The Warrior Butterfly (by )

Tonight (21 st Nov 2014) I am going to be taking part in a Quiet Compare event at The Strand in Cheltenham. It is medical themed poetry so I am taking along a poem I have only ever performed twice before and never to a live audience that is sitting there just for poetry.

The poem is The Warrior Butterfly and chronicles the issues I had around the pregnancy and birth of Jean, I could write a lot on the imagery and what the poem means to me but I shall not. The two previous performances were: 1) Cheltenham Community Radio for one of their shows and 2) for the On Form Sculpture exhibition in Oxford a few years ago where I stood on an Earth work (made for the garden not an ancient burial site) that was covered in flowers and called it to the sky and the arty loving people who happened to be wandering about at the time.

It is a long and in many ways personally indulgent poem for me, not my normal but as such it is often not the right sort of thing to read at events and the actual reading of it is hard for me.

I hope local peeps might like to come out tonight to listen - it isn't just me performing a 4 and a half minute poem, there are lots of others performing too, some of whom you might even have heard of!

Anyway I'd better give it the read through a couple of times before tonight.

Here's the event details for those of you not on Facebook it is 7:30 at The Strand in Cheltenham with a £1/£2 suggested donation on the door.

The Dyslexic Author (by )

Sarah Snell-Pym Award Winning Author

This week is Dyslexia Awareness Week, it is also the begininng of an insane writing challenge called NaNoWriMo which stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you write a minimum of fifty thousand words in a month and I have been doing this challenge and a picture book sister challenge called PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) since 2009, which is now scary long ago.

When I first started the challenge and using the forum I felt very edgy, being severely dyslexic made me hesitate to enter into online written discussions with grammarian monsters - the sort that correct friends' emails. How was I ever going to compare to such writing experts when sometimes I can't spell mine or my kids' names correctly?

Trying to belt out a novel is an amazing experience but it is also an emotionally fraught one, especially for those low on self confidence. Self confidence is a key to success - it is not the only key but it is one of the main three - Self Confidence, Endurance and Improvisation/Adaptability. Dyslexics, due to our education system and social attitudes, tend to be high on intelligence and low on that whole confidence thing. To keep going with the writing you kind of need to believe that your story is good enough, that your imagination is fantastic and that everyone is going to want to read it. Many authors go through a cycle of thinking their stuff is amazing and will win a nobel prize, to sinking into a pit of despair over how rubbish it is.

But dyslexics have an added edge of nerves, an extra question over their abilities. Not only is there the language structure issues but there is the widely held idea that if you cannot spell you cannot write. This is wrong.

And it turned out that the way NaNoWriMo works is fantastic for boosting dyslexic writers. It goes something like this - everyone is rushing to get down as many words as they can, you are encouraged to leave the typos as they are and just keep going, everyone has typos, inversions of letters, missed letter where they are just typing so fast. Normal people see these and correct them, the dyslexic brain may think that that is the correct spelling and at other times it will see it as wrong - but conversely it might see the correct spelling as wrong and correct it to something incorrect - DOH!

What this means though is that when you are sitting in a cafe or pub with a group of writers your red line squiggles are no longer an issue - everyone has them. Then there is the concept that you can edit a book with mistakes in, no matter how many mistakes there are, but if there is no book to begin with you cannot edit it into something. This frees you up to write.

One of the things I also found was that increasingly I was learning language intricacies and histories and that I could grab the grammar nazis by the proverbial and correct them if and when they started. Grammar is not a fixed thing - look at the history of writing and you find that Shakespeare couldn't spell his own name, that names themselves are pretty fluid, that grammar is just basically a mark up language to tell the reader when to breathe when talking out loud.

But can a dyslexic ever be a writer, be a published author, a journalist?

Yes, they can, and when they do they tend to be multi-genre writers, not brilliant for becoming a household name but good for writing how-to and last minute books, to be able to switch the brain from science to sports to craft, to be journalists (with patient editors!), to be non-specialist all round jacks of all trades. And, increasingly, this is becoming acceptable back in the realm of fiction, thanks to authors such as Neil Gaiman.

So where does that leave me? I have said repeatedly that I must be insane trying to be a writer whilst being very very badly dyslexic but, you know what, I wasn't - I find that being dyslexic helps with research for stories and articles, as I can't rely on words or even the grammar. I often have to use both plus the context, meaning that I can often pick up on the big or small picture, the hidden concepts and deeper meanings. It also stops me making stupid assumptions as I can't take the writing literally and if it doesn't seem right I am forced to ask, to check. For science writing this is extremely important.

Now before we go any further, dyslexia is not something I can really define; it is just a part of how my brain is wired so I will not say that my writing success is because of, nor in spite of, the dyslexia. It could have stopped me; it was a hurdle, and it has stopped many but mainly because they are told they can't do things because of it. Also, yes, I am contrary and stubborn so when people told me I could not, or that I would find stuff hard, I was determined to show them I could do it - especially when my intelligence itself was under attack.

