Log in

No account? Create an account
11 August 2011 @ 04:14 pm
As posted here: NPR's Top 100 SF/F books

This is mostly for my own benefitCollapse )
46/100 un-read. Any particular feelings among the bolded as to what should go on my short-list? (also if you want to send me a kindle-friendly copy of any of these books that would put it on an even shorter short-list)

edited to addThis is brilliant! I've been feeling disconnected from "new" reading material for a while so it's great to have a list of things other people have really enjoyed!
Tags: ,
07 June 2011 @ 10:38 am
Dear Scotland,

The honeymoon is over. That's right, over. I came here last winter and I figured it was the worst and if I could survive the worst the rest would be smooth sailing. Everyone ran around tutting about how it was the worst winter in 14 years, in 20 years, and I was fine. It was cold and I bought more longjohns and knit hats and mittens and spring came and I got all excited to see leaves and flowers and it warmed up and I went back to California for the summer and came back in August and it was lovely and then the flowers and leaves faded and winter came and it was 10 degrees (Celsius) less than last winter, last winter which was the worst winter in almost two decades, and I wore more layers and knit more hats and cuddled under a blanket even when the heat was on and I have to admit I felt pretty bait-and-switched. When it started snowing again in March (which, to be fair, it did last year as well) I was ready to throw myself off of the roof of a tall building.

But it was just winter. Winter eventually ends and once more there were leaves and flowers and the days got longer (and longer and longer and longer - today the sun rose at 4:20 and will set at 10:10, to be followed by a long, lingering dusk - there's still light through the curtains at midnight when we got to sleep) but this isn't summer. We had a couple of nice days in April when it was sunny for a week, though even on the "hot" days (20 degrees) it was still very windy and felt much cooler. May was a complete waste - it rained seemingly every day and when it wasn't raining it was cloudy, except for maybe an hour of sunshine, scattered across the day in maybe 10-minute increments.

And now it's June. We did have two nice days, last Thursday and Friday, when it was 20 and sunny with a light breeze and perfect but that only makes this worse, back to cloud cover and cold. So far today it's reached a high of 8 (though it's supposed to get up to 16) and it's so dismal and grey that we've had lights on in the house since we woke up. It feels like November. So I'm asking - where is my summer? It doesn't even have to be hot - 22 feels wonderful after living here for 10 months! - just sunny and warm.

One of my classmates told me that putting up with the weather is worth it to live somewhere without natural disasters. The occasional earthquake seems like a small price to pay for sunny and warm.

Formerly yours,

29 March 2011 @ 12:24 pm
Some months back, I read an editorial (written by a high school student, which the printer of the editorial thought was important enough to mention so I will relay it to you) about Ravelry where she observed and wondered about the difficulty "ranking" system of patterns, noting that only two patterns were marked as Very Difficult. Two patterns in the entire Ravelry database.

Now, to start with, the only time I searched Ravelry with a difficulty filter it was to find "easy" glove patterns for some knitter friends who had expressed desire but trepidation with regards to knitting a pair. "look," I said, "here's a whole list of 'easy' glove patterns! Start with one of these!" For the rest, I've looked at how many people have knit a pattern and how happy they've been with the results. The things I am relucant to make (socks, sweaters, intricate lace patterns) have nothing to do with doubts about my technical skill but rather a reluctance to finish one and not the other, put all that effort into something that may not look good/fit right when I'm done, or have to block something. The actual knitting isn't the problem.And while I've not looked closely at difficulty ratings, I've made things and I've rated things, and I can't recall seeing something that has an average difficult of more than medium.

I've seen patterns that are incredibly intricate, lace horror stories with ripping out rows and life-lines, and recalculating, things that take months and months to complete. I've done them, and I've ranked them "mildly challenging." I've knit patterns that ten years ago would've had me in tears and thought, "that was easy!" and ranked them accordingly. How then can I tell a beginning knitter, "these patterns are all easy - try one!" and expect it to end in anything but tears?*

I think there's a lot of ego in the ranking system. If you found a pattern easy, it's not because you're a highly skilled knitter, it's because the pattern is easy. If you rank things as challenging, as difficult and everyone else said it was a quick, easy knit, then it must be because you're a bad knitter. If it requires keeping three pages of instructions spread before you, as in the case of my current project (a page of directions, and two different charts) or if people have had to email the creator to ask for clarification, surely that qualifies as challenging? Surely it's not something you'd mark as a 3 on the 1-10 scale of difficulty.

