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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Pete's LiveJournal:

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Friday, November 20th, 2015
9:22 pm
An update appears: holiday in Bolivia part 2
The approach into La Paz's El Alto airport was quietly dramatic. Mountains rose up around us, level with the plane; we flew over the great bowl of the city; then a very short descent onto the airport on the rim of the bowl. The airport is up in the sky at 13,000ft.

Here we started the fully guided section of our tour with our first guide, Jorge. Jorge was kind of a dude; young well-educated guy with excellent English and good conversation. He took us to the "Valley of the Moon", a strange erosion-generated terrain; Tiwanaku, our first Inca site; and later on the hydrofoil tour of Lake Titicaca. He also took us to lunch at a local stand-up pasty vendor.

Under our own steam we visited the Anthropology museum, which is one of those rambling fusion of buildings that's very hard to gauge the size of from the outside. They had (among other things) a great collection of masks which fascinated Laura, and a small collection of Andean hats which were indistinguishable from those being sold to backpackers today. Except that some of the captions indicated that they were thousands of years old. Astonishing cultural continuity.

Diningwise we had the bizarre deserted theme restaurant Laura's already blogged about, and an unexpectedly good evening in the hotel bar. One of the desk staff was playing the piano, doing various self-arranged medlys of Elton John and the Beatles. His talents were constrained by the instrument, a short Yamaha keyboard, which he jokingly demonstrated by trying to play the opening bars of Rachmaninov's concherto and falling off the end. With the entertainment we had bottle of Bolivian wine, which had a fruity smoothness and quality way above its price bracket. You don't see much Bolivian wine in UK supermarkets - Chilean, yes, but not Bolivian.

This all fitted into three nights, and then we were off to Peru via the lake...
Thursday, September 24th, 2015
10:20 pm
Holiday, part 1 of many
Hello LJ, I'm back from Peru. It was great :)

The pretext/excuse for the whole thing was visiting khalinche in Cochabamba, Bolivia. And that was where we arrived after about 36 hours of flights and waiting in airports. Edinburgh-Gatwick-Madrid-Santa Cruz(VVI)-Cochabamba. She is a most lovely and gracious host; we spent much of our time chatting, drinking tea, eating local food in busy cafes surrounded by happy Bolivian families, and hanging out at the street party. The Sunday we were there was the twice-annual day of pedestrianisation, in which cars are banned from the city centre during the day. So a street fair/party pops up, which was great to walk around in.
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On next week's episode of Mysterious Cities of Gold: La Paz
Friday, August 21st, 2015
12:40 pm
Meme fragment
From the questiony thing that's been going around:

6. Where on your door is your letterbox?

Oddly specific! But shouldn't it also ask what orientation your letterbox is (portrait or landscape)? And how about aspect ratio? I know a lot of people are unhappy with letterboxing. Maybe they have 16:9 front doors instead.
Monday, June 22nd, 2015
2:50 pm
Parked quote
This is really insightful. Unfortunately it's split over several tweets starting from https://twitter.com/JWMason1/status/612960543524065280 , so I'm parking it here for my future reference.

(JW Mason is a reasonably credentialled economist, http://slackwire.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-j-w-mason.html )


"Greece" is simply the label currently put on the underlying contradictions of euro project. Whether Greece "exits" or not, project remains allowing unlimited financial flows based on unanchored expectations of financial markets and then demanding that real productive activity and standards of living adjust to accommodate. And, since this would destroy society, stabilizing system with offsetting public flows, on conditions set by unaccountable authorities.


Something similar was going to be in my "Herald of Free Enterprise" thing that I never got around to writing. The argument was that the "Four freedoms" of the EU (people, goods, services and capital) suffer from both pooling effects (capital accumulates, people and businesses cluster into megacities) and sloshing effects (capital flight, migrations of young people to find work leaving pensions unsustainable). The difference is like that between the open car deck of a RORO ferry and the sealed bulkheads of other ships: useful, but much easier to capsize and sink. While the ongoing Greece discussion is basically that the steerage passengers should not be allowed onto the first class deck despite the rising water levels as they haven't paid for the tickets. The Greek negotiating team have realised that their only negotiating card is a threat to scuttle the ship.

