Now that the saga of our drive back to Scotland from Spain in 2010 is complete, I can at last post this gallery of photos to accompany it, which I put together months ago but couldn’t post without telling its full story:

Volcano Days

Read More · 29 February 2012 · x1 · Travel

I almost forgot two further ironies of our volcano story. The first was that when our flight was cancelled because of the ash I was in the middle of reading The Black Swan: The Impacts of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Read More · 28 February 2012 · Books

The OEDILF just opened a new letter range, which meant it was time to post my first new limerick there in four months—a nod and a wink at our southern neighbours.

Read More · 28 February 2012 · UK Culture

Home Stretch

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 7

DATE: 23.4.2010
TIME: 11:23:00
TYPE: stored/sent
STATUS: stored SMS
Paris Gare du Nord with two hours to spare!

Read More · 27 February 2012 · Travel

I went along to The Artist the other night with some friends, and as it’s probably about to win Best Picture at the Oscars I should post my thumbnail review.

Read More · 26 February 2012 · Film

W had a nightmare last night, dreaming that he ate so many sweets that he got sick and died; and as I was putting him back to bed he said once again, “I don’t want to die.” And as hard as it was, again, to think of reassuring things to say to him, I couldn’t help thinking how it could have been worse: he could have said the opposite.

26 February 2012 · Journal


Just because: this is the Basque sheep fridge magnet we bought in San Sebastián.

Basque sheep fridge magnet

26 February 2012 · Travel


Marie Colvin’s final report: “We live in fear of a massacre.

Joseph Stiglitz: “A banking system is supposed to serve society, not the other way around.

The Australian mining industry’s big lie.

Eternal Copyright: a modest proposal.

How audio engineers tweak music for the iPod age.

The Difference [via Mefi]. Also: being God is a big responsibility.

“Brainstorming seems like an ideal technique, a feel-good way to boost productivity. But there is a problem with brainstorming. It doesn’t work.”

How do you become fluent in 11 languages?

Everyone of European ancestry is descended from Muhammad and Charlemagne.

A blog about creative uses of paper.

The Machete Order for watching the Star Wars saga. This is actually pretty convincing; I’m going to try it out on my experimental subject, er, son.

A scale Lego model of the Death Star would be 3.5km across, would cost US$10 trillion in bricks, would have to be built in low-earth orbit to support its weight, and at that height would eclipse the sun. And my son would still want one for his birthday.

26 February 2012 · Weblog

La Belle France

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 6

I heard after we were back in the UK that many rental companies closed off the border car-swapping possibility not long after we did ours, presumably so they could charge the extortionate one-way drop-off fees that crossing a border otherwise incurred. Profiteering from customers’ misfortune is always such an attractive trait in a business.

Read More · 25 February 2012 · Travel


The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 5

DATE: 21.4.2010
TIME: 20:52:00
TYPE: stored/sent
STATUS: stored SMS
San Sebastián very beautiful, looked around old town and sat on beach. William getting tired and missing home now.

Read More · 24 February 2012 · Travel

The First 550

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 4

Even once we were on the road, our plans were changing. In the rush to make bookings on the Sunday, I had missed one obvious option for the car-swap at the border. As we travelled, I texted our friends so that they could judge for themselves how feasible the plan was, in case they had to do the same a few days later.

Read More · 23 February 2012 · Travel

Escape Route

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 3

Subject: Making a break for it
From: Rory Ewins
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 2010 22:06:42 +0100

Hi folks,

We’ve decided to stop placing our bets on EasyJet cancellations and rebookings, with the only options extending well into next week (with no guarantee that they’ll eventuate), and to make the journey back overland: a 1500-kilometre drive from Alicante to Paris, Eurostar to London on Friday, and then the drive to Edinburgh. Should be back there on Saturday, nine days after we were supposed to be. It will cost a bundle, two grand by the end of it probably. There goes any summer holiday.

Read More · 22 February 2012 · Travel


To accompany the latest instalment of The Year of Travel Disasters, here’s the latest gallery at Detail: the Spanish province of Murcia (with a bit of the neighbouring province of Alicante, although not that city itself).

Read More · 21 February 2012 · Travel

The Dishwasher

Six months after we moved into our current flat, one of our mugs went missing. It was just a mug, but it was a good one, a Taylor and Ng 1983 Minimals mug from San Francisco (via a Canberra op shop), featuring a couple of stylized elephants in grey and black. I looked everywhere for that thing, and couldn’t find it, which seemed bizarre: it couldn’t have wandered off, and we never took it out of the house.