So I am trying to rank things with an eye, not to how much I struggled with the pattern, but based on whether or not I'd recommend it for someone who just finished their first scarf or their 30th, whose most ambitious project was a bulky raglan sweater or a pair of intarsia mittens on size 2 needles. I will try to help novices and intermediates find patterns that will reward, not frustrate them. I will decide that I am a 7 (out of ten) in skill and that things I find somewhat challenging must be around a 7 in difficulty. I will try to make Ravelry the kind of place where it's okay to say, "I am talented" and "I found it challenging" rather than everyone sitting around, modestly insisting "it was easy" and "anyone could've done the same".

*for the record the friends who knit the easy gloves seemed happy with their results, but I think they will low-balling their abilities.
12 March 2011 @ 10:48 pm
The New York Times, in it's online blog, yesterday posted...well, you can't really call it an apology.

,lj-cut text="I've copied the post here">The story quickly climbed The Times’s “most emailed” list but not just because of the sensational facts of the crime involved. “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town,” published on Tuesday, reported the gang rape by 18 boys and men of an 11-year-old girl in the East Texas town of Cleveland.

The viral distribution of the story was, at least in part, because of the intense outrage it inspired among readers who thought the piece pilloried the victim.

My assessment is that the outrage is understandable. The story dealt with a hideous crime but addressed concerns about the ruined lives of the perpetrators without acknowledging the obvious: concern for the victim.

While the story appeared to focus on the community’s reaction to the crime, it was not enough to simply report that the community is principally concerned about the boys and men involved – as this story seems to do. If indeed that is the only sentiment to be found in this community – and I find that very hard to believe – it becomes important to report on that as well by seeking out voices of professional authorities or dissenting community members who will at least address, and not ignore, the plight of the young girl involved.

Let’s consider the particulars:

The story by James C. McKinley Jr. reported that residents of the town noted the girl dressed “older than her age,” wore makeup and fashions “more appropriate to a woman in her 20s” and hung out with older boys at the playground.

The story also quoted one resident, saying, “Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?”

Referring to some of the defendants in the case, the same resident was quoted saying, “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

The fourth paragraph of the story laid out the basic themes of the story:

The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?
These elements, creating an impression of concern for the perpetrators and an impression of a provocative victim, led many readers to interpret the subtext of the story to be: she had it coming.

The Times, responding to a wave of complaints, issued a statement Wednesday saying, “Nothing in our story was in any way intended to imply that the victim was to blame. Neighbors’ comments about the girl, which we reported in the story, seemed to reflect concern about what they saw as a lack of supervision that may have left her at risk.”

The statement went on: “As for residents’ references to the accused having to ‘live with this for the rest of their lives,’ those are views we found in our reporting. They are not our reporter’s reactions, but the reactions of disbelief by townspeople over the news of a mass assault on a defenseless 11-year-old.”

Philip Corbett, standards editor for The Times, told me earlier today that the story focused on the reaction of community residents and that there was no intent to blame the victim. He added, “I do think in retrospect we could have done more to provide more context to make that clear.”

The Associated Press handled the story more deftly, I think. Its piece on the crime also noted the community view that the girl dressed provocatively and even the view of some that the girl may have been culpable somehow. But the AP also quoted someone in the community saying: “She’s 11 years old. It shouldn’t have happened. That’s a child. Somebody should have said, ‘What we are doing is wrong.’”

The Times, I have been told, is working on a followup story. I hope it delves more deeply into the subject because the March 8 story lacked a critical balancing element. If upon further reporting it is found that the community of Cleveland, Tex., universally believes that the 11-year-old girl was culpable in this crime, then that would be remarkable indeed. But if it proved to be the case, The Times should take care to interview mental health and legal experts who can provide context to a story about a vicious sex crime against a young girl.

I don't really have the energy to explain why I find this answer unsatisfying (blog post; lack of apology still blaming the mother; Someone should have said "this is wrong" because she was 11 - so if she was 21 it would've been okay?) but at least they heard that the tone of their article isn't acceptable and they're backtracking. I guess that's a win?
10 March 2011 @ 11:12 pm
Oliver's favourite toy(s) are his little mousies. We have about a zillion at this point as they have a way of vanishing until the next time you move all the furniture and a zillion mousies means we can put this off, often for a month at a time. Libby likes them too, but she's obsessed with string and only plays with them intermittently.

We keep the mice in a bowl on top of a book case. The bookcase is in the dinning room* which is separated from the sitting room by a few steps and a guard rail. Originally this served as a convenient way to keep some of the mice in reserve so we didn't have to move the sofa every 2hours to find mice for sad kittens. We've switched to the aforementioned Sheer Quantities of Mousies system because Oliver disovered a way to climb up on the railing, walk along it to the corner where the bookcase is, pick a mousie out of the bowl with his mouth, and bring it down to play with. Often times he'll retrieve a mousie, decide it wasn't actually a very good mousie, and immediately get another one. Today he climbed up with a mousie already in his mouth, realized he couldn't pick up another one, and climbed down today. After several weeks of watching Oliver do this, we finally witnessed Libby do it as well. She's a better jumper and can, if she so desires, jump straight from the upper-level floor to the railing, but for the most part she goes the easy way.

