May 2017

May was supposed to be a month of blogging, something quick, easy and portable as I knew I’d be travelling for most of the month. I didn’t manage too badly, though I missed six days. The blog posts haven’t been as ‘thinky’ as I thought they’d be, I will confess. I’ve been thinking a lot about politics of late, and had hoped that I’d get some of that written up, but I’ve mostly been blogging when tired or in a rush, and really didn’t feel like trying to get political. I guess that stuff will have to wait.

Five months into this project, though, and I am so happy that I started it. I’ve published more blog posts so far this year than I did between the beginning of December 2011 and the end of December 2016. Indeed, I haven’t published this frequently since the heyday of the blog, 2003-2006, back when I was chronically underemployed.

As I said at the beginning of April, I started this project to try to get my brain back into a more creative mode, and it has worked amazingly well. I used that month to work on my book, a non-bloggable project, and I’m happy to report that I am continuing to find time to work on that almost every day. And I’m still incredibly excited by it, more so than any writing project I’ve ever worked on.

Tomorrow, I start a new task, another one that’s completely new to me. I’m looking forward to that!


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C17: Day 150 – Restingolites

by Suw on May 30, 2017

One of the nice things about looking for photos for my recent (quite lazy) blog posts is that it’s reminded me that I have a huge number of photos I’ve never really looked at since I took them. Case in point: Last year, I went to Madrid and, amongst other things, had a fabulous time looking around the Museo Geominero (Geomineral Museum) and the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (National Museum of Natural Sciences). No one will be surprised to hear that I look at lot of photos.

As a lapsed geologist, I was particularly excited to find at both museums examples of the “restingolites”, the pumice-like floating rocks produced by the El Hierro marine eruption of 2011-12 that resembled a coconut. They were called restingolites after the town of La Restinga, the nearest town to the eruption site off the south of the island.


The pale insides of the restingolite were found to be sedimentary layers that were picked up, melted by and coated in the ascending lava, the dark basanite (pdf). I’d followed the eruption quite closely when it was going on, including the conversations about what on earth these weird floating rocks were, so it was very exciting to actually see them in person!

Restingolite 2

And a floating sample:

Floating restingolite

Looking through the rest of my Madrid photos, there are some stonkers, so I might just have to publish more!

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The great thing about flying home is that I end up with 30 hours to write my daily blog post. The problem is that I end up with no brain to write it with. So here’s a photo of a cat instead.

Both Mewton and Grabbity are purring fit to burst, which only makes me feel more guilty about being away so long. I will surely be snuggled to within an inch of my life tonight.

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C17: Day 148 – Seen in Sheboygan

by Suw on May 28, 2017

One of the first things I did when I got to the US was start learning the local bird names. I’m not that big into birdwatching per se, but I do like knowing what they’re all called. We have some very cute species, so here are a selection of photos of birds I’ve seen in Sheboygan.

The Northern Cardinal, or Red Bugger as we call them, is one of my favourite birds. It’s so bright and perky!

I have a huge number of photos of gulls. This one’s looking just a wee bit surprised.

Surprised gull

A blackbird, which isn’t entirely black.


A pair of American Goldfinches.


Two grossbeaks, which we don’t see very often.


There are lots of other birds that visit our garden that I just don’t have a good photo of, such as the indigo bunting, ruby throated hummingbird, chickadee, and many others. I suspect that I need to leave the camera set up on the tripod by the window, just in case.

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Being a house owner means that we’re now having to learn how to do DIY. Last year, we worked on the front bedroom, which was a nasty shade of monkey shit brown and was offending our eyes on a daily basis. It was, without a doubt, a learning experience, but we got there in the end:

Front room 1

Sanding down the lumpy bits, we found some cracks…

Front room 2

Front room 3

Some of which were quite big…

Front room 4

We also found lots of pin holes…

pin holes

Having filled and sanded and filled and sanded, we primed…

Twice. And then we painted. Twice. And ended up with…


We do still have some stencilling to do, but overall, I think this is quite an improvement!

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Busy day yesterday, going to Southampton for a meeting, but it did give me the inspiration for today’s brief blog post.

One of the things I miss about the UK when I’m in the US is the public transport. There is no easy way to get from our house to Chicago O’Hare Airport, for example. I have to pay $55 for a shuttle to the airport at Milwaukee, and then get CoachUSA to O’Hare. It costs $85 all up, and turns a 2.5 hour journey often into a four or five hour journey. There is a coach from Sheboygan to Milwaukee, but it goes twice a day at 8am or 8pm, so that’s not hugely useful. And, indeed, that “through service” coach to Milwaukee Amtrak train station arrives two hours before the next train.

