Sorry I Broke Your RSS Reader

I've just made several changes to the blog which are hopefully unnoticeable, however it also means I'm now rolling the RSS by hand. Which can never be a good thing.

It probably also means the last 10 article have suddenly shown up in your rss reader again. Weirdly I sort of quick like this feature and it's almost tempting to bump the odd article from five years ago back into the feed.

On the other hand maybe the RSS feed and this shows up just fine as a single new post, in which case; Hello! I haven't been here a while.

I haven't been here a while because I've been migrating my blog (yes, yet again) away from Ghost and to a bunch of simple flat files. The code is a bit torturous and the conversion has been in a half-way state for the past few weeks, meaning I couldn't really add new posts until I got my finger out and finished the code.

I've done that now and this is the test.


Over and out.

Celebrating festivals in a secular household, bonus extra of controlling kids sugar intake

We celebrate Christmas, Easter, Halloween and so on differently in the Catt household, and now and again people ask me about the how and why. We're also trying to promote healthy eating to our children, not having sweets and sugar as a daily part of our lives, and yet can't quite bring ourselves to totally deny the joys of cake and chocolate. This is how we roughly solve to problems with one system.

So first things first, we're not religious in the Catt House, well not yet anyway, the kids are free to choose what they believe in when they want, and with around 300 religions in the world there's plenty to pick from. On top of that we try to explain things that can be explained with science with, well, science.

Which leads to the question of what to do with Christmas, particularly when school is pretty much going "Christmas is the day the son of God was born". We don't have a problem with "Christmas is the day on which many people celebrate the birth of Jesus" but "Jesus was born on Christmas day" is a bit more problematic, but presumably scans better in songs.

Given that sitting around at Christmas time going "Bah humbug" isn't much fun for the kids we wanted to figure out a way we could get excited about the season, exchange presents but not pin it all on a religious belief system. Fortunately science has an answer for us, in the form of astronomy, it looks a bit like this...

The Summer & Winter solstices and Spring & Autumn equinoxes almost certainly happen. The fact that various cultures and religions have festivals around these times should come as no surprise. Solstices and Equinoxes are fairly easy to measure as evident from various ancient buildings and structures around the world built precisely to do that. These days became significant for cultures because you could easily use them for marking out the cycle of the year, it's kind of nice to know the shortest days and longest nights are over, celebrating things like the Spring & Autumn equinoxes are handy for keeping your farming and harvesting on track.

In turn these special days get passed from one tradition and religion to another as time passes.

A post around the handing down of these festivals, and discussions about chocolate eggs because reasons would take far too long here. Needless to say celebrating these four points hits most of the major Christian as practiced in the UK festivals.

We can also hit a few more festivals by including "Cross Quarter" days, you don't need to be pagan or modern pagan to celebrate these days, they're just the days that fall between the four major solstice/equinox days, still just maths and science.

These cross quarter days allow us to roughly hit valentines day, May Pole dancing, harvest festival and Halloween.

In many traditions the cycle of the year maps onto the cycle of life. New beginnings at the winter solstice, as the days start to get longer, land becoming fertile at the Spring equinox, the ahem dancing round the May Pole (totally phalic), growth in summer, harvest and remember the death (and rebirth) at Halloween time, and old age heading into winter ready for new beginnings at winter. These seem like fine things to celebrate.

Of sugars and cake

But, handily it gives us something else. Each of those festivals is 6 weeks apart. We try and keep sugar out of the house, but frankly don't want to be square-bears about it. So while we don't have daily sweets, biscuits (unless the kids cook them), we do have such goodies on each festival.

We love making cakes, rainbow cakes, Yule cakes, Easter Bunny cakes, scary Halloween cakes, each year a bit different but always fun. As well as other bought and homemade sweeties and snacks.

Having fancy cakes about 8 times a year and getting sick on sugared jellies while remembering our ancestors or being thankful that we have food seems a not bad compromise

Halloween feast


The other benefit if that is gives us some structure to hang homeschool round. We have a box (sometimes more) for each festival filled with reading books, activity books, DVDS, cake moulds, cookie cutters, decorations and such like. Which we can get out for each festival and allows us to swap the books on the shelf every few weeks. Because Britain still keeps a lot of their traditions, including things like Well Dressing, May Poll dancing, summer faires and what have you, there's always something interesting going on we can tie into what we're teaching during homeschooling.

We also thinks it happens to help the children learn about the natural flow of time, planting, growth, harvest and so on.

Anyway, there you have it, what we do in the Catt household to celebrate festivals, eat cake now and then and enjoy weird old traditions shared down the years from generation to generation.


Experimental Pre-"Podcast" Episode minus #1

Second experimental podcast type thing, sound balance is better this time. Too tired to properly write about it :)

Experimental Pre-"Podcast" Episode minus #2

An experimental pre-"podcast" while I figure out how to use all the tools. I wanted to aim for something like an audio scrapbook, part diary, part field records and part way to capture the children playing.