Tonight we were privileged to watch Libby climb up to the railing, make her way daintily along it, select a mousie and start back. Oliver (who had gotten down at least five** since dinner), saw that Libby had a mousie and ran over to the railing. Libby leaned down towards him as if to say, "Yes? What do you want?" Oliver jumped up and tried to swipe the mousie from her mouth. Well, she sat back up and decided that wasn't very nice and tried to walk to the end of the railing, the easy place to climb down. Oliver beat her there, jumped up, knocked the mousie away from her, and followed it over the side.

Remember those steps I mentioned? Yeah, the floor is lower on the other side. He went sailing over the railing, after his stolen mousie, and landed with quite the thump. Chris and I stared in shock, then burst out laughing. A few seconds later, Oliver came trotting triumphantly up the steps, mousie in mouth. Libby, still on the railing, watched this, saw that he was occupied with the mousie, and went back for another. Oliver looked up to see Libby with another mousie and again freaked out and ran over to the railing. Libby ran to the end, jumped down and ran upstairs with her mousie. Oliver followed. A minute later, Libby came back down, mouseless, and once more went on a mouse-retrieval expedition. It's worth mentioning that there are some 7 mice scattered around the dinning and living rooms, but no, Libby wants a fresh one.

Oliver caught up with her just as she curled up on the bean bag chair with her new mouse. He batted it away from her, then just walked off. She looked down at the lost mouse (six inches away) and got up to get another mouse. Her most successful trip was when she knocked a mousie down in picking hers up, and he was distracted by the fallen spoils. She managed to keep that mouse for almost two minutes.

This went on for about half an hour. They seem to have hit a mousie saturation point as they both wandering around the rooms at random, spotting a mousie, chasing it around for a few minutes, finding another mousie (which was there the whole time) and deciding to chase that one instead.

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: our cats are absolutely bonkers. And amazingly. And yes, Oliver bullies Libby. The thing is we know she could kick his fluffy ginger tail seven ways to Sunday if she actually wanted to. We've seen her do it.

*room names are arbitrary and merely reflect the current primary function of the room in question.

**I took advantage of their trip to the cattery this past weekend to do a lot of hoovering and moving of furniture - things that, if they're home, tends to seriously freak them out. Oliver more than Libby - he's a big scaredy cat and Libby is Explorer Kitty.
Tags: ,
Last Thanksgiving an 11-year-old girl was gang raped by at least 18 men, ages "middle schoolers" to 27-years-old. The case came to light when one of the girl's classmates showed a cellphone video of the attack to a teacher. On the 8th, the New York Times published a story by James C. McKinley, Jr which is, um, rather more concerned with the potentially ruined futures of the assailants than, well, anything about the child who was gang raped. Here is a slightly more balance article from AP reporter Juan A. Lozano via Houston Chronicle. There's also an editorial, "The Careless Language of Sexual Violence" prompted by the McKinley's story.

I wrote a letter to James C. McKinley, Jr.Collapse )
04 March 2011 @ 11:45 am
A friend is thinking about having a dress made for a wedding (not her own). Can anyone recommend a seamstress in the Seattle area? Plus size-friendly is, ahem, a plus.
04 March 2011 @ 11:37 am
Dave said he went to the last Alameda Ceili? Is it moving or just...ending?
28 February 2011 @ 01:00 pm
Happiness is that feeling you get after exercising, for me usually dancing but today it's swimming, that feeling that you're completely centred in your body, occupying it fully: fingertip to fingertip, head to toe. When your body says, "you can stretch me further, work me harder. Give me more!"

Happiness is so much sunshine you have to pull the curtains to keep some out so you can see, rooms fully of tiny rainbows from scattered prisms, plants stretching and growing, snowdrops and crocuses, and even the daffodils in the planters opening their faces to the world.

Happiness is trying new recipes and eating delicious food and thinking "I made this." It's getting a box of vegetables, figuring out what you got this week, and what you can do with it, and a long list of "leftovers" in the freezer if you don't feel like cooking.

Happiness is cuddling on the sofa with your fiancé; a kitten to your left and one to his right, both asleep. Watching them watch birds, tails twitching, making their little chirping clicks when they spot one. Having them seek out skritches and cuddles and look pathetic (Oliver) or imperious (Libby) to coax you into playing their favourite games.

