Sanna Beach, Ardnamurchan Peninsula, 13 July 2014

I’ve been stuck in the office for a lot of Scotland’s recent warm weather, but have been taking some days off here and there to go camping with my family. After a trial night in the woods in June (to see how our three-year-old daughter liked it), a couple of weekends ago we went to the Ardnamurchan Campsite at Kilchoan, driving through mist and rain on single-track roads to get there. We had one afternoon of sunshine the next day, when we crossed the crater of an extinct volcano to reach one of the best beaches I’ve seen in Scotland yet, next to the crofting village of Sanna. Here’s one photo of the many I took that afternoon while the unexpected sun went to work on our unsuspecting skin (mouseover for another).

We’re heading back west before the end of the school holidays for a final summer camping trip, so there will be more sandy photos to come.

23 July 2014 · Journal

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the Floating World

My recent forays into 35mm scanning have been taking me back to one of the major trips of my youth, starting with eight days our family spent in Japan at the end of 1985. I’ve actually written about that trip here already, when I wrote at length about my second visit in 2006. While getting a collection of these older pictures together for yet another photo gallery, I thought about adding some extended passages from my diary of the trip to complement that later account. But the diary entries are a whole different animal, full of the wide-eyed innocence of an almost-adult in a very foreign land, interspersed with accounts of sibling squabbles and teenage concerns. So a few extracts will suffice.

Read More · 8 July 2014 · Memory

The Big Cask

Once in every lifetime.

Believe it or not, Pete isn’t at home...

People can’t really multitask, except for these people.

Why you’re (probably) not a great communicator.

How not to say the wrong thing.

You are the best thing in the world.

Another breakthrough in solar panel manufacture.

Goebbels handpicked the perfect Aryan baby, not knowing she was a Jew.

Cory Doctorow précises Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century.

XKCD précises the land mass of the solar system.


4 July 2014 · Weblog

Was Blocked (Not Blocked)

The Open Rights Group Blocked project has found that one in five sites are blocked in Britain by web filters put in place by one or more ISPs in response to government hyperventilation. When I checked on Wednesday, MetaFilter, Freaky Trigger and this very site were all blocked by TalkTalk, which would have killed half of my web reading and writing if we’d switched to them as we’d been considering. It looked almost as if TalkTalk were blocking all blogs by default, which seemed insane. They’re showing as okay now, so maybe they’ve been scrambling to fix things behind the scenes.

Maybe they didn’t like this ancient page of mine about how filters are fundamentally broken.

4 July 2014 · Infotech

Tasmania ’82

After cleaning up their dust specks and scratches in Photoshop, I’ve now added a gallery of my earliest black-and-white photos to Detail. Camping trips on the coast, day walks in the bush, ferries out to islands, and our quiet country town: this was my world at age fourteen.

Read More · 24 June 2014 · Memory

Brothers Gonna Work It Out

“A massive space battle is a thing of beauty and I will require many more of them in the future”: 19-year-old watches classic blockbusters for the first time (via MeFi).

Stop banking on a carbon future. Written by the former federal leader of the party Tony Abbott now heads in government.

Reuse Everything turn discarded PET bottles into thatch roofing.

The Archimedes wind turbine slashes noise pollution and offers better efficiency with smaller blades. I want one for my next PET-thatched home.

Making sense of chemical stories.

Philosophy is a bunch of empty ideas, says philosopher.

Rubber bands make one inventor ONE MILLION DOLLARS. Several hundred of them from our son’s primary school, no doubt.

Dancing in the Street, the musicless video.

Reading: The Struggle.

Al Gore’s hope for the climate.

22 June 2014 · Weblog

The Worst Little Pub on the Coast

After years of meaning to, I’ve finally bought a scanner that can handle slides and film, and have started scanning my 35mm negatives. The earliest are from 1982, when Dad gave me his father’s old Yashica for my fourteenth birthday. Those first rolls were black and white, and developed in his darkroom. We only printed a few frames from each, if that; the rest have gone unseen, except as contact prints of the negatives, since I took them. Seeing them now is an uncanny experience; they’re older than most of the prints in my photo albums, but the images are effectively new to me, not worn down by over-familiarity. There’s my brother at age 11, looking as early-’80s as a Radiators video. There’s my mother the same age my wife is now.

