Desperate Dance

I’m limping to the finishing line for March without any inspiration at all, having used up my February buffer completely. But if I can make this entry 112 words long, the average since January 1 reaches 274 and I win! (For now.) What I win is another question entirely.

Read More · 31 March 2012 · Weblog

An Excusal Rarely Offends

It seems that I am eligible for jury service and not entitled to excusal.

Guide to Jury Service Eligibility and Applying for Excusal

This is a shame, because “excusal” is such an amusing word. Scotland is the only place I’ve ever heard people describe retirement as “retiral”, and now this.

I have no excusal that would get me off jury service, so now I have a gavel of Damocles hanging over my head, making it more difficult to travel or to watch box sets of Boston Legal until that day actually arrives.

I must have walked past the Edinburgh Sheriff Court in Chambers Street one too many times on my way to work. “You’ll do, pal.”

30 March 2012 · Journal

Just started a new game on Twitter: #appstorefilms.

Read More · 30 March 2012 · Film

Perpetual Ocean.

Perceptible Motion.

29 March 2012 · Weblog

Dungeons and Deadlines

Great photo by Mauricio Alejo.

“I know Roland Barthes”: the story of a PhD deadline [PDF, via MeFi].

The Dungeons & Dragons product cycle explained [via MeFi].

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts reviewed by Jon Ronson.

Alan Turing’s school reports [via MeFi].

This takes choreography to a whole new level.

How Thatcher got lucky in 1982.

An interview with Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong about Fresh Meat.

Australian government anti-piracy negotiations and the public interest.

28 March 2012 · Weblog


I wandered past some daffodils
One sunny afternoon,
A pleasant sight that always thrills
A chap who’s prone to swoon.

They danced and fluttered in the breeze
Like golden hummingbirds,
A host of flowers bound to please
All fans of florid words.

I photographed their laughing forms
In macro, in a crouch,
And now a glimpse of sunlight warms
My cockles on the couch.

Of all the blooms, the daffodil
Is one that I have heard’s worth
Pondering at length, until
One gets one’s eighty words’ worth.

27 March 2012 · Whatever

Fish: a tap essay is one link that deserves not to be lost in a list of them. You’ll see why. (If you have an iPhone.)

26 March 2012 · Net Culture

After two days of fog, the skies cleared in Edinburgh to give us our warmest day in months, just in time for W.’s birthday party in a West End communal garden (courtesy of a friend’s key). We hit a piñata, played tug-of-war, fired up the barbie, and all had a wonderful time. When the cake came out, shaped like a five and iced like a racing track, I saw him as happy as I’ve ever seen him: not bouncing up and down doing silly noises, but glowing with pride. And why not—every birthday is a graduation at this age.

Five. I can’t believe he’s five. Halfway to ten, a third of the way to fifteen. A quarter of the way to... himself.

25 March 2012 · Journal

Being out of it for two nights in a row isn’t good for much, but it is good for catching up on an entire series on 4oD, which is what I did with Fresh Meat.

All I’d heard was that it was studenty and that Peep Show writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong were involved, which was good enough for me. By the end of the first episode I was hooked, and by the end of the last I didn’t want to leave the company of the characters they and their team of writers had developed so well. The show was less of a sitcom than I’d expected, instead targeting the more difficult zone of comedy-drama; but it’s one of the better examples of those.

Read More · 24 March 2012 · Television

Nope, still not up to much.

23 March 2012 · Journal

Uh-oh. Stomach bug.

22 March 2012 · x1 · Journal

End of the Day

Near where I work.
Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, 20 March 2012

I’ve just finished three days of meetings with some visitors from Egypt, and have to spend tomorrow turning 10,000 words of notes into a report, so I don’t think I’ll be adding another 274 here tonight. All really interesting stuff, though, and I may well write about some of it here.

21 March 2012 · Journal

Elderly couple’s lift goes to wrong floor before going to right one. This apparently warrants 219 words for a world news audience.

20 March 2012 · Events

I was busy all day today with visitors at work, so there was no time to reflect on the death of the King of Tonga, George Tupou V. From a distance, he seemed a decent man, and he had an enormous impact on the Tongan political system in his few short years on the throne. He deserves more than comments about pith helmets and a few quoted tweets. Tupou V “spoke eight languages and was an accomplished cellist and pianist”, and (admittedly after civil unrest) brought democracy to Tonga at last. But one of his most entertaining gestures may have been his last:

Tongan media reported that he met Pope Benedict XVI on February 24 in the Vatican in Rome—and gave the Pope a signed picture of himself.

