Remains (by )

They queued up one by one by one,
They laid their necks upon the space,
That had been blunted by generations,
Of freedom so the blade above was forgotten,

They spewed anger into the streets,
Again and again with blood letting,
Pulverised the apples
They left the rotten core,

They queued up one by one by one,
Lost and afraid and turned to fear,
By those seeking scapegoats and straw men,
The burnings began with a flag not a book

Luckily it failed
As the fires that would be - failed
All those flames that would have wiped out homes
Families - tamed by regulations
And yes that is a double edged blade
But one that can be honed and perfected
If not mangled and melted

They burnt the homeless mans tent
All he had within
by the KFC
They... wanted out
They... feel powerless, they are askewed
And I told you treat people like shit
They will believe in that shit
They will become that shit
They will cling on by finger nails of reasoning
They are reactionary
They are not stupid
They are in survival mode
Be grateful if you've never known it

You drove the wedge
Sinking it deeper in financial lines
You laughed at expletives used as words
You decided that those there, they are beneath you
No education, no prospects,
No realisation of the rights they posess,
But you don't know how hard it is to climb out
You don't see the hollow cheeks of despair
The despised in the food line
Aggressive architecture to stop the homeless resting
The charity warehouses and centres closed

People on the edge
People growing weary
People ready to bite
They bit
The hate is unleashed

I vote remain
They vote go
You vote maybe one way maybe not

And the fists are primed
And we are the meat
All of us are the meat
Pounded and pulverised
The meat
That's US
Us within or without
But within at least we wont be cut
As much

Don't be brave
Brave people do stupid things
Don't vote with your heart
That again is a reactionary thing
Stop... look and think!

What do I want?
What about the other?
Crack down the wall of us and them
Tribalism is cannibalism
Don't condemn the opposition
Let them speak
Listen and...
Then debate
No name calls
Or flotillas on the Thames
Amusing as it all is
It is dire in it's consequence

We queue up one by one by one
We queue....
We wait
What ever the result
I hope we have not unleashed the plague
Of Fascism.

Towards the Family Mainframe (by )

Last September, I posted progress on the construction of our domestic mainframe. To recap, the intent is to build a dedicated home server that's as awesome as possible - meaning it's reliable, safe, and easy to maintain. That rules out "desktop tower PC in a cupboard" (accumulates dust bunnies, gets too hot, easily stolen, prone to children poking it); "put a 19" rack somewhere in your house" is better, but consumes a lot of floor footprint and doesn't fix the dust bunny problem. So I've made my own custom steel chassis; fed cold air at pressure via a filter, incorporating a dedicated battery backup system, locked and anchored to the wall, and with lots of room inside for expansion and maintenance.

Since that blog post, I've finished the metalwork, painted it with automotive paint using a spray gun (which was a massive job in itself!), fixed it to the wall, and fitted nearly all of the electronics into it.

A significant delay was caused by the motherboard not working. I sent it back to the shop, and they said it was fine; so I sent the CPU back, and they said THAT was fine; so I sent both back together and it turned out that the two of them weren't compatible in some way that was solved by the motherboard manufacturer re-flashing my BIOS. That's now up and running; I was able to use the HDMI and USB ports on the outside of the chassis to connect up and install NetBSD from a USB stick, then connected it to the network and installed Xen so I can run all my services in virtual machines. It's now running fine and everything else can be done via SSH, but the HDMI and USB ports are there so I can do console administration in future without having to open the case (unless I need to press the reset button, which is inside).

The one thing it's lacking is the management microprocessor. I've prototype this thing on a breadboard and written the software, but need to finish off the PCB and cabling: but it will have an AVR controlling three 10mm RGB LEDs on the front panel, and three temperature/humidity sensors in the inlet and outlet air (and one spare for more advanced air management in future). But the idea is that the three LEDs on the front panel will display useful system status, and the environment sensor data will be logged.