We're several years into "final, final deadlines". Eventually one of them really will be final, but there's no way to know in advance if this will be it.
Tuesday, May 26th, 2015
9:39 pm
And The Land Lay Still
I've been reading "And The Land Lay Still" on the bus, since I had it recommended as the definitive novel of Scottish nationalism. It's a substantial piece of work, certainly. It has a structure I recognize from science fiction novels, in that the characters exist to give life and motion to a world and a history, but the worldbuilding is the core point of the novel. It just happens to be a real place this time, and has not been done at the expense of warmth and humanity.

It also reminds me of the Tapestry of Scotland, in that it's an attempt to thread disparate history together for presentation to the public as a coherent whole from a series of vignettes. The author is excellent at evocative writing of place and time, although he occasionally leans on the fast-forward button and reels off a list of historical events flying by as we move forward a few years. He writes his Scotland into existence.
Monday, April 6th, 2015
11:20 am
Not dead, just busy
Feel like I owe people a catchup, especially my Bostonian friends; last week I was on a "holiday" trip round the south of England which included a Eurovision concert, Tate Britain, a country house wedding, visiting my parents and various old friends, and an awful lot of running around between things.
Monday, March 9th, 2015
11:25 am
Things not written due to lack of time
- political analogy for Europe involving MV Herald of Free Enterprise
- MP's pay and the long-term decline in recruitment quality, qv decline of Scottish labour
- anything about the Scottish ID database consultation, to which I actually managed to submit a letter

At home, more improvements: the solar panels are up on the roof and ticking away. "Build pi-based meter tracking system" has gone on the bottom of the round tuit list. Plans are afoot to put up a shed. I've booked a complex multi-leg travel arrangement to see my family and Colin's wedding over easter, but not made plans for the summer beyond that; maybe we'll make it to Nine Worlds this year.

The weather has just started to turn warm, ready to open the daffodils.
Thursday, February 5th, 2015
3:31 pm
The National
Further to that, we have a new paper up here. Yes, someone launched a daily printed physical newspaper in 2014. It has a frustratingly google-resistant name, the online section is subscriber-only and is some horrible PDFoid thing that's basically unreadable and certainly cannot be linked to. But it's pro-SNP and, unlike almost all the rest of the press, not very prone to fearmongering.

I'm still trying to work out what to make of it, while reading paper copies intermittently at lunch. It's closer to the Independent than the Guardian. They had a piece on Leon Brittan's death that I felt was a carefully written masterclass in libel avoidance; every statement hedged with sources, but the whole quite damning. In some ways it's an odd experience reading a newspaper that contains only reasonable things that I agree with. It lacks outrage fuel. While it's nominally leftwing I've also not noticed significant levels of knit-your-own-quinoa articles, language callouts, privilege checking, and other sorts of Guardian clickbait. Probably the lack of a comments section helps with that. It seems content to follow the news rather than trying to lead or drive it. I can't imagine how that will last; if it remains popular enough to stay in print it will be influential enough to be tempted to run a Campaign. Or someone will start using it as a vector for internal SNP politicking. We'll just have to see.
3:08 pm
Varoufakis by way of Tennyson
(not mine, this is from two comments http://crookedtimber.org/2015/02/03/greece-surplus-stimulus-strategy/#comment-607720)

It little profits that an idle Greek
By this still economy, among these barren markets
Match’d with an evil troika , who mete and dole
Unequal laws unto our savage race
Who hoard, and sleep, and feed, and pay not debt.
Greatly, we suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loaned us, and alone, on shore.

. . . Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer deal.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The hounding Euros; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the market, and the wrath
Of all the western banks, until I die.
It may be that the Gulf will buy us up:
It may be we shall touch the Cayman Isles
And see the great Onassis, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved oil and cargo; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of expatriate wealth,
Made weak by various new reporting regulations, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to borrow, and not to yield.



