Friday, 27 July 2007

Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners were playing a relatively local derby today, so after finishing the last of the presentation series I bussed back into town (this city desperately needs an underground or tram system) and got a club seat. Nice view:


The event is frequently punctuated by ritualistic songs, ridiculous competitions ("True or False? Dropped Stitch is a knitting term), and lots of trips to the concession stands. There's a greater variety - and probably quantity - of food and drink in this one stadium than in the entire Outer Hebrides. And as for the portion sizes...


The stadium itself is just outside downtown, so as sunset turned to night the lights came on in the various city blocks:


Largely due to a fluke strike by one of the Oakland team, the Mariners were unable to make up a 4 run deficit in the ninth. Ah well.


Thursday, 26 July 2007

Sushi in Seattle

Tonight we went to a blow-out Sushi - and the best of its kind I've had yet - in Seattle.

Here's some of it:


... and here's Alex tucking into an unfortunate shrimp:


Just one presentation now stands between me and several days of US of A prime culture...

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Icebergs and glaciers

A few pictures of glaciers moving towards the sea, and icebergs off the coast of Greenland.


Just me and one other person in economy took pictures of these, as everyone else was transfixed by a trashy Hollywood inflight movie.


In the above picture, I'm presuming that the browner area of sea is the land being scraped off by the glacier above it and dumped into the Arctic ocean.


Even from 32,000 feet, Greeland just looked huge, stretching away over the horizon towards the North Pole.


Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Facebook: an army of nerds disagrees

In another bizarre Facebook development, one of my previous - and flippant - blog postings about this application has been unexpectedly picked up by an online journal, then stuck onto the front of Slashdot.

Some of the Slashdot reader comments are hilarious in reply, especially the one somehow mistaking a flippant blog posting for a great work of academic merit (it isn't). In an ironic and somewhat baffling development, several complete strangers (possibly readers of the article?) have just sent "Facebook friend" requests to me.

Slashdot advertises itself as "News for Nerds. Stuff that matters." It must be a popular site, and/or has a core readership of active commenters, as heck it's up to 38 comments already.

Some intelligent and funny comments in there, though a few appear to be wired on too much coffee or a bit over-excited. I can't afford to hire Michael Winner to appear and say "Calm down, it's only a social network", so here's a calming picture of a local beach scene from Alison for them, if they make it to my blog:


Monday, 9 July 2007

Facebook as a research tool

That was a surprise.

I'm in the closing stages of a small piece of work for the Eduserv Foundation, looking at Second Life developments in UK Higher Education. Up until yesterday dinnertime, I'd come to the conclusion that, apart from a handful of universities, there wasn't really anything going on. Searching in SL, in the wider literature body, blogosphere, and posting on mailing lists hadn't brought in much to go on.

As an afterthought, I spent some time yesterday evening going through my Facebook contacts who are in UK Higher Education, and Facebook-mailed some of them individually, asking if they knew of of any SL developments in their host institution.


Very unexpectedly, I've just checked the somewhat busy Facebook inbox (14 new emails overnight) to find a rather large clutch of examples in replies. One Scottish university has three different departments doing things in SL. Ah. Good. Why Facebook emails turned up this clutch, and other media have failed to do so, is something to chew on another time.

Only downside is that I've got just a week left to dig out some more details from this new batch of examples. And finish off the other bits of the report, pack, get my hair cut (hippy) and knock up three presentations for my US trip. Urg. So, no more blogging for a while.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Berneray: a Community of Online Shoppers

Taken from the July 2007 edition of Am Paipear
+ + + + +

Of the 127 permanent residents of Berneray, 51 now have broadband internet access from their homes. Of the remaining 76 residents, many have dial-up internet access. Some of these, and some of the decreasing minority of residents who are not online from home, have expressed a desire to move onto broadband soon. Even several of the “pop-ups” (non-residents who own a house on Berneray and occasionally “pop up” for a holiday) have had broadband installed so they can carry out online activities during their visits to Berneray.

This puts Berneray ahead of most of the world in terms of both subscribed households and the proportion of residents with home-based broadband access. If Berneray were an independent country it would be globally ranked 9th in terms of broadband access, ahead of Canada and the UK and behind the progressive nations of Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden.


Broadband makes online shopping much quicker than dial-up, broadband being roughly 15 times faster. When browsing some of the countless thousands of online shops, most of which have detailed pictures or video clips of the items for sale and delivery, this turns minutes of downloading time into seconds.