Happiness is talking to friends (even if "just" online) and drinking tea and feeling loved and making plans to hang out with someone new, or see a familiar face for the first time in months.
12 February 2011 @ 02:38 pm
Lifted in whole from an email sent by wechsler when I was planning my first visit to London:
Things to Do in LondonCollapse )
10 February 2011 @ 05:15 pm
It will come as no shock to anyone who's ever met me that I've been trying to lose weight, though for most of my life "trying" has been in quotes and, except for a bulimic period in high school (when I got down to a size 10/12), my weight has largely gone up rather than down. I've recently had a bit more success...Collapse )

To recap, over the last 13 months I've lost 30lbs (2 stone). I currently weight about 185lbs (13 stone), which at 5'6" puts me just barely in a BMI** class of "overweight", down from "obese, class I". I've been taking pictures of myself in my unmentionables, aiming for a set of photos for every 5lbs lost and there is a very clear difference between December 09 and January 2011.

But while I'd lost all that weight, I was still wearing my UK size 20 clothes - first with a belt, then with a long-johns, then long-johns, tights and a belt - and now, as we reach 9hrs of daylight (and the occasional hour of sunshine) and long-johns aren't always a necessity, it's became abundantly clear that I don't own any clothes that fit. Clothes that had been a little snug are now too big. Things that were waiting for spring to get worn again hang off me. Dresses billow, shirts bag, skirts slide, and I don't own a single pair of trousers that need to be unbuttoned to be pulled on or of - or at least I didn't until yesterday.

Chris and I are a little strapped for cash, but I decided that this was getting a little silly and it's time to buy new trousers. Shirts, I figure, aren't going to fall off, but I should have one or two trousers that actually fit. Yesterday I wandered all over the mall looking for trousers in the under £20 category and wound up trying on a £15 pair of jeans at M&S. They said "stretch" on the label and, based on previous experience with their stretch jeans, I optimistically grabbed a pair of UK size 16s. They were snugger than I would ideally prefer but previously buying ones that fit comfortably in the changing room resulted in baggy jeans after an hour of wear so I decided to buy them anyway and if they didn't stretch, well, they were't so tight that I couldn't get them on, just a big of muffin top around the waist.Fastfoward to today, wearing them, and they were still pretty snug so I figured I'd go back to the mall and see what I could find in an 18.

They all slid off. I went to a couple different stores, trying on 18s and 16s, and the 16s are snug (though not as snug as the ones I bought yesterday - I think they're just a less than ideal cut for me) but the 18s go on and off without unbuttoning them. Oh. All this time in dressing rooms was also making it clear that my baggy shirts were absolutely, 100% not doing me any favours, so I tried on a few UK size 16 (which, remember, is a US size 14) tops and was amazed at the difference. I stood there, looking at my non-clown pants clad legs thinking, "I'm a lot skinnier than I thought I was." When I first pulled on the 16s yesterday I thought there was no way I was going to get one leg into them, let alone both and my hips. Looking at my silhouette, I was blown away. So this is what being 2 stone lighter looks like. Wow. I couldn't see it naked, I couldn't see it under my too big clothes, but seeing myself in clothes that fit... Just wow.

I wasn't ready to pay department store prices for jeans that may not fit in a month so I ducked into two thrift stores on the way home to see what they have in a 16 and came away with another pair of jeans for £4 (which fit much more comfortably the £15 ones). I'll keep an eye out for shirts and sweaters as well and should look into getting fitted for bras. I should really go try on everything I own and pack away all the stuff that's too big so I can see what I actually have to wear and make some educated decisions about what I need most.

* which is as ridiculous as all the other things you should or shouldn't do to have a "healthy" weight and fitness level.

** see previous footnote about wrt "ridiculous"
31 January 2011 @ 05:41 pm
If you have no idea what I'm talking about read this first

I have tried to put into words my thoughts and feelings on the matter and I can't. I can tell you that I want to cry, that I want to throw up, that I am ashamed, and furious, but that's just surface chatter. I lean strongly towards pro-life, but I think the right to have one is just that - a right. I can talk about the abortion side of it (and I will) but the rape side escapes my eloquence. The damage to our society by making rape harder to prosecute, easier to ignore, easier to continence when it is already so amazingly difficult, ignored, and countenanced... I look at countries and societies where women have no rights and think about everything I wish they had - education, choices, rights, equality - but how can I give these things to someone else when I don't have all of them myself? And they want to make it worse? I don't have the words for this argument. I've seen statistics and figures, looked at websites and read books, heard lectures and life stories. I don't have them all to hand or the inclination to find them because either you believe that things like Male Privilege and Rape Culture exist or you don't and nothing I say, do, or show you will change your mind.

