themselves. The idea that if someone is in a bad situation they are therefore less capable of getting themselves out of it - that someone else, who isn't involved and has more resources (or more moral authority) is better able to see the route out of that situation. This is partly to do with the whole "underlying reasons for poverty" meme: the toxic & stupid idea that if someone is poor, it's their own fault - that they are poor because they are a bad person - or, in a slightly more advanced form, that they are a less competent person because they are poor, and once they become less poor (ie. once they get a nice middle-class job & lifestyle) they will rejoin the ranks of competent people worthy of respect.

Third, that the amount of effort someone is putting into solving a problem is the same as the amount that's visible, and that if they're unsupervised they won't take the problem seriously. This isn't just a fundamental failure of trust, it's a failure inherent in measurement culture - it's the same problem as measuring productivity by lines of code written, or expressing quality of life in terms of GDP per head.

Fourth, that a handout is automatically a bad thing - that it's an undeserved reallocation of finite resources. I'm not sure where these people get the idea that any significant proportion of the money in this country is where it is because its owners "deserved" it, or worked for it. For every Joanne Rowling, there's a George Osborne and a Duke of Grosvenor. We're all broadly behind the idea of social return on investment, but apparently the idea that individual currently disadvantaged humans might be able to manage that for themselves is a bit too revolutionary.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2012-10-08 12:59 am

Housing benefit & the minimum wage

If you resent minimum wage requirements, and you also resent the size of the housing benefit bill, you are not only an arrant hypocrite, but a rather foolish one. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be that uncommon in the general public, who have apparently not grasped some fairly simple facts.

1) Most people who are claiming housing benefit are in work. They're claiming housing benefit because their employers are not paying them enough for them to pay their rent along with all the other useful things in life. There are a number of entirely legal ways to do this, ranging from zero-hours contracts (where you might work 20 hours a week at minimum wage, and take home £130, or you might not work at all) to "apprenticeship" positions paying £2.50 an hour. Or, indeed, paying a full-time minimum wage to someone who is trying to support a family on it.
and five more points )