Monday, January 28, 2008

Popular Pics 1

102 views (Link)

Flickr recently introduced all kinds of tekky-looking facts about the photos you upload, so now you can tell precisely how many people look at your photos and where they come from. I always try and add to DUaB what I think are my favourites - but now I also know what everyone else's favourites are. Here are my eight most popular pics, in reverse order - starting with this photo of pea-sized baby Jellyfish I took in Vancouver aquarium.

111 views (Link)

Next most popular, this rather dull photo of Heathrow's Terminal One, taken just after I took off on the short flight to Edinburgh. Most views of Heathrow are like this - grey and chock full of planes.

131 views (Link)

A bit more exotic, the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand is pretty amazing. I'd think most people who have done the circular trip round the South Island will have taken this photo. We stood here and our guide asked us to guess how long it would take to reach the ice. I reckoned about 20 minutes - when he said it would be over an hour nobody believed him. Of course, he was right - the scale of this thing is amazing.

132 views (Link)

Another photo from Vancouver, this popular photo is my mate Andy having just jumped into English Bay on January the 1st 2007. The annual Polar Bear Swim is one of the highlights of the NYE period in Vancouver, and he just couldn't resist joining in. Two things about this pic - 1) No he isn't naked, and 2) No I didn't join him.

159 views (Link)

Something of theme starts to develop now - this is one I took in August 2006 on a trip to Washington DC, during which I went to a preseason practice game of the Washington Redskins. This was one of the many action shots I attempted, with Redskins safety Shaun Taylor (nearest the number 40) sprinting in to make a tackle. Taylor - who had picked up a knee injury - was shot dead a couple of months ago in his Miami home, surprising burglars who thought he'd be away during the season.

227 views (Link)

One of my favourites, the Dotonbori area of Osaka apparently was the basis for Ridley Scott's Asian District in BladeRunner (although I've heard that claim about other places too). Anyway, the Ebisubashi bridge canal is amazing, this picture really struggles to do it justice.

282 views (Link)

My second highest-visited Flickr photo is also an NFL-related one, of the inside of FedEx Field, taken during the same Redskins visit. I'm not a fan of theirs, but had the chance to go to the 'family fun day' preseason matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. It was well over 100 degrees, and the stadium PA played incessant deafening R&B music. All very different from a rainy January at the Rovers.

425 views (Link)

But the undisputed champion in the most-viewed stakes is this rather touching photo of me looking rather cheesy posing with a couple of Redskins Cheerleaders. Over 400 views, it's amazing - if I'd known I'd have pulled a less gimpish expression, but there you go. The Cheerleaders didn't mind, they liked my accent - and obviously their profession has many fans amongst the users of Flickr...

Next up, I'll post my version of Popular Pics - the 8 photos I think should be viewed the most. It might take a while to narrow it down, there are hundreds...

Monday, January 21, 2008

The worst day of the year?

I tend to avoid anything that starts with the words IT'S OFFICIAL!!!, but apparently today was officially the worst day of the year. Part of me thinks that seeing as we're only a couple of weeks in, how can THEY be sure - but another part of me thinks it's probably a good idea to get the worst day out of the way, and we can get down to fifty weeks of partying and cocktails on the verandah at sunset. But wait - it seems there's something behind this bold claim. Today (Monday the 21st of January) is the nastiest on the calendar for a series of compounding reasons. "Cold weather, dark, short days, credit card bills, faded Christmas memories and failed New Year's resolutions can all conspire to get us down as January rolls on", according to the massed ranks of boffins at AOL's Lifestyle faculty (I kid you not).