Here's what it looks like from the outside; note the air inlet hose at the top left:

Family mainframe

The socket panel on the left hand side worked out pretty well - 240v inlet at the bottom, then on the aluminium panel, three Ethernets, HDMI, and USB (my console cable is still plugged into the HDMI and USB in the photo, which won't usually be the case):

I/O sockets panel and the power inlet

And here's the inside, with lots of space for more disks or other extra hardware; the big black box at the bottom is the battery backup system:

Innards of the family mainframe

Now I have Xen installed, I'm working on a means of building VMs from scripts, so any VM's disk image can be rebuilt on demand. This will make it easy for me to upgrade; any data that needs keeping will be mounted from a separate disk partition, so the boot disk images of the VMs themselves are "disposable" and entirely created by the script (the one slightly tricky thing being the password file in /etc/). This will make upgrades safe and easy - I can tinker with a build script for a new version of a VM, testing it out and destroying the VMs when I'm done, and then when it's good, remount the live data partition onto it and then point the relevant IP address at it. If the upgrade goes bad, I can roll it back by resurrecting the old VM, which I'll only delete when I'm happy with its replacement. This is the kind of thing NixOS does; but that's for Linux rather than NetBSD, so I'm rolling my own that's a little more basic (in that it builds entire VM filesystems from a script, rather than individual packages, with all the complexities of coupling them together nicely).

I'm using NetBSD's excellent logical volume manager to make it easy to manage those partitions across the four disks. There are two volume groups, each containing two physical disks, so I can arrange for important data to be mirrored across different physical disks (not in the RAID sense, which the LVM can do for me, but in the sense of having a live nightly snapshot of things on separate disks, ready to be hot-swapped in if required). I still have SATA ports and physical bays free for more disks, and the LVM will allow me to add them to the volume groups as required, so I can expand the disk space without major downtime.

So for now it's just a matter of making VMs and migrating existing services onto them, then I can take down the noisy, struggling, cranky old servers in the lounge! This project has been a lot of work - but when I ssh into it from inside the house (over the cabling I put in between the house and the workshop) and see all that disk space free in the LVM and all the RAM waiting to be assigned to domU VMs that I can migrate my current services to, it's all worth it!

Kids in my workshop (by )

Kids are fascinated by my workshop. It's a separate building, at the end of the garden. Through the window, you can make out the shape of shelves full of strange tools. Half-finished projects loom on the workbench (and all over the floor, alas). It's clearly a place where something happens.

But it's also a place of danger; our kids are firmly instructed never to go into it without an adult. Even Mary, who has little respect for boundaries and rules, lurks nervously on the threshold and calls out to me if she needs me while I'm in there. She has been in here, but usually only when carried in my arms. Jean gets to come in on her own two feet, but only when accompanied, and she asks if it's safe first, if I'm already in there and she comes to join me.

But kids love the process of making things (and the related process of taking things apart to fix or improve them). They love seeing inside things that are normally firmly in one piece with No User Servicable Parts. My welding, nailing, screwing, brazing and gluing is a much more awesome form of them making stuff out of Lego.

I've been teaching Jean TIG welding. Many years ago, I promised her I'd teach her to solder when she was seven, and to weld when she was ten (both conditional on her being responsible enough to be trusted with the tools involved by that stage). She did some soldering, and enjoyed making electronic circuits work, but it didn't seem to really grab her that seriously. Welding, however, has been a different matter; after I taught her the basics, she got her own welding gloves and mask for Christmas (thanks to a really lovely local welding supplies company who were inspired by seeing her in my oversized gear on Twitter). So far, she's made a shoe rack for her school and made two boot scrapers out of horseshoes; we're really limited on me having time to sit and help her design and implement stuff (she's a bit scared of the angle grinder, plasma cutter and chop saw, so I need to do all the cutting for her to weld together), as she has plans for things to do with the rest of the big box of horseshoes she has under the workbench...