19 March 2012 · Events

On the Roof Again

While I’ve been frantically timetabling at work, overhead at home our roof has finally been under repair. We met with the owners of (some) neighbouring flats a couple of weeks back and agreed on the firm we would go with, and within days the scaffolding was up. The day we drove back from Nottingham was the repairers’ first on the job, and a week later they were done. Fortunately it didn’t rain during the day or two when the roof couldn’t be guaranteed as watertight—not that it was before.

I took some photos from our attic window as they went. Here they are, to mark the occasion.

Read More · 18 March 2012 · Journal

I Will Cut You

Nagging conundrum of the week was courtesy of a knife manufacturer who confounded all expectations by replacing two kitchen knives with cracked handles that J. had sent them under warranty on the off-chance. They recommended not putting their knives in the dishwasher in future, as (to paraphrase, because we’ve thrown out the letter) “although our knives are dishwasher-safe, they are not dishwasher-proof”.

I’ve spent days wondering what the difference could possibly be. If they’re safe from the dishwasher, surely that means they’re dishwasher-proof? Aren’t the terms synonymous?

But I think I’ve solved it: by “dishwasher-safe”, they must mean that the dishwasher is safe from the knives.

These knives will not cut your dishwasher; they are gentle, dishwasher-safe knives. But your dishwasher, in a cruel role-reversal, could well scald them to death.

17 March 2012 · Whatever

Dog mess could be subjected to DNA testing under plans being considered by a Lancashire council. “You can see where this is going,” tweeted Glyn Moody. Sequencing the dog mess genome? Surely not cloning the stuff.

The spectacular rise and fall of a space shuttle booster rocket [via Mefi].

17 March 2012 · Weblog

Here comes the sun.


16 March 2012 · Weblog

They Can’t All Be Gems

I shouldn’t have blown all those links in one post last night, should I. Now it’s late, there’s a blog entry to do, and I’d rather go and watch telly. Here is a photograph of some moss.

Some moss.

15 March 2012 · Whatever

Little Fluffy Clouds

Rolling Stone on Climate Change and the End of Australia.

I don’t always feel very triumphant, but apparently I am.

Kurt Vonnegut’s letter home after being freed from Slaughterhouse Five.

Traiiiins innnn spaaaaaace!

The Curator’s Guide to the Galaxy, a proposal to formalize “via” links online. The problem is that I can’t remember where I found half of these links by the time I post them (probably Metafilter, but possibly not). But hey, squiggles.

“I’m not a ‘curator’”—that’s more like it. Squiggle Stephen Poole.

Anil Dash on taming web comments. Not a problem right here, where the comments boxes are like those shop counters in sleepy towns where the proprietor rushes in from another room looking surprised whenever someone wants to buy something.

Photos 1: The Poverty Line by Stefen Chow.

Photos 2: Car Poolers by Alejandro Cartagena.

Photos 3: Sea Change by Michael Marten.

The Clouds have reformed, hooray! They should use one of these (by Berndnaut Smilde) as their next album cover.

Why Finish Books?

14 March 2012 · Weblog

I’ve spent all the time I should have used to write something for the blog for today listening to The Chap. Blame Ben Goldacre.

13 March 2012 · x2 · Music

Finally finished timetabling a two-day mini-conference for a course I coordinate, and put the sign-up sheets for its twenty-three parallel sessions online this afternoon. Within six or seven hours, the best part of five hundred students had signed onto them and most were full. A bit daunting. I hope none of the tutors or rooms are double-booked.

Meanwhile, alongside that I’ve been arranging the timetable for some international visitors who are coming for three days next week. The two timetables overlap, so keeping them separate in my head has been a challenge.

Those clichés about academia being the life of the mind are true, except that what takes over your life and your mind are spreadsheets.

12 March 2012 · x1 · Journal

Goldilocks and the Multiple Identities

Once upon a time, which was in fact last week, I was reading around on fairy-tales after the widely-reported discovery of five hundred new (old) ones in a German archive, following links this way and that, when what should I come across but a Page in the Forest which revealed that Goldilocks, that much-loved tale, wasn’t from the Brothers Grimm as I’d always assumed, but was (a) English, (b) not called Goldilocks until the twentieth century, and (c) not even originally in the story.

Read More · 11 March 2012 · Books

We caught up last night with The King’s Speech on DVD. Geoffrey Rush is one of those actors, like Gene Hackman, who makes anything he appears in watchable, and this was no exception, though like The Artist it wasn’t the weightiest of Oscar winners. Movies about modern royalty can all too easily seem like the ultimate case of First World Problems.