As well as shopping, access to the internet – especially broadband access – has enabled residents to do many other things online. Several residents work online, earning incomes from distant clients. Some residents video conference with very distant relatives, e.g. in the South Pacific, while others upload and download pictures of family members and relatives from many different countries.

Throughout the Uists, some aspiring businesses have woken up to the fact that broadband and the net means anyone in the world can buy their goods and services, rather than just a tiny number of local residents and the occasional passing tourist. In terms of trade, it works both ways – a community or region which takes full advantage of broadband technology can bring money into the local economy from other regions and countries.

Returning to Berneray, it is in online shopping where the island has an especially thriving community. Recently, residents have bought items and services online including groceries, chilled meats, fridges, a fishing boat, televisions, PCs, video game consoles, a shed, seedlings, wireless broadband routers, spare tractor parts, cat litter, radiators, New Age living guides, genetic ancestry testing, a generator, a lawnmower, obscure Icelandic music, rugs from Peru, French cheeses, fine chocolate, DVDs, lighting, hens, cavity wall insulation, fashion accessories from Japan, laminate flooring, kumquats, books from New Zealand, airline tickets and hotel bookings. Very nearly all of these goods are not available locally, or in the islands.

And that’s just a small snapshot. Some types of goods are particularly popular; for example, several households purchase wine from a variety of online stores, due to the huge range available. A five minute online search turns up over 200 online suppliers, providing a total range of tens of thousands of different labels and years.


There is no one demographic of resident doing online shopping. Pensioners, young people, incomers, people born here, women, men – there are examples of all of these, shopping online on a regular basis, from Berneray. Residents swap tips on, for example, the best online shops for cat food, or which delivery companies are quickest and most reliable. The myth that it is just “younger people” who go online is just that – a myth – with older residents often highly skilled in cost effective online shopping. 

Online shopping is domestically economical – or, as the new Prime Minister would say, “prudent” – making it easier and more financially viable to live in places like Berneray. No self-respecting holder of a household budget wastes money. Online shopping is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The shopper alone decides when they shop (and when they don’t shop). No-one can dictate to them, or force them, to shop at inconvenient or restrictive times.

Importantly, when people find out that they do not have to “go without” just because they move here, then islands such as Berneray become more attractive places for people to settle, keeping the population high and therefore sustaining local services. Mainlanders are often incredulous to discover residents happily doing substantial online shopping and having it delivered to their door. It makes them think, and hopefully realise, that some of the “barriers” against moving to these islands are just imaginary and in their own minds.

From an environmental point of view, online shopping and delivery has a far lower carbon footprint than individual car trips to mainland cities for shopping. Shop online and you are helping the fight against global warming. It’s cheaper too; which takes more time and money – a car and ferry trip to Inverness, or a 5 minute shop online with the goods delivered to your door?


Online shopping also helps to negate misinformed mainland views of the Outer Hebrides as somehow “backwards”, “behind the times” or “uncivilised”. These islands are, after all, not a historical artefact preserved in jade, or a 150 mile long theme park or museum, but a place where people live and work. The use of online technology helps these islands stay the latter, rather than decay and regress into the former. Online shopping also provides more security and business for local delivery firms, and helps keep the Royal Mail delivery service viable in the Outer Hebrides. And the reverse – online selling through services such as Ebay – helps keep local post offices viable and open.

In summary: Cheaper goods, and better value for the household budget. An incredible array of choice. Far more information and reviews of products, goods and services. Shopping when you want to do it, not when others decide. Quick shopping. No shopping trips. It isn’t a question anymore of “Why use broadband to shop”, but “Why on earth not”.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Harbour Life

One of the good things about living in this particular house is that it's close enough to the fishing harbour to be able to watch boats come in and out. Even though I know almost nothing about boats, it makes for a fun distraction from work. The view also gives me some time, when an interesting-looking boat starts its approach about a mile out, to wander down to the harbour and take a few snaps of said boatie arriving.

This summer there seems to be an increase in non-Berneray fishing boats zig-zagging across the bay and popping in, or doing an overnight stay. Why the increase I don't know; better weather so longer fishing days; convenience (catch can be offloaded and taken by road down the Uists); Grimsay harbour being totally chock-full, perhaps.


The fishing boat above came in a few evenings ago to stay overnight in the harbour. Note how high the front is, which forms some protection against wind and spray hitting the relatively low cabin. This particular boat is mainly of wooden construction.