I consider it my workshop, because I am responsible for it, and I am the biggest user of it. It's set out the way I like with the tools I want in it, but the rest of my family is in no way excluded from using it. I made a little footstool for the TIG welder's control pedal so it's at a good height for Jean; I was fine with it on the floor because I have long legs, but it's set up so that we can both use it, because that's a part of the workshop that she shares (along with the space her box of horseshoes sits in, and the section of shelf set aside for her welding equipment). And I really love that I share part of it with her. She's a lot neater at welding than I was at her stage (and I couldn't weld at all at her AGE); combined with the kinds of interests she has, I think she has a future in making sculptures and practical things that look nice, the kinds of things a modern blacksmith does. Mary, at age 5 as I write this, is far too young to have an argon plasma hotter than the Sun at her fingertips, but she's really enthusiastic about building things out of Lego, and she's obsessed with tools and "fixing things". From her interests and mentality, I have a hunch she's going to be quite interested in mechanical engineering; cogs, pistons, motors, that sort of thing. I wish I had a metal lathe I could teach her how to use (not that we have space for one); I'll just have to hope that Cheltenham Hackspace manages to get one at some point, because I think turning metal will blow her mind. I'm hoping electronics might catch that complex-system-building spark I see within her, because that's something I do have the tools and skills to help her with.

But do you know what breaks my heart? People saying it's a shame I don't have a son to share the workshop stuff with. As if Jean's enthusiasm for fusing metal into interesting and useful shapes is somehow insufficient, a pale imitation of the true appreciation of metalwork that somebody with a penis could have. How do the people saying things like that think it makes my daughters or my wife feel about their interests in technology?

I'm sick of the sexism about this kind of thing. I've never seen one shred of evidence that gender differences in interests are anything other than people reflecting what they've been told they should like; in my experience (as a parent and as a Cub leader), kids' interests have little to do with their gender, but they're very sensitive to social pressures, and end up denying their interests (or trying to turn them into "gender-approved" forms in some way). That's such a waste, and I've seen it cause a lot of pain.

Slams and Other News (by )

Tonight Friday 13th I will be performing in the Cheltenham Poetry Festivals Slam - Slam Burger. I will be swearing on stage, in a poem, this is actually an incredibly hard thing for me to do... I can just see all the little old ladies from the church of my youth frowning at me in my head - none-the-less the poem needs to be said and so it shall be.

I will still come last :) I always do! (Except the time I came second from last!). But I do tend to get myself mentioned in news papers with poems that are "rants against the government", even if they can't spell my name right (newspapers never get my name right! or if they do they spell my kids or husband's name wrong!). The article is from last weekends Slam - a fantastic even of sparkling dark and joy.

Swindon's 20th annual Poetry Slam

It was the 20th annual slam and I think the longest consecutive poetry slam in the UK. I poddled down there with the lovely poet, actor and comedian Joy-Amy who unlike me came a fantastic and well deserved 2nd :)

In other news I am still uber busy with the colouring book visual poem A Stranger Dream: Love that a launched at the end of April. It is steadily selling and I have actually gotten around to sending out some review copies (yes I know it is supposed to happen before you release the book :) ).

Posting out copies of A Stranger Dream

I sold out of the heart handled mugs with the art work Love on it - one of the pictures from the book. I have ordered more and they have now arrived :) I am still sorting out the Normal Mugs with normal handles but will have them soon :)

Yesterday the first lot of artwork badges arrived and I have homed 3 of them already :)

Shut up Badges from A Stranger Dream

There is a still quiet a bit of a to-do list to get everything I want to go with the book/be done with the art work :)

So far no bad reviews (that wont last but for now I am basking).

I am down to just two copies of the books I had to sell - there is another lot en-route, I will have them with me tonight at the poetry slam. Otherwise the next chance to buy the books and artwork stuff from me is going to be The Mini-Mall Con in June :)

(I may also be making Alaric dress as young spock once again which as those who came to my 30th know is a treat worth it's weight in jelly beans!).

Of course you can order it on line from Amazon.