Instead I'm going to talk about abortion. I think we should all make it a life goal to reduce the need for abortions. The GOP is merely trying to reduce their occurrence.

If you want to reduce abortions, you have to reduce unwanted pregnancies. Hand out birth control like it's candy. I'm not a "put BC in the water" kinda girl, but I think everyone needs to be in control of their own reproduction. "Just say no" doesn't work. We need education and contraceptives. Part of the problem is that the onus is on women and yet being perceived as sexually active is still hugely taboo. Boys will be boys but girls have to keep their knees together. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, you have to fight this. You have to decide that it's more important to be safe than to hold women to an unachievable model of perfection.

Accidents happen. 99.9% effective means one woman in 1000 is going to get pregnant. Now what? If you don't want her to have an abortion you have to make sure she can afford to be pregnant - this is social as well as financial. Again, you need to fight the stigma: a woman who is afraid of being "found out" will want an abortion. Being pregnant, giving birth, having a baby - it's really expensive! If you want to prevent women from having abortions, you have to cover those costs: free pre-natal care, free delivery, free post-natal.

She had her baby! yay! um, now what? Diapers cost money. We have marriage incentives (which don't work) - why don't we have parent incentives? whether you're married or not, if we as a society have decided that raising the next generation is important, then we have to support this endeavour. Jobs and schooling with flexible hours, state-funded day-care - we have to provide these things for everyone.

And let's not forget adoption. There are so many people out there who would love to have a child of their own and can't and there are also people who don't want to add to the population for one reason or another but would still like a child. Adopting parents need better protections. If the birth mother changes her mind she can take the child back. How is that in the child's best interest? You should have to prove that the adoptive parents are unfit. I think birth mothers should have rights, based on an open adoption model, but not more rights than the parents - certainly not more rights than the child: a right to grow up in a stable environment.

Cut down the number of unwanted pregnancies, cut down economic dis-incentives for being pregnant, cut down the costs and inconveniences associated with raising a child, let people who are in a position to raise a child help those who aren't safely, and above all, stop blaming women for failing to live up to an impossible standard.

These are ideas off the top of my head. I'm sure there are flaws in my reasoning. But somewhere in this criminally misguided effort there is a worthy goal, if only people are willing to look beyond the blame game, the short term sop, and plan long term solutions.

Comments are not screened (for "friends"), but keep in mind this is my sandbox and you are a guest - behave accordingly.
28 January 2011 @ 04:59 pm
In June, when we get married, the sun will rise around 4:20 and set at 22:00* for a little under 18 hours of daylight. Hopefully most of them will be sunny.

A wanning three quarter moon will be up for over 9 hours - mostly when the sun is up. The moon won't rise until 1:30 the morning after we're married - I don't plan to be in a position to notice.

With such a slender moon rising late, there's a chance it'll be dark enough to sleep around 23:30. Fortunately, the curtains at the hotel are heavy.

The average temperature high for that time of year is about 17C/63F. Lows are around 10C/50F.

There's an average of 8 rainy days in June (9 in July) and 6 hours of sunshine per day (out of almost 18 hours of daylight). July averages 5 hours of sunshine per day.

* I'm rounding off.
28 January 2011 @ 04:51 pm
This week in Inverness, we finally made it to the positive side of 8 hours of daylight and we're gaining daylight at almost 4 minutes a day. Yesterday some of that daylight was even sunshine, which I hear was very nice for people with access to windows. We put away our Happy (SAD) Light for the year, or at least haven't pulled it out of the drawer in a few weeks. The sun comes up around the time I leave in the morning and sets after I get home.

The weather is still fairly close to freezing (it's been above freezing most of these last week weeks, but the "feels like" temperature hasn't) but freezing's not so bad after well bellow freezing, except for when you think, "it's warmed up a lot, I don't need tights and longjohns and trousers - I'll just wear the trousers!" and then it's, well, freezing. The (boxing)mittens Aneska made for me were my constant companions when there was snow. Last week I was wearing my wool fingerless gloves and just keeping my hands in my pockets, but it's getting colder again and I should at least step up to my lightweight mittens or I'm going to lose some fingers.

It feels like spring is just around the corner. The birds are tweeting, the grass is very green, the daffodils in my half barrels are poking up, and walking home I saw a shrub that had started to bloom. I'm really looking forward to spring.
27 January 2011 @ 04:14 pm
This weekend is the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch! I missed it last year so I'm extra excited to play. It's easy - all you have to do is watch your garden for an hour either Saturday or Sunday and note how many of any given species of bird you see at one time. You don't get to count Mr. Robin each time he duck into the hedge and pops out again, but if Mr Robin is chasing off Other Mr Robin while Master Robin sneaks in to get some food you count 3 robins.