Most of the photos were from camping trips and weekends away, with some of the same sorts of landscape shots I still take a lifetime later. But the clothes, the cars, and all the other aspects of the built environment turn them into time travel. Here’s one that’s particularly Tasmanian, and particularly 1982. Nowadays these signs would be a few laser-printed pages, and not nearly as good.

The Worst Little Pub on the Coast

Blow Fly Sponge $1.50, Leeches & Cream 5¢. Hold the Kangaroo Tits.

10 June 2014 · Journal

Death, You Utter, Utter, Utter Bastard

The news last night of Rik Mayall’s death hit J. and me harder than most celebrity deaths; we couldn’t stop saying “oh no!” to each other when it came over the radio. I was 15 when The Young Ones first aired in Australia, and it dominated Grade 10 culture like nothing else on TV at the time. Mayall has been comedy royalty to me ever since.

Somewhere up there, he’ll be whacking a gas man over the head with a frying pan again and again for eternity.

10 June 2014 · People

Ren and Jemp All Day

Hey kids, it’s Hector, the Lump of Coal!

“Only one in ten Americans (12%) know that 90% or more scientists have concluded human-caused global warming is happening.”

3D tattoos.

Australian government surprises returning graduate expats with the precious gift of debt.

Will British voters surprise British expats with the gift of forced repatriation?

UKIP voted no to rules against human trafficking in the last EU Parliament. Expect more of the less as UK influence wanes.

You’re probably using the wrong dictionary.

The Internet with a human face.

The oldest living things in the world. Huon Pine represent.

Child showing mother a picture on a laptop. Greek, circa 110 BC.

Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland.

The Internet in a box, locked up with locks: You Are a Pirate! (and the original version, courtesy of Icelandic kids’ TV).

The Which English? test pegged my dialect as 1. English (England), 2. New Zealand, 3. Australian. (Ahem.)

Haruki Murakami walks to Kobe: “In a sense our lives are nothing more than a series of stages to help us get used to loneliness.”

7 June 2014 · Weblog

1998 is the end of a rich few years of Popular number ones for yours truly, and the beginning of a far less familiar time: for some years that lie ahead I know maybe a dozen of the UK number ones, for others four or five, and for a few of them only one. And that’s just whether I’ve heard them, not whether I like them. I’ll have to find some creative ways to preface every comment there with “I’ve never heard this before”. Here are some on the songs leading up to the edge of that veil of ignorance.

Read More · 4 June 2014 · Music


Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, 21 May 2014

A macro from the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens in May. Mouseover for another.

4 June 2014 · Journal


Yesterday’s post about the European election results drew on some of my comments at MetaFilter, where another commenter responded that “inferring anything about the UK voting pattern in next year’s general election from the EU results is particularly unwise this year in view of the referendum on Scottish independence”. Clearly, if the next general election is for a new United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland then all current bets are off. The fact that I’m contemplating a 2015 general election for the UK as it now exists reflects my own sense of how the Scottish referendum will go, but that’s another story.

If Scotland votes for the status quo, though, I wouldn’t expect any electoral bounce for Cameron. Few on this side of the border would see him as some sort of hero saving the union; it’s Salmond’s battle, and really a much older and bigger battle than even him. As for south of the border, polls seem to show greater English support for Scottish independence than Scottish support, with no sense that a break would affect their daily lives much, so I would expect a No vote to be greeted by England with a combination of bemusement (“I thought you wanted independence!?”) and indifference. Staunch Tories might give Cameron some credit, but they would have been voting Tory anyway.

When predicting how the next general election will go compared to the last one, what matters is which of the two main parties has consolidated support from their side of the left-right spectrum to give them the largest single vote in the majority of individual electorates. The European and council results indicate two revealing things: the only consolidation of voters to the right of the Tories is happening in UKIP’s favour, not the Tories’, and the consolidation to the left of the Tories is happening in Labour’s favour.

Read More · 27 May 2014 · Politics

May 2014