But would my life achievements have been different without the dyslexia? I kind of think not, I just had to take a different path. And that path has been strange and winding and this last week I have found myself writing craft workshops, reading my kids poetry and stories to kids whilst dressed up in ridiculous outfits at various kid clubs, being asked to perform my page poetry at several events, asked to run writing days for adults and kids, getting sci-fi stories accepted, writing blog copy and presenting my project Cuddly Science which includes script writing and picture book writing and report writing and talk writing.

And that was just this week. This last month included articles on sci-fi/fantasy and science and crafts and gardening and grant applications, and this last year saw me become a member of the Poetry Society, British Science Fiction Association and the British Science Writers Association (and yes that does confuse me especially as there is also the British Hen Well-Fare Trust that we got the chickens from too!), I have been asked to present awards to school kids and I completed a Science Communication course - something I dismissed as a "can't" during my undergraduate degree, due to the dyslexic issues.

I now firmly place myself in the role of writer, of author and so do others. I am finally what I was told I could never be - a dyslexic author. It was not trial free and it is not yet over, it kind of will never be over and I'm ok with that.

Back to NaNoWriMo, I find myself actively encouraging dyslexics to write - to take part and I love wondering around the forums and Facebook pages and twitter seeing articles like this pop up and I love to be able to say to those who are worried, those who are struggling, don't give up, you can succeed at this. And that doesn't just go for writing, it goes for every aspect of career and life :D

Folding history (by )

Ugarit is a content-addressed store; the vault is a series of blocks, identified by a hash, that cannot change once they are written.

But logically, they appear as a set of "tags", each of which either points to an archive (a set of files with associated metadata, which can be added to, or the metadata of existing files changed) or snapshots (a chain of snapshots of a filesystem at a point in time).

So in a store where objects cannot be modified, how do we create the illusion of mutable state in these "tags"? Read more »

Further progress on Ugarit archival mode (by )

Further to my last post on the matter, I've been working on the basic user interface to accessing archive metadata.

As before, let's do an import to an archive tag in a vault. I've made a manifest file with three MP3s in - all data that could be extract from ID3 tags, and I plan to write a tool to automate the generation of manifests by examining their contents in exactly that manner, but for now I had to hand-write one:

[alaric@ahusai ugarit]$ cat test.manifest
(object "/home/alaric/archive/sorted-music/UNKLE/Psyence Fiction/13 Be There.mp3"
        (title = "Be There")
        (track = 13)
        (artist = "UNKLE")
        (album = "Psyence Fiction"))

(object "/home/alaric/archive/sorted-music/UNKLE/Psyence Fiction/11 Rabbit in Your Headlights.mp3"
        (title = "Rabbit in Your Headlights")
        (track = 11)
        (artist = "UNKLE")
        (album = "Psyence Fiction"))

(object "/home/alaric/archive/sorted-music/Led Zeppelin/Remasters/1-09 Celebration Day.mp3"
        (title = "Celebration Day")
        (track = 9)
        (volume = 1)
        (artist = "Led Zeppelin")
        (album = "Remasters"))

As before, I import it, loading the files into the content-addressible storage of the vault, automatically deduplicating, and possibly storing the data on a cluster of remote servers (although in this case, I'm just using a local vault). This was done with Ugarit revision [80b324f3af]:

[alaric@ahusai ugarit]$ ugarit import test.conf music test.manifest
Loading manifest file test.manifest...
Importing from test.manifest to tag music...
Importing /home/alaric/archive/sorted-music/Led Zeppelin/Remasters/1-09 Celebration Day.mp3...
...imported with key 4d64e4650333741cb56c3e6a785b6de4d23324cb1055e529
Importing /home/alaric/archive/sorted-music/UNKLE/Psyence Fiction/11 Rabbit in Your Headlights.mp3...
...imported with key 370bee7debb458357a2b879014d4abbeb409215ed269c1c6
Importing /home/alaric/archive/sorted-music/UNKLE/Psyence Fiction/13 Be There.mp3...
...imported with key 39df8bafd530a66614ad60ab323033b1385cdd842528dbd2
Committing import...
Imported successfully to tag music with import key ac26354ccfb0530109932c1aaddd414b59d4394d44ec43cd
Written 16MiB to the vault in 24 blocks, and reused 0B in 1 blocks (before compression)

But now it's in, we can query the metadata. Firstly, let's see what properties are available - a combination of the ones we wrote in the manifest, and automatically-generated ones such as a MIME type and the original import path:

[alaric@ahusai ugarit]$ ugarit search-props test.conf music
album
artist
filename
import-path
mime-type
title
track
volume

Let's see what values there are for the "artist" property:

[alaric@ahusai ugarit]$ ugarit search-values test.conf music artist
UNKLE
Led Zeppelin

