Archive for September, 2008

The adventure continues: In piam memoriam Fundatricis nostrae

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

On Saturday morning Emily dropped by for a visit, and we went shopping in the town. [I have a photo of us outside Great St Mary's, but not her permission to publish it.] She drove us down to the town centre, but the traffic was terrible. When there, we went to the market and bought presents and a pack of what turned out to be the least effective AA batteries ever for my camera; they failed after the first photo.

We went into the porter’s lodge. “I’d like to hire a BA gown for Commemoration, please,” I said. “Certainly,” said the porter, “that’ll be ten pounds.” I’d somehow expected it to cost rather more. He handed over the gown, and my room key and the programme for the evening, while Emily chatted to him. I looked up and said, “Um, this is a master’s gown.” “Never mind,” he said, “nobody’ll know and you can keep a bottle of wine in the sleeves.”

Emily drove me home; the traffic was even worse. Tea on the college lawn began at four and it was almost five by the time we’d reached my house. She dropped me off, and I got changed into soberer clothes (not evening dress yet), and caught the bus back into college. A few members were still there and the staff in their college livery were still serving coffee; I thought nobody would still be around, but I ran into a former housemate of mine straight away.

When we’d chatted for a while I went up to my room in Hobson Court, and found I had everything except the key. It was back at Kirsten and Colin’s house. I went back down to the porter’s lodge and explained.
“We do make a charge for lost keys.”
“Oh dear.”
“It goes to Rag.”
“Oh good.”
“It’s a pound.”
“Oh, right.”
“Thurman, isn’t it? You’re the one with the attractive sister?” Emily, be proud.

I ran back down and then gingerly paced into the chapel. I’d missed the part where the Master reads the list of all the dead benefactors, but there was a choir there who were singing Latin anthems in tight harmony. I sat and listened and thought about how much I’d forgotten I’d missed the chapel and even the smell of it. It amused me a little that even though this service is the official reason for the whole reunion, only about a dozen people were in the chapel out of around a hundred attending the reunion. This is often the way, that an unimportant part of something becomes the main part and the old centre begins to vanish away.

After chapel I had to get batteries. I ran out into the street and across to Sainsbury’s. Stop staring at me, for heaven’s sake, you’ve seen a bloke in academic dress in a supermarket before. I found a pack of AAs and then queued for a rather long time before I could get back up into the Master’s lodge and try to find all the old classmates I hadn’t seen for so long. Most of them have now become programmers, I think, and “Are you on Facebook?” is the question everyone’s asking one another.

The dinner was wonderful, and large, and I met many old friends.

I am too tired to post a lot of details about it now, but I might later. I don’t have pictures of the loving cup ceremony, because both my hands were occupied with an enormous silver cup. However, I know the person opposite and he will email me the photos. Finally, here’s me in a gown. Hurrah.

“What did the short zombie say?” “KIIIIDNEEEEYYS!”

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Lots of text, but light on photos today.

Gentle reader, when we left our intrepid hero… anyway, I was on the train back to see my grandparents. My parents introduced me to Lily and Alfie the dogs, who are boisterous, and Molly the kitten, who occasionally attempts to attack them until they notice. Andrew, who was home from Durham, fed me some of his new rhubarb ice-cream.

My father drove me a fair way to get to my grandparents’ house; they were, well, six years older than last time, no more, at least to the appearance: I’d expected them to seem very, very old somehow, from all they’d been saying. We talked about random things and they gave us tea and biscuits. My grandmother does make the best tea ever. After all this driving around, I arrived back in Cambridge at midnight-oh-one, and Colin was there to take me home, which was excellent of him.

Not much happened on Thursday daytime, but later there was a pubmeet at the Carlton Arms, which is a much friendlier place than I remember it being. (There were actually two pubmeets; I was invited to the other one as well, on that day by people from work, but didn’t find out about it until afterwards because I hadn’t looked at IRC.) I would describe it to you, but imagine nargery lasting several hours, plus beer, and you have a pubmeet. (When I walked in, the bar staff were saying to one another, “Look, that‘s a shove-ha’penny board, if anyone asks for one.”)

Friday was a beautiful day, not just in the weather but for the memories. Katie turned up around noon and we went to lunch with some of my workmates. During the meal, a pint glass standing calmly on the table decided to split explosively right down the middle for no clear reason. When everyone was done, Katie and I went for a long walk around Cambridge and ended up cuddling under a tree until the sun went down, talking about life and politics and humanity, and looking at the sky and the branches. It was very happy, and the afternoon seemed to last a few months. We ended up going to eat some pizza, and then she had to go home. (She has the photos, so if it’s okay I’ll put some of them up here later.)

Later I went to Relativity where they were having a meal, and lots of people were there (oh, let’s see, Colin and Kirsten, and Rachel and Jacob, and Jon and Benedict, and Aldabra, and Ian Jackson, and some amazing Scottish woman who speaks a bunch of Celtic languages plus Quechua, whose name I forget, who discussed philology with me, and probably more people. It was quite a crowd). Everyone toasted my return to England and many people demanded a return together with Fin and Rio. During the evening Benedict thought up the line which is the title of this post.

In our next instalment, Commemoration happens.

“What did Freud say came between fear and sex?” “Funf.”

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

After many last hugs and kisses I trail into the airport with my luggage and my laptop, but the flight is rather uneventful, though I get almost no work and almost no sleeping done.  At Heathrow I wait for a coach which is late and driven by an apparently surly Scot who sees me waiting and explains, “It’ll take half an hour to get this lot unloaded!”  Later I see it’s a façade when he adds as we leave the airport, “Why are you so quiet back there?  Is my driving that good?  Good God, I’ll have to get a licence!”