At the Radical Independence conference in Glasgow were, among many others, speakers from SYRIZA. Following the indyref (lost) and the Catalan referendum (meaningless victory), they've actually managed to get elected. Now they find themselves trying to deliver. The conflict between whether Greece is run by its electorate or its creditors (or its creditor's electorates) is being forced. SYRIZA really don't have a lot of cards to play, and the ones they do have are self-destructive and illegal. French-style straightforward physical violence is not yet on the table, but default-and-exit could be far more expensive than simply burning down a tax office.

I'm following this with avid interest, although nowhere near the level of horrible emotional intensity as the Indyref.

Meanwhile the SNP are looking at the wholesale collapse of the Scottish Labour vote and desperately trying not to have a "return to your constituencies and prepare for government" moment. It's less than 100 days to our own election which promises to be weird and chaotic.
Friday, December 12th, 2014
11:52 am
Nimrod and Kinloss
Can't quite work out how to synthesize these stories, but there's an interesting thread:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-30434422 : Kinloss search-and-rescue closure
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Air_Force_Nimrod_XV230 and http://www.snp.org/media-centre/news/2008/may/angus-robertson-seeks-nimrod-safety-answers versus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAE_Systems_Nimrod_MRA4

The UK designs and builds the first jet airliner, the Comet, back in 1949. A few upgrades and 20 years later the same basic design becomes the Nimrod MR2 recon aircraft. And there it stays for thirty-seven years, until eventually it catches fire and explodes in midair. In a spectacular bit of retroactive judgement, it's deemed to have been defective design all those years ago combined with neglect.

Why was the MR2 not replaced earlier? Well, the plan was to replace it with the MRA4 .. which was the same plane, just refurbished to modern standards. This project had never got off the ground as it was discovered that the original airframes not only didn't match the design drawings but were all subtly different shapes and sizes as they were hand-built to 60s manufacturing tolerances. An approach which may have made sense when there was a need to churn out Wellington bombers in 24 hours from requisitioned furniture factories for an expected lifetime of a few dozen flights, but doesn't work for modern aviation or endurance recon. The MRA4 was eventually scrapped with extreme prejudice once it became clear that it consume money forever without delivering a flyable aircraft.

So, no recon planes at all shall fly from Kinross. So the airbase side has been closed and downgraded to a barracks. The search-and-rescue will be consolidated with the south coast 400 miles away (no doubt losing local knowledge).
Thursday, November 27th, 2014
11:35 am
Smith commission
Quick review of http://www.smith-commission.scot/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The_Smith_Commission_Report-1.pdf
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Para 95 Mandatory Free Lunch: while it might be possible to set things up so that there's no change in the budgets on the day of transfer, this won't be the case in the future. One side of the border will end up doing better than the other. Scotland gets the downside risk as well as the possible upsides of this. This is the large carpet under which the details, and a few potential landmines, have been swept. Needs further analysis.

Unstated assumption: the Smith Commission is not a legislative body. This package will need to be legislated by whoever wins Westminster in 2015. That might be a Tory-UKIP coalition wrestling with a possible Euro referendum, or it might be Labour government with a confidence and supply deal from the SNP.
Sunday, October 12th, 2014
7:44 pm
Post-referendum post
Well, that was an emotional rollercoaster. I'm glad I took the day after the referendum off. The next question was always going to be "what now?" either way it went. But the close result seems to have had an extraordinary effect: it's driven mass recruitment to the pro-indy parties. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/quick-note-on-party-memberships-in-uk : the SNP is now the third largest political party in the UK as a whole.
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Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
7:32 pm
Tasty pork curry
Tonight's improvised dinner:

Diced pork
1 Onion, 1 Yellow pepper, Mushrooms
Turmeric, Garam masala, powdered ginger (lots), small qty soy sauce, salt, chili flakes
Juice of 1 lemon