In anticipation of bird watching, I bought the good (which is to say apparently incredibly tasty but also expensive) suet balls. We used to put them out all the time but by the end of summer we were going through a 4 pack a day, plus sultanas, meal worms, and peanuts! I love having a garden full of tits, finches, robins, black birds, and the occasional duck family, but we couldn't afford £20/week to feed the birds! So we bought a huge tub of a cheaper brand of suet balls, and put those out instead.

To say that the birdies were less than thrilled would be an understatement. The suet balls now rot in the feeder, barely touched. When there was snow on the ground, the pidgeons would deign to peck at the suet balls I tossed on the ground, but now that it's all melted not even they will eat them. We used to go through 4 suet balls a day (an upper limit only because we wouldn't refill the feeder more than once a day). I bought the tub-o-cheap suet balls (possibly 40 balls?) 6 months ago and it's still over half full.

We got the cheap suet balls around the same time we got the kittens which is why my attention has been elsewhere this last half-year. We tried to remember to put out sultanas and periodically dump and refill the peanut feeder, and put out a dish with whatever else we bought - seed mix, meal worms, suet pellets - but until, um, today actually, the kittens freaked out whenever we opened the patio door and ran to hide. Today they both watched from a safe distance, to see if the birdies would come.

But today I put out the expensive suet. They didn't have insect suet balls so I bought two four packs of fruit suet balls, dumped and scrubbed the feeder, and filled it up. They had insect suet squares so I bought one of those and a square feeder to put it in. I need to give the sultana dish a good scrubbing but didn't notice till after I put more out, so I'll do that tomorrow. I'll probably also dump and refill the peanut feeder and set out a dish of bird seed. I didn't have room for a tub of meal worms but I may go back for those tomorrow. I know, if I really want an impressive bird count, I should've started putting out the expensive food a few weeks ago, but better late than never.

Last week a family of long-tail tits came through the garden. It's the first time I've seen any of them and I was very excited. With any luck they're still nearby and will come back. Have I mentioned how much I love all these cute little birds?
26 January 2011 @ 08:07 pm
I started putting this together when I thought I'd be getting married in Inverness. Now I have to figure out what there is to do in and around Pitlochry (which should be plenty as it's main industry is tourism), but in the meantime for anyone thinking of visiting me in Inverness:

Things to Do While in Inverness:Collapse )
There is until 31 January, asking people's opinions on some proposed changes to the Tier 4 (Student) Visa. Please, if you live in the UK, take a few minutes to fill it out. In the interest of full disclosure, this is the visa I am currently on and I am biased.

The survey is _incredibly_ biased. My favourite example is question 2:
Do you think that only Highly Trusted Sponsors (HTS) should be permitted to offer study below degree level 3, 4 & 5?
A) Yes
B) No - all sub-degree level study should be prohibited
C) No - level 3 should be prohibited even HTS
D) I don't know.
Those are your options. Do you agree with our proposed Draconian* change or do you think it's not Draconian enough? Or are you confused by the question? I skipped it.

There are also questions about whether or not they should profile from which countries Tier 4 visa holders are most likely to violate the terms of their visa (e.g. not attending classes or working more than the 10-20hrs/week they're allowed) and/or if they should profile the institutions that sponsor these students. I said they should _not_ profile the students based on country of origin, but they should profile the schools.

Another set of questions ask if students should have to prove that, should they wish to extend their visa for another course of study, the subsequent course is a higher level than the previous one. That seems ridiculous to me - if you can afford to pay the fees levied on non-EEA members without working in violation of your visa then you should be able to obtain as many Bachelor, Master, or Doctoral degrees as your little heart desires. Further they ask if people wishing to extend their Tier 4 visa should have to return to their country-of-origin to apply. Again, no. Even if that wasn't incredibly expensive, if you realize you're missing a document it's exponentially more difficult to obtain it when you're 8-hours, an ocean, and a continent away.

If you wish to print out the form and mail it in, each question is followed by a "comments" box, but this is not an option online. Question 21, however, is open answer; my response follows:

In the light of the proposals described in this document, what do you think will be the main advantages / disadvantages, including any financial impacts, to you, your business or your sector?

Non-EEA students bring in a lot of money, paying significantly higher fees than citizens and members of the EEA. Without this source of income, colleges and universities will be forced to increase their fees for everyone else, a move that has already resulted in riots.

Further, British students who cannot afford to study abroad benefit from the exposure to other cultures and the ideas that foreign students bring into their midst. We are all improved by this mingling. An insular society cannot thrive in the global market.