Well, firstly, today was unfeasably terrible weather-wise in Edinburgh, with typically Scottish heavy driving rain all day. I tend to judge wet days on how much of my jeans get soaking from the ground up - and we were almost halfway to the knee on the way home tonight. But then you lives in Scotland, you takes your chance. I've just seen the forecast for tomorrow, and it's going to be frosty and bright all day. Take that, AOL! (what is AOL, anyway?). However, I have to give them the dark short days, once you get past the business end of September the sun becomes a distant memory up here. Credit card bills are the next thing on the list - the significance of today being it's scientifically the furthest from the splurges of Christmas before you get the cushioning of the first payday of the year. In my case, my meagre NHS pittance just about covers the bills - and how could I watch tomorrow's positive weather forecast without a sale-purchased High-Def 32 inch Samsung LCD television?? (ahem)

'Faded Christmas memories' are an interesting one. The worst thing about Christmas - Dr Who Special notwithstanding - is when it's all over and you leave your family to head back to work, so for me the worst part of that is the first day back at work, not a date three weeks after. Anyway, it was less than a month ago, you would have needed to polish off a serious amount of Advocaat to have the memories faded already. I have Christmas memories from twenty years ago built up, to fall back on. Those happy days of playing with AT-AT's and TCR racing sets (whisper it, but they were better than Scalextric). The only faded part of Christmas I have is the office party, which given my outstanding dancing, is possibly a good thing. I do remember a large circle with me in the middle, and lots of high-fives with various members of the IT help desk. Hmmm...

Finally, AOL mention failed New Year's resolutions. Well, I've never made one in my life - I always thought they were really pointless, unless you felt you should be considering changing something you really didn't want to change, in which case they are ideal. Make it your resolution, and in a couple of weeks you'll have stopped (or started again), and a few weeks after that nobody will care as the media and television will have moved onto Valentines Day. A perfect escape plan. There's a reason that the most expensive time of the year to join a gym is the first week of January. Unsurprisingly, the AOL article is bordered by all kinds of helpful links to career, dating, holiday websites - your brand new resolution, only a click away. Take it from me, just keep doing what you're doing, it's more fun.

Speaking of fun, I was thinking what I've been doing today - which for me was simply a normal day at work - to make the evil 21/01 pass off a bit better. Firstly, I spent most of the day listening to music - nobody can have a bad day at work if they can listen to their favourite tunes. Checking the news makes it obvious there are plenty of people having genuinely 'worst days' compared to your wet shoes and pointless spreadsheets*. Getting away is a default option for making things better - ironically one that AOL also mention (although they have a massive advert for a holiday company). Think about where you were last year, and where you'll be this year, and how they are going to be different. For example, I took the photo above in Tokyo last October, and all I have to do is look at it to bring back all the memories. The final way I have of getting rid of the blues of Monday the 21st is to take Tuesday the 22nd off, so I can brighten up thinking about my half day under the duvet tomorrow, and the other half in front on the Xbox. Chin up!

* DUaB would like to point out that NHS spreadsheets are not pointless in any way - they are informative, useful, and a key aspect of delivering statistical evaluations of core NHS services.

AOL Lifestyle: Brighten up the worst day of the year

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Man's Best Friend?

There were many big news stories this week, but one which may have slipped under your radar was yet another example of Government meddling. No, not involving ID cards or nuclear power, but something much bigger. This week the British Government rejected a petition calling for UK pet shops to legally sell elephants to the public. Outrage! The petition was signed by over 650 people, and had been proposed by a 12 year old called Jack Smithies. He argued "...Elephants are creatures that children could learn about better by owning their own and keeping them in easily and cheaply converted sheds."

Picture the're in your local Pets R Us trying to find something cute and fluffy for little Johnny. Dogs (too messy); Cats (too detached); Parrots (you'll never be able to swear again, the parrot will do that for you)....then at the back of the shop, a large grey object comes into view....Well, maybe not. But elephants as pets have so many advantages. Firstly, they would make unbeatable protectors of your property when you're in Magaluf for two weeks of sun. I'd rather burgle a house with a dozen Alsatians inside than a stomping Jumbo. Secondly, I'm guessing they make great companions, although you'd have to make sure they were house trained pretty quickly.