(they're sorted by popularity, and we have two UNKLE tracks, so that comes first)

Let's see what UNKLE albums we have, by filtering for objects with an artist property of "UNKLE" and asking what values of the "album" property are available:

[alaric@ahusai ugarit]$ ugarit search-values test.conf music '(= ($ artist) "UNKLE")' album
Psyence Fiction

Let's see what we know about music by UNKLE:

[alaric@ahusai ugarit]$ ugarit search test.conf music '(= ($ artist) "UNKLE")'
object 39df8bafd530a66614ad60ab323033b1385cdd842528dbd2
    (album = "Psyence Fiction")
    (artist = "UNKLE")
    (filename = "13 Be There.mp3")
    (import-path = "/home/alaric/archive/sorted-music/UNKLE/Psyence Fiction/13 Be There.mp3")
    (mime-type = "audio/mpeg")
    (title = "Be There")
    (track = 13)
object 370bee7debb458357a2b879014d4abbeb409215ed269c1c6
    (album = "Psyence Fiction")
    (artist = "UNKLE")
    (filename = "11 Rabbit in Your Headlights.mp3")
    (import-path = "/home/alaric/archive/sorted-music/UNKLE/Psyence Fiction/11 Rabbit in Your Headlights.mp3")
    (mime-type = "audio/mpeg")
    (title = "Rabbit in Your Headlights")
    (track = 11)

Ok, let's listen to all our music by UNKLE (the extra "keys" parameter to the search command says to just output the object keys, one per line, and the "archive-stream" command streams the contents of an archived file to standard output):

[alaric@ahusai ugarit]$ for i in `ugarit search test.conf music '(= ($ artist) "UNKLE")' keys`;
do ugarit archive-stream test.conf music $i | mpg123 -;
done

...music by UNKLE plays...

We're slowly moving towards having a usable and useful archival filesystem, backed on a modular content-addressible storage system! Isn't that neat? Of course, it's not amazingly useful as it stands - at first sight, it's like a very crude version of the browser found in any modern music collection management app these days; but this is the seed of something much more interesting. For a start, it can categorise files using any user-defined schema. The backend storage can be encrypted, and accessed remotely over a network (and, in future, replicated over a cluster, or mirrored between your laptop and a home fileserver, and automatically synchronised when they're connected). The same storage can be used to store backup snapshots as well as archives, and if files exist in any combination of archives and snapshots, then only one copy of it will be stored (or need uploading, even); most files in an archive will have started off in a backed-up directory tree, or will be extracted into one.

There are many interesting use cases for Ugarit, but my personal one is to have a fault-tolerant vault of all the data that matters to me, neatly organised so I can find things quickly, and so I can access things from different locations (even when offline). Rather than having files scattered over different disks on different machines, and having to move things around to make space, and remember where they are, I can add more disks to the vault when I need more capacity, and have Ugarit manage everything for me. With the amount of data I manage, that'll be a great weight off my mind!

The Gluten and the Health (by )

I'm loosing weight better than expected, and the nurse is really pleased with me, even suggested I might need to come and do some talks and stuff. But that kind of isn't the point - the point is that since having cut the wheat and gluten out of the diet a wonderous transformation has occured.

Three months a go the idea of the "planking" exercise was laughable - there was no way I could have gotten down and down the position let alone the actual exercise. In fact I was still having to use the walking stick. As of last night I managed a 1 minute plank, I am walking even long distance without a stick, most of the arthritis has gone, the pelvic pain is gone. Fatigue levels at very workable levels.

I accidently clocked up 13 miles of walking without noticing, rescued Alaric who's ciatica was bad and carried my own crates. At cubs I was the shark in the shark infested custard - without noticing I ran. Mary asked me why I am not sick anymore, Jean keeps standing with her mouth agog when I manage something.

And bizarly the bleeding has stopped, constrained only to periods and those are basically not painful - no throwing up, no nose bleeds, very little in the way of cramping, no slime.

I'm still not what I would call normal levels of energy but having been ill since I was 18 I now have no idea what normal energy levels should be for my age. Pain wise I am left with the physical damage from the bike accident and some RSI but that has mercifully been it!

Of course I am now even tricker to feed as I try and avoid, diary, soya and wheat along with red/fatty meat.

In general I am not seeking out gluten free bread or anything like that as I still need to shed the weight and stave off that naughty diabetes. Talking of which Jean mentioned I wasn't a gulper anymore - referring to my need to be gulping water and being thirsty. I'm still overly phlemy and so need to sip drinks whilst eating or talking but it is a vast improvement :)

I also did an hour on the exercise bike without noticing.

Of course I am also on the tablets and it just seems to be some sort of magic formula :)

I kind of can't actually believe it - I still keep fearing that I will just slip back but it all seems to be good :)

I even danced at my cousins wedding!

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