But perhaps that’s unfair: public speaking is purportedly most people’s number one fear, beating even death, which could make this the first public-speaking horror movie. And it has a great ratings warning on the DVD box: “contains strong language in a speech therapy context”. So specific! You can imagine them at the ratings board saying, “At last we can use that speech therapy warning.” Or that they have a whole book of them: “pea-souper scenes may induce psychosomatic asthma”; “extreme forelock-tugging”; “contains scenes of abdication and death”.

10 March 2012 · Film

Delayed Gratification

The Holga D [via Mefi] isn’t a real product, but even as a concept there’s something irksome about it. Oh, here it is—how it supposedly “brings back the joy and delayed gratification associated with good old analog photography”:

In the age of digital photography many photographers agree that the anticipation and delayed gratification of analog photography made the overall experience of photography even sweeter!

Do they, just. I remember the excitement of getting my photos back from the developers, but I don’t attribute that to some romantic idea of delayed gratification: I attribute it to getting my photos back. When that process went from taking weeks to seconds, I was still just as excited; actually, no, I was much more excited. Now I take it for granted, but haven’t forgotten what a pain that “delayed gratification” really was.

Read More · 9 March 2012 · Whatever

Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey in the Scottish Borders

A busy week with no time for Great Thoughts Befitting Blog, so here are two more photos from Monday. Mouseover to see the other, or click through if your browser doesn’t like miceovers.

8 March 2012 · Journal

The Fan-Film Menace

I linked the other day to the Machete Order for showing the Star Wars films to a newcomer, something that interests me more and more now that W. is showing an increasing interest in all things Star Wars thanks to his nursery peers. I’d rather he’s a bit older when he sees them, so I’ve been telling him we can watch them when he’s 8, or maybe 7. There’s no avoiding them, though, because he’s obsessed with Lego, and Star Wars Lego is huge with young boys. He doesn’t have any yet, but his friends do, and so does his Lego sticker book.

So he knows the names of various characters. The other day on the bus he was grilling me extensively on their relationships, which must have sounded amusing to bystanders. He said something about Anakin turning into Darth Vader, but hasn’t yet figured out the biggest reveal in movie history. The Machete Order holds out hope of preserving this spoiler-free innocence, if only his entire network of friends would play along; which they won’t, but one can hope.

Read More · 7 March 2012 · x1 · Film


The Angel of the North
Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North, Gateshead

Read More · 6 March 2012 · Journal

Light Relief

Pre-war celebrities in colour—worth a look for Orson Welles alone.

Norway’s flag contains the flags of six other countries.

I Love Photography.

On the Implausibility of the Death Star’s Trash Compactor.

The Tomato, Accused but Probably O.K.

In a recent Bat Segundo Show, Stephen Fry rattled off anecdotes and insights, making it a worthy supplement to the Fry Chronicles audiobook. Nice one, Ed.

Against Big Bird, The Gods Themselves Contend in Vain.

5 March 2012 · Weblog

Big Talk

Before and after the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong by William D. Nordhaus.

The Body Counter.

Adam Curtis: The Ghost of the Colonels

Infinite Stupidity: “We might, in fact, be at a time in our history where we’re being domesticated by these great big societal things, such as Facebook and the Internet.”

Those Fabulous Confabs, on TED, its imitators and its critics [via Mefi].

Those fabulous phasmids: the rediscovery and rescue of an enormous Australian insect.

4 March 2012 · Weblog

This Sceptred Isle

“Last month TfL applied to issue anti-social behaviour orders which would not only stop [a group of urban explorers] undertaking further expeditions and blogging about urban exploration but also prohibit them from carrying equipment that could be used for exploring after dark. Extraordinarily, it also stipulates they should not be allowed to speak to each other for the duration of the order—10 years.”

China Miéville on Apocalyptic London (soon to be expanded).

Skilled migrants to lose the right to settle in UK. Theresa May replaces carrot with turnip.

Why is the Sun prioritising benefit fraud when the tax gap is 100 times bigger? Why is the Pope Catholic?

Banksy on advertising.

3 March 2012 · UK Culture

This is a test entry to see how easy it is to post from an iPhone. Not too bad, provided you can read impossibly tiny fonts.

2 March 2012 · x1 · Site News

Time for a monthly word-count reckoning. I posted 11,897 words in February, which was over 410 words a day, so I’m now way ahead of target; but a bit over four thousand words were from old emails and texts, so in terms of new material I’m a little behind (238 words behind, to be precise). Still, near enough. The main advantage of all those volcano posts was that I now have a buffer to carry me through a busy March without dropping fatally below the average word count. Another advantage was that I’d been meaning to post about it for ages, and now I have. On to the next item from the backlog.

1 March 2012 · Site News

February 2012