Months later, it turned up. In the dishwasher.

Read More · 20 February 2012 · Journal

Unfortunate Statistics

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 2

Subject: Stuck in España
From: Rory Ewins
Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2010 23:15:18 +0100

Hi folks,

Well, it had to happen sometime: after countless flights over many years, we are suddenly an Unfortunate Statistic, three of the 100,000 people stranded outside the UK by the volcanic ash from Iceland. Our flight home from our visit to S. and E. in Spain was supposed to be at 11.10 on Thursday; the text cancelling it came through at 5 a.m. At least I read it rather than bundling us all into the car back to Alicante airport and returning the vehicle before realising.

We rebooked for today and extended the car rental; and when it became clear last night that nothing was happening today, we grabbed one of the last remaining EasyJet flights next Monday, taking a punt before they actually cancelled the Friday flight; which they did; and now there are no flights available to Scotland before next weekend, so that was wise. Of course, there may still be no flight on Monday. Fingers crossed for a change in wind direction over the Hebrides.

Read More · 20 February 2012 · Travel

The Fatal Text

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 1

The text came through at 5 a.m. Spanish time, just before we were due to get up to head to the airport. At first I thought it must be from a friend of ours who lived in Boston and sometimes texted us lyrics from nightclubs. But it turned out to be far less welcome than that.

DATE: 15.04.10
TIME: 03:50:46
TYPE: received/read
STATUS: received SMS
NAME: easyJet
Your easyJet flight on 15th April 2010 is cancelled due to volcanic ash in the atmosphere. Please check and your email for further details.

Our five-day trip to Spain to visit some friends in a family holiday home was about to get much longer, much more expensive, and much more eventful.

I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since, but the Eyjafjallajökull eruption came at the start of a relentless march of Events, compounded by a relentless march of Work, which together resulted in an eventless Blog. I did write about it at the time, though, in a string of emails to my family. Looking back over them, they’re as effective an account as any. So over the next few days I’m going to post those emails, some SMSs, and two photo galleries from that fortnight in April 2010 (names of friends will be initialized throughout to spare them from the harsh spotlight of fame). It’s the biggest travel disruption I’ve ever experienced, and it’s had some competition before and since, so it deserves more than a 22-month-old promise to write about it someday.

19 February 2012 · Travel

Rhodri Marsden asked Twitter for people’s worst Valentine’s Day experiences and stories of awful dates, and got back plenty of pithiness and pathos.

Romance Novels, The Last Great Bastion of Underground Writing. Don’t miss the jaw-dropping synopsis of The Sheik.

The Death of the Cyberflâneur by Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion (which this might even inspire me to read at last). His model of cyberflânerie seems to be old-skool blogging of the LinkMachineGo kind.

The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World. I don’t know about “most”, as it’s missing some wonderful bookshops I’ve seen myself, but there are certainly some impressive ones here.

It’s a Snap! by Henry and Aaron: probably the most amusing TAFE recruitment video ever. Made me homesick for Australia, and went some way to making up for that Gina Rinehart poem. Warning for the faint of heart: you might faint.

The competing claims for the Falklands. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what unsettles me about Argentina’s claims, and I think it’s the echoes of Indonesia’s stance towards East Timor and West Papua. But the parallels aren’t exact.

[All via Mefi: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.]

19 February 2012 · Weblog

This time last week, Jane and I got to go out on a Saturday night for the first time in far too long, thanks to our excellent new babysitter. We were thinking of going to a movie, maybe The Artist, but checked what was on at the theatre on the off-chance, and were able to get a couple of seats in the rear stalls to the last night of The Infamous Brothers Davenport at the Lyceum.

Read More · 18 February 2012 · Journal

No Future

Western Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart has attached some awe-inspiring lines of self-penned verse to a 30-ton iron ore boulder [via Mefi], which is a waste of a perfectly good boulder, not to mention 171 perfectly good words. I don’t know who’s cringing more, the Australian in me or the occasional poet. If the world hadn’t noticed Rinehart and her staggering wealth before now, it will surely notice her staggering way with rhyme.

This demands a riposte from an Australian with an empire with an estimated value of A$0.0001 billion.

Read More · 17 February 2012 · x1 · Whatever

Serious Business

The Ministry of Justice claims that the Freedom of Information Act has not improved government. This quote in particular is a sign of serious cognitive dissonance: “civil servants believed freedom of information was not being used to increase accountability, but instead by journalists fishing for a story”. Some civil servants seem not to understand the first thing about modern democracy. (A pertinent link via Heather Brooke.)