Chop all ingredients and fry in wok in oil. Add seasoning. Serve on rice. Produces a nice yellow-brown light fresh flavour; might be improvable with more sweet/sour flavours (sherry, mirin, vinegar, more lemons)?
Thursday, September 18th, 2014
12:37 pm
Indyref day
(This isn't terribly coherent, but I had to dump it to LJ to get it out of my head)
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I'm nervous. It's like one of those World Cup matches that gets decided on penalties, except it's going on all week rather than just 90 minutes. There is still the risk that Scotland will bottle it, give in to the relentless scare stories at the last minute. It's making it hard to focus and hard to sleep. I've already booked Friday as a holiday off work. I doubt I'll stay up - watching it on TV can't be that interesting, and it won't be clear until the small hours. There are likely to be widespread recounts. I really hope it doesn't come down to a court challenge. If it's a yes, then we'll be off into town to join the party. See you on the other side.
Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
8:37 pm
Worldcon / Loncon 3 experience
Potted summary of good and bad things, almost all good:

+ we met lots of old friends! Both from Cambridge and from Boston. Lovely to catch up with you all.

+ considering "old friends" in the form of books. I attended several of the Banks panels and was reminded how inventive they are and how I half-remember the ones I read a long time ago. Now I'm keen to go back to them. Likewise from the videogames panels.

+ Other interesting things: British Interplanetary Society; Chris Foss doing a talk on his career in the 60s and 70s which contained a lot of "swinging London" stories. I chatted to him briefly at his signing stall. He had a stack of hardcover art books each of which was getting a fresh hand-drawn sketch inside the front cover, selling at £200. They were sold out.

+ the con seems to have been disaster-free. Not snag-free, but as far as I can tell no big problems affecting a lot of people nor nasty incidents reported on social media. (Someone will no doubt correct me on this, or point out that it will have drowned in discussion of Ferguson)

+ Speaking of which, the Hugo results were good for the John Scalzi Insect Army and bad for Vox Day, which is entertaining.

+ Positive opening discussions with a couple of publishers for Laura, especially the lovely people at Inspired Quill.

+- There was so much stuff on it was impossible to do everything; sometimes I felt I'd missed out on the interesting things other people had been to. Sometimes this was a result of overcrowded programme rooms.

- while we had a good time, it felt like it required a constant input of effort to do so and sometimes felt like an uphill struggle*. It felt difficult to meet new people, outside of the dedicated newbies event.

* there are few things more British than the phrase "we've come all this way and we're going to have a good time if it kills us", usually leading to eating fish and chips in the car in the rain.

- ExCel is massive. Its food court is of course overpriced, and some of the programme rooms has sound leakage problems.

- the crowd was mostly older and mostly American. Sometimes this gave me the feeling of having been swept up by someone else's tour group. Related to the "finding it hard to strike up conversation with strangers here" thing.

- (not con's fault) we booked too late to get a good hotel, and were therefore in a Travelodge on the wrong side of the river. Dinstinctly two-star experience, and the night we stayed out late cost us a lot in taxi fare.
Thursday, July 31st, 2014
9:16 pm
The anti-masterwork
A masterwork is an item of high craftsmanship, intended to showcase the state of the art and its creators skill in traditional techniques.

What then is an anti-masterwork? It should not be merely bad - incompetence is widely available and demonstrates nothing. Not should it be "outsider art", that is, made by someone who has no idea what they're doing or what the conventional techniques are. Rather, it should be aggressively offensive to the normal standards. Both layman and expert alike should recoil in horror from the determined ugliness. Trolling in craft form.

(fragmentary post, can be expanded on demand)
Friday, July 18th, 2014
4:30 pm
Reading on the bus
I keep meaning to write something about distributed social network software, and the set of social and administrative problems getting in the way of the "why don't we host our own data" ideal. In some ways the work I did 15 years ago with the SRCF is a precursor to this.