As for post-study work, education is expensive and time consuming and very different from "the real world". Having completed their studies, students deserve a chance to explore this wonderful country, to work and live here - to pay taxes and spend their income, for a few years before returning home. The goal of education is betterment, not higher salaries. If a post-study worker finds him or herself working bellow their trained skills, then that's at least one high paying job that hasn't been filled by a foreigner.

Crack down on the institutions that are negligantly sponsoring students, crack down on people forging documents to apply for Tier 4 visas - but don't make life more difficult for the majority of foreign students who come in good faith and are a positive addition to British society while here. We all stand to gain.

* I don't actually think this example Draconian - merely short-sighted and wrong.
13 January 2011 @ 09:53 am
Chris and I had gotten our list down to just a small handful of hotels and they all offer to hold a date for a fortnight before asking for a deposit so I figured we could just see if we could hold the same date at all the hotels and then have another week to pick which place, precisely, it would be. This would've been fine except not all of the venues have the same day free. Of course. That was easy to see coming.

The real problem was casually alluded to by one of the venues, "There's nothing on the 10th* [of July] but there aren't any rooms in the hotel so you don't want that day. There aren't any hotel rooms available anywhere in town." She was quite coy about why but it turns out that the newly opened Stuart Castle Golf Course - and by extension Inverness - are in the running to host the Scottish Open this year and they've gone ahead and put a preliminary booking on (pretty much?) every hotel room in the area. Early July is out. I figure people would be rolling into town the week before the but I can't imagine they'll linger more than a day or two after it ends.

* Sundays don't have as high of minimum numbers that Saturdays do and most places also offer a discount on prices
10 January 2011 @ 06:50 pm
On Saturday, Chris and I went to see Tulloch Castle. I have never been so sad to not like something in my life. Our neighbour warned me when I mentioned we were going, but...

The exterior is very castle-y. You can tell that there have been modern additions (though how old "modern" is on a 12th Century castle can be debated) but it still retains it's essential castle-ness. The main entrance was, um, understated. If the taxi hadn't dropped us off right outside the door and a couple walked out as we were settling the fair, I'm pretty sure I would've wandered around the building knocking on windows. The lobby looked like a hunting lodge from a romance novel - overstuffed chairs, animals mounted on walls, everything carved from wood, dim lights reminiscent of candle-light, oil paintings and tapestries on the walls, grand staircase... Brilliant in ever sense but the literal one.

Chris had called ahead to make an appointment and spoken with the manager who said he wouldn't be in but that someone would be available to show us around. He didn't pass this message on. We rang the bell (an actual bell with clapper) sat on the reception desk and a girl - dressed all in black, in clothes a couple sizes too small - came out from a back room. We explained that we're getting married and hoping to have a look around. Well, she could give us a glossy brochure (a very nice brochure) and some print-outs with the current prices and options, but she couldn't show us around as she was the only one there. Um, okay. She pointed us to the top of the stairs and a series of great rooms that could be used. Having said she was the only one there and implied she couldn't leave the desk, she followed us halfway up the stairs and disappeared down another hallway. Uh...

The rooms themselves had a lot of potential. They all had huge windows, heavy curtains, fireplaces, decorated ceilings, and hardwood floors. Even in the winter with no leaves on the trees, the views were lovely. The floors were scuffed and the paint was chipped, but a good scrub and coat of paint would fix that. We could see the whole thing - wedding in this room, shuffle everyone off to that room for canapés and drinks while the first room was reset for breakfast, pictures on the grounds - we could see the whole thing! Including, unfortunately the still scuffed floors and chipped paint and indifferent staff.

When we returned downstairs a different gentleman - who didn't look up - was sat behind the reception desk. We let ourselves out and walked back to town. So much potential and not a single indication that anyone cared. Our neighbour said it used to be a lovely place, living up to the promise of it's 4-star ranking and glossy brochures but it had been sold to distant owners who weren't interested in keeping the place up. Such a pity.
31 December 2010 @ 05:52 pm
Seeing as we live in Scotland and we're planning what, for 95% of our guests, will be a destination wedding, it makes sense for Chris to wear a kilt. When we first got together he spent a lot of time telling me how he wasn't comfortable with the idea of wearing a kilt but that, for me, he would consider it. After the first or second time I got this response, I dropped the subject but Chris kept bringing it up and I eventually twigged that he wanted me to talk him into one. So here we are, getting married in the Highlands of Scotland and it seems to me that if ever there were a time and place to wear a kilt it's here and now.*

As you might imagine, there are any number of kilt shops in Inverness - all offering bespoke or hire kilts, and some even having a selection of off-the-rack ones available for purchase as well. Mostly by chance we first wound up in a Cute Little Kilt Shop, one that had a lovely window display for Halloween which I loved. Halloween isn't a big holiday up here so it made me extra happy. It turns out their (in-house) seamstress is American (married to a Brit) and she was no doubt responsible. They're having a sale till the end of January with bespoke kilts running around £200-300 (depending on weight) and the full outfit (from lack-of-hat to shoes including a garment bag to store it all) being somewhat less than £700, again depending on weight of the wool. Their hire kilts are £50 (not including jacket and waistcoat) for 5 days. The down side is that they only do hire kilts in 9 tartans.