I hope to be doing more shows, stalls and things with it and I will be seeing if I can make the video of good enough quality to maybe show at an event but we are looking at next year for that sort of thing :)

Stories and poems are starting to go up on the various Monster Blogs once more which has been a long time coming thanks to head bang stuff. However slight change... they now tend to get pre-viewed on my Patreon account for those who are supporting me financially - to be honest though it paid for me to launch and create A Stranger Dream I still do not have quiet enough to be replacing the tech I need to replace and to make the blogs ad free etc... So if you find yourself with monies and you want to see stories and art from me... (yeah I hate asking for money but you know it has to happen or I actually can't afford to be producing this stuff!).

Anyway.... my patreon.

Also - yes a lot of alsos :) I will have art at Art in the Park Cheltenham this summer.

And lastly - I really liked working on A Stranger Dream colouring in book, about 2 weeks in I made a list of other colouring in books I would like to make both poetry and not poetry based. So last week I popped a poll up to narrow down which one to work on next. I only gave four options and the ability for people to suggest other things... the resounding favourite option was Myths and Legends so I have started work on that.

I have a couple of commissions at the moment so it has to fit in around them but it has begun!


Opps I lied one more thing or maybe two!!!

I will be doing a set at Science Show Off in Bristol on Weds 25th of May at the Grain Barge - there will be stars and poems and possibly a puppet but hopefully no singing!

And there will be steam punk and science-craft workshops run by me at Wychwood Musical Festival :)

I do have a news letter...

I think that's everything but probably isn't!

Hope to see local peeps tonight!

The Blank Doll (by )

I have wondered about sharing this before but it is a silly memory really... it's about a rag doll, sort of, not a mookie made from scraps of old cloths and not a rag doll like my Jack and Jill/Gamima - no this was another sort.

It was stuffed with sand, made of a coarsish cotton but not hessian, it was off white or at least that's how it started. It was never a fine linen. It ended up frayed, and mottled, I think it maybe in this house if not possibly still at my parents.

I sadly lost the accompanying bag long long ago, it was filled with amulets or totems or my treasures - fossil shell, pink iridescent turtle bead, blue plastic mermaid, a red stone, an acorn cup stains with a circle of elderberry juice from the school field - you get the idea. The doll would nestle in these things and I'd carry the bag around.

My nan gave it to me, my nan made it, I was being bullied... badly, I'd been very ill... very (as in blood transfusion going wrong), and so on... one nan tried to stop the nightmares with lavender; the other gave me the blank doll. It had a circular head and segmented arms and legs, a shapeless, featureless thing.

"It can be anybody you want it to be" she told me. It had no eyes, no mouth, no nose - nothing. It scared me, it was a vulnerable, powerful thing. It was mine, it belonged to no one but itself. It was kind of flat and 2D.

It was me, it was my enemy, it was everyone, or so I decided. If it could be anyone then why not everyone... and so I cared for it and looked after it and put it in the bag of things that were special. In the way of a powerless child as all children are - I attempted to make the world a better place.

Using a blank doll my nan had made me. Sometimes I sprayed it with lavender so it would not have nightmares or be eaten by monsters or I got lucky heather from the gypsies in Romford Market - they would never let me pay for it, those ladies in their black long skirts and crinkled eyes.

The Blank Doll who had no other name seemed to move about - a quirk of memory or childhood or both - it was rarely where I'd left it. But I lived no horror movie, there were no blood stains, only coffee splotches turning it a brown in places. It yellowed with age. I did not draw on it, to do so would have somehow defined it, imprisoned it, make it something and nothing rather than nothing and everything.

It scares me and I love it. The Blank Doll filled with sand that my nan gave me.

When I was sick with Jean's pregnancy a lady in at the same time asked me if I believed in voodoo, I hesitated and I could not answer - she thought I was maybe the victim of voodoo, with the problems I was having, she had many scary stories of women over Ilford way having their unborns stolen from their bellies. I thought of my blank doll, I think my dad found it for me - and I felt better, it's hard to admit with the science background but when I am emotionally stressed I fall back on the old superstitions and the comforts and so if there was voodoo I had my blank doll and it could be counteracted because my blank doll is me, it is my enemy, it is everybody and I love it and I care for it and that is a shield and a net.

I told you it was silly, just a little memory that got sparked by something today and I thought... I should share this before I lose it again.

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