As soon as we cross the Cambridge city boundary it obligingly begins to rain for the first time.  The coach drops me on Parker’s Piece where I stop to take the obligatory photo of myself next to Reality Checkpoint, and then phone Kirsten.  She says Colin is out looking for me, but it happens that we somehow miss one another, so I tell them I’ll take a bus.  I go to do so, and get lost, but the staff at the Maypole explain which bus to catch and wave away my offer of buying a drink to pay them back.  You should therefore all go to drink at the Maypole.

The bus driver looks at my tenner and tells me it’s too old, and so is the fiver, and I can only change them at a bank.  In the end, though, he turns out to be a member of the helpful species of bus driver and takes them anyway.

And so I was at Colin and Kirsten‘s house!  They made me very welcome, and later we went to see Jon (source of the joke in the title here) and then they took me out for dinner at a tapas place, which was lovely, and then we talked until I was almost falling asleep, which was unsurprising.

The next day, I woke up far later than I’d intended: on balance, it was probably a really good thing to get over the jetlag.  I went into town and met the Collaborans, who are a fascinating bunch with whom I can foresee a fair amount of beer being drunk, and then went to the town in which I grew up to meet my aged grandparents.  I was going to see them next Sunday but then they decided to go out for lunch during the time I was going to see them, so I’m going tonight.  On the way I passed the butterfly bush growing wild; I took some photos for Fin who loves them.  They don’t grow wild in America.

I was expecting a great amount of reverse culture shock.  Instead, there’s been almost none: I feel as though a badly-tuned channel had just snapped back into clarity.  Without thinking, I am actually looking the correct way as I cross the road.  I love all the little quirks I’d missed about this country, and this town.  I love wandering around the town and hearing conversations about philosophy and conversations in languages I can’t even identify and people walking past in evening dress as though this was something not to be remarked on.  For all its almost insufferable inequalities it’s a thing of great beauty. But much as I like it here, I miss my family back in Pennsylvania an awful lot, too. I’m phoning them every day and keeping up with all their news, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person all the time.

Oh, and I also passed the Chronophage, so I took a photo for Sabotabby’s benefit; it’s actually set into the street wall of the college, not inside as I’d imagined.

chronophage

Shavian

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Shavian screenshot

Gnome in the Shavian Alphabet: or, Doing apparently silly things in GNOME which might actually prove useful.

I started to write it here, but WordPress has some Unicode issues. So I wrote it there instead.

Interesting challenges ahead

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Funny how things work out sometimes.  On Monday week, which also happens to be the first day of my first week back in England in six years, I’ll be taking up a new job at Collabora.  (I’ll still be based in Pennsylvania, but it just happened to be that I was in Cambridge in my first week anyway!)  I’m very happy and excited about it all.

In tenuously related news, Carmen, who wrote the amazing resume I linked to a few weeks ago, has grown it into a blog called The Resume Project where people send in their resumes for their life rather than their jobs.  I sent her a resume in the form of a ballade, which you might enjoy reading if you enjoy reading such things (I love ballades; I think they’re an underappreciated form).  As I said, though, it’s not autobiographical:  I do really think life should include climbing trees, writing poetry, and paddling, but the real me would very quickly get very bored if it didn’t also include at least six hours of coding every day. :)

Is there really no way to do this already?

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

I admit I always install themes and so on either with the package manager or by hand.  This entry on Ubuntu Brainstorm is asking for a program to turn all parts of a given theme on the current computer into one big file so that you can upload it to places, and then also to turn it back into parts of a theme again when people have downloaded it.  It sounds like a job which could be done by a fairly simple pygtk application.  (I could write it, but I have a lot to maintain already.)

(I didn’t see the Brainstorm post originally, but it has spilled over to various other forums.)

Tewkesbury memory

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

When I was a child, my family went to visit Tewkesbury, during which time both the rivers flooded and I went walking in a submerged field so I didn’t know where the bank was, and didn’t realise until later how close I must have been to the fast-running water. Another time I walked across a bridge where the water was actually flowing, faster than tapwater, under the rail, and I thought I would be safe if I held on to the top. In those days I was immortal, and lucky. And we lived for a week in an old house, above the high water line, and wandered around that part of the world exploring. During that time I was happier than I can say.

Of course we went to the Abbey, because the Abbey is a wonder. And when we were there, one of the Abbey staff began talking to us and told us, “I don’t usually show people this, but since there are so many of you, I’ll show you.” There were five children and two grown-ups. She took us into a side-room, a vestry perhaps, where only the priests and the vergers went, a room with a table and some chairs. And she closed the great wooden door, and on the back we saw armour. The door was covered with it: not ringmail or platemail, but leather armour it was, set throughout with metal studs.

She told us that after the battle the monks had gone out and stripped the armour from the bodies, and used it to cover the door. What I didn’t find out until years later was that many of the soldiers on the losing side actually ran from the winners and sought sanctuary in the abbey: the winning side chased them down and killed them there anyway. The abbey was closed for a month until the monks could bless it and make it clean again.

No wonder they hadn’t redecorated in five hundred years.

And apparently last year the floodwaters didn’t just pass that house we stayed in, but they actually entered the abbey, too. There was some clearing up that time, as well.

Translations policy

Monday, September 1st, 2008

I added a string to Metacity (in trunk, of course, not for the stable release).  If I can translate the string into two of the languages in po/ (cy and en_GB), should I just do the ordinary po-updating work and then translate that one string, and commit that, or should I go and ask the translation team first?

(I’m not exactly completely fluent in Welsh, but good enough to read most of the news; I can at least say “move the window to the centre of the screen”, especially if I already have “move the window to the left of the screen” translated.)