Now, when you buy a kilt you can have it made in any one of the hundreds of tartans they can order. There are books upon books hanging from their worktops (counters) organized by weight or who-knows-what. What they are not organized by is colour. I had this vision of a mainly blue tartan with yellow detail, rather like the pjs I'm wearing now though these have white not yellow. This tartan does not appear to be commercially available. See, if someone owns the rights to a particular tartan, no one else can weave it. Tartans are serious business. We took a brochure and said we'd come back when we had time to thumb through hundreds if not thousands of tartans.

The next kilt shop we ducked into was on the High Street** and very much the opposite of the little shop with the seamstress sat in the back of the room. They had lots of off-the-racks for tourists and cheap packages for having a kilt or outfit made up. For £60 (including purchase of a shirt and socks) you get the full outfit (and safety knife) for 2 nights, but they take your measurements and order the hire kilt from another company, with a range of 16 tartans. We took a hire brochure and a bespoke brochure and went to a coffee shop to look them over.

Chris had talked himself into, then out of, buying a bespoke kilt by this point (our story takes place over several days) so we concentrated on the hire pamphlet and Chris was quite taken by a dark plum combination - plum jacket, waistcoat, and cravat over a purple and dark grey tartan. Plum instead of sapphire for the wedding? twist my arm. Except, reading the little description, it said the jacket was blue. Glance back at the picture: no, that's very very purple. Dark purple. Purple cravat, purple coat, purple kilt. If the jacket isn't purple, what colour is the rest of it?

I need a fabric sample of whatever tartan Chris decides on to send my bridesmaids and another for my dressmaker to match colours, so we decided to go back to the Chain Kiltshop and buy a scarf or a postcard - anything they had in the same pattern. We could see the true colours and I'd have my fabric samples. Problem solved, right?


Excuse me? No. There is nothing they carry in that tartan. They didn't even have a hire kilt in shop that we could see (though she did think there would be a sun-bleached on in a window display that we could look at - except when we walked past it was covered by a huge SALE! sign and four people leaning against it, waiting for the bus). Remember how I said people own specific tartans? Well this company owns the rights to most of the tartans they hire and all they do is kilt hire. And what did the Chain Kiltshop have to say about not having a fabric sample we could look at? Well, the kilts come in a week before the event so you can make sure everything looks and fits right. A week? What precisely does one do a week before one's wedding when it turns out the purple kilts aren't purple?

Another kilt shop we found also hires from this company (at £90 - including purchase of a shirt and socks - because it's a speciality tartan) and they did have a book with the 16 tartans in it and it's actually mostly blue with purple and green. I checked the hire company's website and they don't interface with the public at all. There's an applet to pick your outfit and a retailer-finder. I can't be the only bride who wants fabric samples - samples! a square about 6" by 6" or however big it needs to be to repeat the pattern! - to coordinate colours. I would even be willing to return it with the kilt when we were done! Craziness.

Remember the brochure from the Cute Little Kilt Shop? I said. Didn't they have a purple one you liked? Remember? That one. They have their kilts in-shop. We can ask if they do fabric samples. Not only do they, but she handed me one right there and then. Two, actually (the purple one Chris likes and a complimentary grey and purple one that we may put his groomsmen in for contrast). Chris tried a couple of different kilts on and every style jacket and much admired his reflection in the mirror and spent the rest of the day talking about how surprisingly comfortable it was and how much he enjoyed wearing a kilt and why would anyone ever wear a suit? When we left he was talking about having a kilt made and hiring two jackets - one style for the wedding and a less formal one for the party.

Yes, Dear. Whatever it takes to get you in a kiltyou want.

Oh! And the owner of the Cute Little Kilt Shop holds the rights to this tartan so if I want to order a couple of extra yards that's not a problem and they may be able to have it woven in silk if I want to trim my dress to match.

* well, six months or so.

** both a literal and figurative description in the UK - (almost?) every town has a High Street which is a main retail district full of the same big chain shops you find in any other town in the UK.