The one below came in this morning to offload some catch. The number gives the detail of where the boat was registered; SY for Stornoway, CY for Castlebay. On both pictures can be seen an orange structure on the edge of the harbour; that's a crane for heaving up heavier catch and gear.


Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Local Hero: John Smeaton

Two days ago, on Saturday afternoon, there was a terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport. A jeep rammed the airport building, caught fire, and the two occupants resisted arrest (one while on fire).

Several airport staff and members of the public assisted in the violent apprehension of one of the suspects. One in particular was interviewed widely. His name is John Smeaton. Here is a clip from one of his tv interview:


In different news reports he says "What's the score? I've got to get this sorted ... He was throwing punches like a prize fighter. So I ran to help the police and I took a flying kick at him ... this is Glasgow, we’ll set about you."

John is an interviewers dream. A blogger noted: "The big man also put to rights any myths about the Scots having a poor command of the english language. While broadcasting live to millions around the globe he easily fired out such gems as “The man then egressed the vehicle”. Quite spectacular."

Here's another clip of genius from Mr Smeaton: "It was definitely gas they had ... anyone who's ever chucked a gas cannister ontae a bonfire knows what it smells like." And in response to an American tv reporter asking how he restrained the guy: "Me and other folk were just tryin' tae get the boot in and some other guy banjoed him."

The man is pure Glaswegian; tough but fair. Whenever there's advice on the tele saying "The man in this picture is extremely dangerous; the public are advised to avoid all contact with him", people like John probably reply "Naw, ya wee daftie" and go out looking for said criminal.


Almost immediately, a website was launched in his honour. The website itself was featured by the BBC (news will eat itself?), and today so far claims over 180,000 page views and 200 people who have each donated the price of a pint to John. So far seven Facebook groups dedicated to him, the most popular being the John Smeaton Appreciation Society and Terrorist-punching Glaswegian, we salute you!, are rapidly gaining members. He's been hailed on over a hundred blogs, has a fan group on Bebo, been Photoshopped on Flickr, turned into Jedi Smeaton wallpaper, and is all over the news. Though he doesn't yet have a Wikipedia page, but give it time [Update: 8:33pm, a page appears about him].

You can even buy a "Smeato t-shirt" online. And another one here. And see the one pictured above by Cybers. One of the oddities of the net, online shopping and print(ed t-shirts)-on-demand is that whenever there is any kind of major event or incident, it is often possible to go online and purchase related clothing apparel. Time to amend the old phrase to "Wasn't there, seen it on CNN, bought the t-shirt. Online." 

Back to the tribute website and some classic lines:

  • Nobody gets between 10,000 Weegies and a £99 week in Ibiza booked on Thursday night through Barrhead Travel.

  • ... this is how we do things in Raintown. This ain’t London. There’s no stiff English upper lip here, no WAGs. And it sure ain’t Edinburgh - they’d all be hiding in Harvey Nicks and hysterically babbling about their Tuscan villas. There’s no ‘Big J’ in Edinburgh airport, there’s no ‘Smeato’ at Heathrow. Here we take the law into our own hands. And feet.

Some reader comments, from the website and a BBC news blog:

  • "London Airports: Little bit of fog? Closed for days. Glasgow Airport: Blown up? Open within 24 hours. Sorted."

  • "Giraffes were created when John Smeaton hit a horse with an uppercut"

  • "I had to smile at a friends comment: He said it was typical of a Glaswegian to come face to face with an terrorist on fire, and clotheline him to the floor. Nowhere else in the world, only Glasgow."

  • "Theres a new saying going round nowadays in Glasgow. It used to be if you were a cheeky bassa or you were to get a good slap you were getting “Doin”. Now folk are saying “You're getting a Smeaton pal”."

Best of all from the website, a library-related quote: "John Smeaton doesn’t read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants." Heh.

Later this summer I'm off to do some work-related travelling, which will involve eight flights and six different airports. Scared off by recent events? Naw. I've travel insurance, and for delays I'll be taking my "Teach yourself Norwegian" book (with the audio lessons saved to my ipod). Best of all, I've got John Smeaton on my side...

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Berneray west beach: the movie...

Recently I mentioned being accompanied by Dave Hill on my daily stroll around Berneray. On the way we both took pictures. As soon as we hit the west beach, he also took a short movie which is now up on YouTube:


Turn up the sound and enjoy...