Our town does have a bus service, but it’s quit hub-and-spoke, so from where we are you have to go into town and back out again, so to get to the supermarket I favour, it’s 45 minutes, instead of seven in a cab. Frankly, my time is worth the extra few dollars that a cab costs.

I was reminded yesterday, though, as I stood on the packed platform at Southampton Central as the announcer apologised for a 1.5 hour delay to the train to Bournemouth, that when I miss British public transport, I’m really missing the platonic ideal of a train, tube or bus, rather than what we actually have. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that we have any public transport in the UK at all is brilliant, but its mere existence isn’t good enough – it has to be reliable. And, when the guys sat next to me on the train pointed out that they hadn’t had any delays since “that cow was on the line a few weeks ago”, I remembered that commuting by train in the UK can be murderous.

Ultimately, whilst I’d like USA to get a bit more enthusiastic about public transport, what with climate change ‘n all, I suspect that we’ll see fleets of self-driving cars before we see widespread adoption of “mass transit”, as they call it. But whilst self-driving car clubs are likely to arrive faster than we currently suspect, there’s still a case to make for a proper passenger train network.

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I haven’t seen the Chelsea Flower Show for years, but it just so happens that I’m back home, and it’s on TV, so I’m enjoying seeing lots of wonderful flowers and plants in amazing arrangements. I can only dream of such perfection. I do have, sad to say, a bit of a black thumb – I can kill any plant, even the ones people say are really robust.

In our own garden, we do have a bit of a challenge: we have a huge swath of the garden that is bare, after the Great Hosta Disaster of 2015. (We got a gardener in to help sort out a few issues before autumn set in, but instead of helping she basically over-interpreted my requests and stripped our garden of the hostas that had filled in the space under one of our trees.)

Bare garden

Last year, I tried to fill in the huge gaps left, with some but not much success and we ended up with a large part of the garden rewilded*. This year, we are going for a very different solution, and instead of trying to do careful planting on the vast empty area, marked out by string in the photo above, I’m going to plant millet, rudbeckia and flax en masse. I would have planted it before I left, but you have to keep seeds well watered, and I didn’t want to impose on the neighbours. So that will be my first task when I get home.

I’ve also planted up a lot of pots.

The four big pots have taller plants in the middle and smaller ones round the outside, mixes of larkspur, delphinium and rudbeckia with alyssum and pansies. Then in the small plantable pots, I have all sorts, including more larkspur, asters, nasturtium, and four climbing plants, including morning glory, a climbing nasturtium and a couple of others I’ve forgotten (but have taken a note of!).

Last year our vegetable garden was destroyed by voles, so this year we’re just doing strawberries, which they don’t seem to care about, and edamame, which I’m trying to grow from seed. I’m not bothering with carrots again, after this dismal showing:


But it has been three or four weeks now since I sowed my seeds, and I am excited to know how many, if any, have come up! Expect a report back next week, hopefully with progress.


* Full of weeds.

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After the terrible events in Manchester yesterday, we have sadly seen some horrific behaviour from parts of the media trying to dig up “stories” on those who were there:

This kind of behaviour is abhorrent and should be illegal, but sadly, it isn’t, and it isn’t new. Just click through and read this whole Twitter thread.

The way that large parts of our media behaves is absolutely grotesque and immoral, and yet there’s no sign at all that the government has any intention of reining them in. The Leveson Inquiry‘s report into media behaviour and suggestions for appropriate actions was, on the whole, excellent, and yet little to none of it has been implemented because the government simply does not want to upset the media and the media does not want to be restricted. It’s no surprise that Leveson’s recommendations were portrayed as censorship, even though they were nothing of the sort, given that the people reporting on them were the very people who would be restrained by them.

We can’t depend on the government, neither this nor any other, to protect normal people from the depredations of the vile predators that produce the hateful and repulsive rags that pass for newspapers in the UK. So what can we do? Protesting makes no difference. The press regulator, IPSO, is a sham. Your MP likely doesn’t give a shit, and even if they do they’re in a minority in Parliament. And the kinds of people who would boycott the loathsome rags aren’t the sort of people who are buying them in the first place.