I'm starting at episode -2 on the assumption I'll get a bit better with the audio levels by episode 1, some are too low, others are too high.

Aiming for one test "podcast" every two weeks until I hit Episode 1, and then weekly. I'm hoping that by doing it every week I'll eventually learn how to use the various audio tools I have kicking around.


  • Newspaper Club's Things Our Friends Have Faved On The Internet.
  • Modesty & I playing a game of Magic:TCG
  • Me heading off into town because the Internet is broken.
  • And a bedtime story with Isobel.

The word polygon only reminded Alice of the night, the face reflected in the man's arms and dreamed.

I've written before about Markov Chains, cut-ups and automated text generation, and about getting algorithms to do work for me in the name of art.

In both cases it's an attempt at getting unblocked, seeing things differently. Burroughs used cut-ups and fold-ins as a way of uncovering hidden meanings, taking sideways steps, routing around our meat brain way of thinking, of course in his case drugs also helped.

I ended my Markov article with "A Markov chain is a blunt tool, but an interesting starting point", Tom's said something similar with his recent Sims "Infinifriends" post.

"Markov Chains, as Leonard has frequently pointed out, are not always the best way of generating text alone, especially when the corpus you’re working from isn’t particularly consistent. He is, of course, right. Still, I enjoy the mental leap readers make in order to make generative prose actually make sense, and for this project, I mainly wanted to get to scripts as fast as I could."

It's that "mental leap" I find fascinating, how we can see patterns in things and so on, or "Pareidolia", defined on wikipedia as...

"[the] psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant, a form of apophenia. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds"

But we're not the only things spotting patterns in noise, we're now training computers to do the same thing. Facial recognition has come on in leap and bounds. Or rather, we've simplified the complexities enough that it can now be done in the browser and various realtime graphic libraries.

The general assumption for face detecting software is that it's going to be given an image with a face in, and its job is to then detect that face. But what if you start giving it images that are obviously faceless? Like the Onformative GoogleFaces project which presents a series of satalite images to the computer, which then spots faces.


"An independent searching agent hovering over the world to spot all the faces that are hidden on earth."

Now what if we could do the same with words?

The Markov chains I have spitting out mixed up text from Jeff Noon's book Channel Sk1n (and Warren Ellis' Gun Machine) have been running for some time now. Of course they spit out gibberish but at least it's gibberish based somewhat on the style and words selected by the original author. Many times I've hit the "Remix" button and found little nuggets of gold in there.

And then I spotted TextTeaser a "special algorithm formulated through research to summarize articles." or in other words, a detector of hopefully the most important, interesting and salient points in a block of text.

I don't know how the algorithm works but we can assume is parses the text several times looking at repeated phrases, weighting certain words more than others, picking out quotes from people, locations and so on. Once again the general assumption is that you're going to be putting a coherent chunk of text in-front of it in the first place.

But, that's not what we're going to do, oh and TextTeaser has an API too.

So on the one side we have code that generates semi-random text, while on the other we have code that's trying to pick out the most important sentences. You can see where this is going.

  • All Nola could do now was carry on, to stay in pursuit, no matter how she loved their heads and to break you down with dance.

  • His mouth stuck in the street, demanding that people do the same imagery, the eye with sunpowder transfiguration.

  • 'And how often do these managers know, are they contagious?' Nola thanked him and moved deeper into the human spectrum.

  • Her own throat closing as she plucked and sampled from all that she had, that straight-line grimace.

  • 'It's 1998, of course.' 'But why are you saying that the answer?' 'Poor Alice! Wrong Alice!' squawked Whippoorwill.

  • 'Try making your mind up time!' Alice opened this cupboard; a flintlock pistol was lodged within Celia's inner workings.

  • Channel Skin...Channel Skin... Channel Skin... ~~~ Onwards.

  • The word polygon only reminded Alice of the night, the face reflected in the man's arms and dreamed.

  • She tried to strangle a boiled ham sandwich (with not a bit of fire crackling, electricity burning through her wires).

  • A news channel psychologist thought it very unusual that a third boa snake crept into Noah's cargo? 'That extra Sherpent eshcaped from the inside?' 'There is indeed...' responded Ramshackle, reaching upwards towards her death.

Keyboarding Elite:Dangerous

Keyboard Mappings

In which I’ve mapped the Elite:Dangerous keyboard layout to the one I got used to all those years ago on the Beeb. Not sure keyboard only is going to serve me well in the new version but we’ll see.

  • S, X = Dive & Climb
  • < > = Clockwise & Counterclockwise roll
  • Space, / = Speed up, slow down.
  • A = Fire LAZERS!!!
  • T = Target Missile
  • M = Fire Missile (secondary weapon)

Wheee, just like the olden days. Pew pew pew.

Also Multiplayer in Elite is pretty fun.