Nick Cohen on the Twitter joke trial appeal: Where are the judges fit for the internet age?

Al Murray on same: Problem is, the law don’t do funny.

Matthias Lenke’s macrophotography (not serious business, but seriously good).

16 February 2012 · Weblog

Cracked ACTA

I’ve been collecting useful links on ACTA, the international equivalent of SOPA, and had been meaning to post some here; but events are outpacing them, with political support for the treaty in at least some European countries fast collapsing. Still, here they are. Glyn Moody’s Twitter feed is a good source for the latest updates.

Read More · 16 February 2012 · Net Culture

Creative Outlet

A colleague and I ran a guest session on e-learning in one of our school’s other masters programmes yesterday, part of which was a practical exercise exploring different ways of delivering and discussing information online. The focus of the exercise (which was fairly arbitrary) was on how to nurture creativity. One group watched a couple of TED talks, by Ken Robinson and Elizabeth Gilbert, which are both good viewing if you haven’t seen them yet. The other looked for whatever they could on the web. Then they paired up online to discuss their impressions.

I did the same search myself alongside the second group, combing through pages of Google hits to uncover the following. A few of these look like sites worth returning to, and they’re all worth a look.

Read More · 15 February 2012 · Weblog

I was going to post something more sensible tonight, but I’ve been idly browsing Regretsy and OH MY GOD, SLEEVE SCARF AND BLUE TIGHTS MAN and OH MY GOD, CROCHETED VIKING BEARDS. Actually, the beards are pretty cool. I have some friends who would be prime candidates for those.

Bonus Oh-My-God-ness: John Lennon Charcoal Picture.

14 February 2012 · Weblog

I’m not really one for reading parent blogs, but this blog by a father about his daughter as a baby and then a toddler is hilarious, or at least what I’ve read so far is. Just a tiny taste of the wisdom it contains:

One Way To Tell When You Are Becoming An Adult

You start to root for the Coyote instead of the Road Runner.

13 February 2012 · Weblog

Just spent a few hours tinkering with page layout and blog templates to very little effect. I was going to put up a sidebar here, but didn’t like it, then was going to modify the footer, but didn’t like it, and was going to revamp the front page of the site, but ran out of time to do it properly. I’ve half-done it instead.

Blog template tags are productivity antimatter.

12 February 2012 · Site News

Seeing Stars

I got my eyes tested this morning, for the first time in five years—just one of the many things that were interrupted by the radical gear-change in my life that occurred back then. They haven’t been particularly bad, just a bit more tired than usual, perhaps. It sometimes takes them a while to focus in the mornings.

Optometrists have moved on a bit in five years; now they take photographs of your retinas for their files, eerie maps of Mars lined with blood-vessel canals and complete with an optic-nerve polar ice-cap. Then it’s the usual reading lines of letters and telling whether the circles look sharper against the green or the red.

My prescription turns out not to have changed much. The right eye hasn’t changed at all, while the astigmatism in my left has changed direction slightly. I don’t particularly need new glasses after all, apart from the frames looking and feeling slightly wonky from small fingers grabbing them triumphantly off my face. The morning tiredness is more a result of routinely going to sleep after midnight and waking up before seven when the radical gear-change climbs over my head.

Read More · 11 February 2012 · Journal

Oh no, the Beeminder yellow brick road is starting to oppress me... I have a four-thousand-word ace up my sleeve, but I’m not ready to play it just yet. In the meantime, I need to post at least 215 words today to keep on track. Here they come, one link at a time.

Read More · 10 February 2012 · Weblog

Worst Eighties Comeback Yet

The revival of Falklands/Malvinas sabre-rattling is one of the more depressing developments of the week, especially now that armchair generals on both sides can meet on the virtual battlefields of the Internet. A Metafilter thread pointed to a string of articles at MercoPress, the South Atlantic News Agency, with comments that take some beating:

Personally I think a few H-bomb test in Islas Malvinas Argentina can solve the problem with one strike I would love to have the honor, If USA and UK can kill over 10.000 muslims including women and children for resources, I amsure nothing will be done when this 3000 terrorists, pirates and illegal aliens go missing after a H-bomb test in Islas Malvinas Argentina.

I met a Falkland Islander a few years ago on a first aid course. As pirate terrorists go, it has to be said he was a disappointment.