But there two things we can do:

  1. Be very careful what links you share on social media. Don’t link to the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Express or any of the other immoral, degenerate rags, with or without red tops. If you see a story you want to share and it’s in one of them, find another source. A quick search of Google News should turn something up, and if it doesn’t you might want to reconsider sharing the link at all as it’s probably bullshit if no other outlet is covering it.
  2. Support Stop Funding Hate, who are working on hitting these vile rags where it hurts by targeting advertisers and asking them to stop giving their money to immoral hate-mongers.

No one else is going to protect us from these leeches, these scum. So we’re going to have to do the only things we can: don’t send the fuckers traffic, and help cut off their ad revenue. It is our duty to our fellow humans to do those two things at the very least.

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C17: Day 142 – Knitting ftw

by Suw on May 22, 2017

First few rows of knitting! And I haven’t yet dropped or added any random stitches!

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You know what they say, resistance is futile. I have been resisting knitting ever since my mum attempted to teach me when I was a kid. It didn’t go well. I’m left-handed, she’s right-handed, and I really struggled. I did manage to make a jumper, a black and red striped jobbie in the style of Robert Smith*, but the arms were too short. I didn’t do any yarn arts at all for years and years after that, preferring to sew instead, until I picked up crochet relatively recently.

But the problem with crochet is that it produces a very stiff fabric without the softness (drape) needed to look good as a garment. A lot of crocheted cardigans look awful, and it’s hard to find a lacy design that doesn’t look like you’re wearing a tablecloth. Now, you can find some fairly open, lacy designs for tops designed to go over other things, but crochet is very limited with respect to clothing. Makes for great amigurumi, and even scarves, but pretty shitty clothes.

So the time has now come to learn to knit. Thankfully, I have a friend who, having watched me crochet, realised that I would do better learning the continental style rather than the English style. When I crochet, I control the yarn in my left hand, even though that’s how right-handed people crochet. (The difference is that I’m generally moving the yarn around the hook as much as moving the hook around the yarn, so whilst it’s technically right-handed, I’ve left-hand-ified my technique.)

Continental knitting also allows me to control the yarn with my left hand, in a way very similar to crochet, so it feels less alien than I thought it would. And, as a bonus, my friend taught me how to do a purl row in the opposite direction to the knit row.

For those of you unfamiliar with knitting, you usually do a row by transferring stitches from the left-hand needle to the right-hand needle. When you get to the end of the row, you turn the piece round and start again, moving stitches left to right again. You also have two stitches, knit and purl, which together give you that classic knitted look of lots of Vs stacked together (stocking stitch).

I’m not sure what the technical term really is, but my friend’s ‘reverse purl’ stitch actually allows you to knit right to left, so you’re basically just transferring the stitches back to where they came from. This means that you always keep the front of the fabric facing you. You knit in one direction and purl in the other. It’s genius. No continual turning of the piece, no getting your yarn tangled up, just knit… and purl… and knit… and purl…

So, now I need to practice, and maybe soon I’ll be good enough to whip up a lovely cardi, because it’s impossible to find ones that fit in the shops.

*I have no evidence Robert Smith ever wore a black and red jumper, but I remember seeing it on TV so it must be true.

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C17: Day 140 – Horn OK Please!

May 20, 2017

This started as a Facebook post, but I post it here because it’s 23:21 and I want to go to sleep.  An Atlas Obscura post claiming to explore the origins of the phrase “Horn OK Please”, seen frequently on the back and sides of lorries and trucks in India, popped up into my FB feed […]

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C17: Day 139 – Oh, what a palette

May 19, 2017

Gelish, the DIY gel nail polish system that I use, has a fabulous array of colours. Some 233 of them, to be precise. All listed with colour swatches on one page. You’d think that that would make it easy to pick colours, but whilst it’s easy to see colours that you like the look of, […]

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C17: Day 138 – Different but the same

May 18, 2017

The weird thing about returning to London after a few years away is how much the same it is, and yet, how very different. I’m sitting in the Camera Museum cafe on Museum Street, Holborn, and whilst the place is very much the same as it’s always been, it’s quite different. I used to come here […]

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C17: Day 133 to, erm, oops

May 17, 2017

Right, well this week got away from me. I was so sure that I’d be able to manage a blog post a day whilst travelling, but that does not seem to have been the case. I have been absolutely flat out, which is a very good thing, because it means good meetings and exciting connections […]

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C17: Day 132 – The anxiety of information

May 12, 2017

Yesterday, I wrote about how having more information can make things less stressful, specifically, how I find modern buses much easier to deal with, simply because you always know where you are and what the next stop is. But unfortunately, the opposite is also true. We have access to more information now than we ever have […]

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