Taking them for walks would be the best bit, as you could ride them around, so they'd be taking you for a walk. Plus up there you could fix your guttering before Nelly set off for the park. Just watch out for any travelling circuses. Food bills would be a doddle too - especially when compared to the prices they charge for boutique gourmet cat food. Just turn up in the Supermarket at ten to five when they discount all the salad - you could even bring Nelly with you for the exercise. Although, it's tough to parallel park an elephant.

Anyway, all this is speculation, as the Goverment squashed the idea like Nelly playing with next doors annoying terrier. They responded "...The Government agrees that keeping a pet has many benefits, not just for children but people of all ages. However, the Government does not think elephants would make good pets. They are very large animals that are not used to being kept as pets, and have welfare needs that would be impossible to meet in pet shops or people's homes. Elephants can also be dangerous and it would not be safe for people to be able to keep them in their backyard." But Jack had thought of that, hence the proposal for cheaply converted garden sheds. I dunno.

So another of my boyhood dreams dies a death, along with becoming Indiana Jones and going to the planet where Space Raiders come from. Maybe one day I'll own my own elephant - although I could always start with a tapir and work my way up, I guess. Anyhow, pet shops could never sell elephants - where would they keep their mice?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

St Abbs New Year

This new year was slightly different from last new year, when I was partying in Vancouver. The tiny fishing village of St Abbs is very different from the city of glass, with about fifty scattered houses and no monorail. A group of friends and myself got a cottage here for a few days and headed down the A1 until just before the English Border (it's only a few miles inside Scotland). The place we stayed is in this photo, second left at the top, with the two windows in the roof. St Abbs has a couple of parallel roads up there, one that comes down to the harbour, and that's about it.

Me looking cheesey on St Abbs head, just outside the village. It's named after St Æbbe, the 7th Century daughter of King Æthelfrith of Bernicia, the first King of Northumbria. He came to an unfortunate end in 633, forcing Æbbe to flee to Scotland, where she later converted to Christianity and founded a monastery on this headland. These days, it's more known for sealife, as it was the site of the UK's first voluntary marine reserve. Divers come from all over the country to explore the clear waters and coldwater reefs.

Like many fishing communities, St Abbs is no stranger to tragedy. On October the 14th, 1881, a freak storm savaged the Berwickshire coast while the region's many fishing boats were out at sea. As they were returning to the shore, dozens were wrecked on the rocks within sight of the waiting wives and children, who watched helplessly. 189 men drowned - 129 of them were from the same town of Eyemouth. A board there describes the event, and says it took the village 100yrs to recover the population. This memorial is in St Abbs, commemorating what the locals call 'Black Friday'.

The undulating cliff paths have plenty of trails, and we took a wander up to the lighthouse (which is just out of shot to the left). Eyemouth is in the distance on the far headland.

New Year's Day itself was grey and cold, with the wind whipping off the North Sea churning up the waves. This is the opposite view from the first photo, looking down rather than up. The water was occasionally propelled over the harbour wall, and you can really see the difference between the calm waters inside the dock and the choppy sea outside. We watched a small boat of divers rolling about on the exit of the harbour, and the building on the right is the Lifeboat station.

Berwick (pronounced 'Berrick'), the northernmost town in England, is only two miles from Scotland. This is Spittal Beach on a perishing January afternoon, with the town walls in the distance. There's all kinds of history here, due to a location that saw the town captured and re-captured by the English and Scots over many years. It has changed hands at least thirteen times, and was a key garrison, port and even an important mint. In the late 16th Century, the English constructed mammoth defensive walls - at a cost of over £125,000 - and the town never changed hands again.

The wind was ripping along the Northumbrian coast, and after eating in the town we decided to go for a quick stroll on the beach. As it turned out, it was a very quick stroll as the temperature was freezing. Everyone who has been to the seaside in the UK in January will recognise this picture...