Still, reducing the islands to radioactive glass would at least clear up all the landmines left over from 1982. How it would enable a glorious Argentine homecoming is less clear.

10 February 2012 · Events

If you are or have ever been a cat owner, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “Boy, I sure do love my cat. I would do anything for her, as shown by my willingness to open this disgustingly fishy-smelling tin of cat food. And that isn’t just because tiny cat parasites have invaded my brain and modified my behaviour, making me (as a male cat-owner) more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules.” Well, you might want to think again about that. [Via Mefi.]

9 February 2012 · Weblog

Now to deal with the different methods of catching Rats. The best way, in my opinion, is,


Via Mefi.

8 February 2012 · Books

Of Cabbages and Kings

Can cabbages really converse?
So it seems, though their blabber is terse:
They confer using gas,
Warning others, “Alas!
Things look bad, and about to get worse.”

The irony is that, once beaten,
And shredded, steamed, buttered and eaten,
Their gases again
Serve as warning—to men.
“He ate cabbage: consider retreatin’.”

8 February 2012 · Whatever

“Welcome once again to Top of the Pops!”

131 Years of Global Warming in 26 Seconds

7 February 2012 · Weblog

Each year brings a few snowy photos in this part of the world, but by any measure 2010 was extraordinary. My family and I largely missed the big freeze of 2009–10—Edinburgh’s first white Christmas in the whole time we had lived here, and we were on the other side of the world visiting friends and relatives—but the news reports of it were enough to make us wonder if we’d get home safely in early January. (We did; it started thawing just in time.)

We were here for the next one, though, and it managed to disrupt my travel properly this time—but that’s a story for a later post. In the early days of the blizzard I took plenty of photos, and more in the second half of the freeze after my return from a work trip. Now I’ve finally turned them into a proper gallery at Detail:


6 February 2012 · Site News


Saxa salt, Edinburgh, 29 November 2010

It’s been cold, but Edinburgh has completely missed out on the snow that’s covering most of England. We’re just to the north of where mild air from the west is meeting a Siberian cold front from the east, so we aren’t seeing a repeat of the late 2010 Snowmageddon just yet. That’s inspired me to go through my photos from back then, though, and put together the photo gallery I never did at the time. When I’m finished I’ll post them here, but in the meantime the photo above is a reminder of what we’re missing.

5 February 2012 · Journal

So Last Year

Time for a look back on my favourite music of 2011, before we get too far into 2012. (Early February isn’t too far, is it?) I heard more music last year than in the preceding few, thanks in part to a general relaxing of objections from one of the junior members of our household; in part to buying a Squeezebox Touch so I could move all my CDs up to the attic; and in part to my increasing conversion to buying digital music over CDs. It wouldn’t make sense to focus on 2011 releases alone, or to try to rank everything below, so instead I’ve gone for a list in order of Date Added to iTunes for a chronological wander through my year, listing songs, albums, or both, as seemed most appropriate.

Read More · 4 February 2012 · Music

Darkness, une très amusant webcomic (or, more accurately, webbandesdesinee) written and drawn in 26 hours [via Mefi].

Eagles Are Turning People Into Horses. Also: The Kiss. Also: Next Time on Lonny. [Mefi again.]

Box Canvas Print of Paul Ross at Amazon. For the comments.

3 February 2012 · Weblog

Enemies of Promise

I only have an hour left to write and post something, and don’t even have any fresh links or photos I prepared earlier in reserve. Yesterday I unplugged the ethernet cable from my office computer to force myself to finish a pile of marking, and today I’ve been looking after small children.

Also, thanks to J’s canny O2-contract-renegotiating ways, I seem to have come into possession of an iPhone; she gave me her upgrade. So there went this evening on setting it up, and there go however many hours staring at its shiny screen.

2 February 2012 · Journal

Trinity House, Leith

On Friday after work, I joined a group of friends—two of whom work for Historic Scotland—for an after-hours tour of Trinity House in Leith, the headquarters of the Incorporation of Masters and Mariners and now a museum. The highlight of this fine Georgian pile was the Convening Room upstairs, lined with Raeburns and a huge painting of Vasco da Gama, and with a table covered in treasures. They kept us engrossed for an hour or more. Here are a few of my photos of them.

1 February 2012 · Journal

Just in case you were feeling sorry for yourself: A Letter to My Old Master. Great ending.

1 February 2012 · Weblog

January 2012