Recent things I have read on the bus:


  • The Star Fraction, by noted Scottish Trotskyite Ken MacLeod. I mostly enjoyed it, although I felt it came unglued at the ending. Like a lot of cyberpunk, it's interesting to see how the future of 20 years ago looks now that we're living in it. There is a *lot* of politics in this novel, and I could have done with a better grounding in Marxism in order to tell what was historical, what was projected-historical, and what was projected-future-fictional. The franchise based fragmented political system reminded me of Snow Crash, which predates this book by a few years. There's a bit of Stafford Beer in the concept of technologically assisted/AI central planning. I had some specific thoughts about its ideas which I should probably have written down as I've now forgotten them :(

  • Ancilliary Justice, cutdown Hugo packet version. Prose is a bit stark and functional for my taste, but the setting and characters are fascinating. I can see why this is a frontrunner for the Hugo. It does very well at expanding a world in the memories of a character, and the slow building of trouble in paradise.

  • Thief of Time, Pratchett. A good reminder of just how good Pratchett is; humane characters, tone-perfect subverted pastiche, lovable world, spectacular drama, compelling fun.


Current bus reading is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hand_of_Oberon ; finding it a bit turgid. The whole Amber series is very popular but I suspect it's not my thing. Should probably work out what my favourite fantasy novel is outside of the obvious Pratchett and Tolkein.

Edit: also in the pile of unfleshed-out thoughts is the politics of the HRA. Why it's so unpopular in UK politics, and relating this to the rushed through omnisurveillance. Also relating the surveillance to civil service "target" culture.

And perhaps a "gaming made me" style about Colonization, and some thoughts about "victory by compound interest" in games.
Sunday, June 29th, 2014
9:15 pm
Jupiter Artland
A few weeks ago we went to this strangely named attraction to the west of Edinburgh. It's a collection of large pieces dispersed about a wood, and on a fine sunny day it was lovely to walk around and take in the art among the natural beauty.

I thought I'd write about my responses to the pieces such as I remember. There's the whimsical signpost to Jupiter, for example.

Anthony Gormley's "Firmament" stands out nicely against the sky. Sort of a wireframe cousin to the Angel of the North. Very insubstantial feeling for a steel structure; shades of deformed Buckysphere and rusted futurism. My brother is a fan of Gormley and has taken a lot of photos of his work, which tends to produce nice light patterns on nearby surfaces.

"The Light Pours out of me": looks expensive. Alien jagged surfaces. Amethyst comes up beautifully in the sun, but while looking at it you're in a pit. Actually, making a square pit and surrounding it with obsidian is such a Minecraft thing to do I can't help but wonder whether the artist was aware of the game. The narrow access trench is much narrower than any normal architectural feature, contributing to the hostility.

"Rivers": nice place for a boathouse. The structure is lit by sun reflecting off the water into the building from beneath, which then refracts through all the glassware. The river bottles aren't labelled; is this to convey that water is all the same once removed from context? Probably one of these things where the collection process would have made a good travelogue by itself.

"Temple of Apollo": perfectly conventional country garden folly. It's just unusual that someone would make one in the present day, given that it belongs so solidly to the classical revival. It's a good vantage point to look at the Xth muse, and recall "where burning Sappho loved and sung". Having read up on Ian Hamilton Findlay, I think I'd like to see more of his work. Trained at Glasgow School of Art, victim of recent fire.

"Weeping girls": Dr Who terror of the week. They don't have faces. Are they playing hide-and-seek or wandering victims of nameless catastrophe? Are they inhuman terror in incongruous little girl form? One of them stood, head down, in a natural pool of light between the trees; a fantastic bit of theatrical setting.

As I looked back at them while walking away, she was attended by two middle aged women, no doubt inspecting the construction, but looking for all the world as if they had found her and were going to make sure she was alright.

"Cells of life": now this is a cheerful thing. The artificial rolling very green hills of tellytubby-land or the windows XP background. Artificially organic. We climbed one, because whereever there is a hill humans must go to see what is at the top, and surveyed the scene. A little water feature, railway-like stone channel, feeds the central lake near the miniture stone arch. We sat and watched the swifts wheeling around the field, in constant motion. They strafed the water, gathering its insect life. I'd not seen one in person before; they're beautiful, with their crescent wings and tail, and fast jet flight profile. You wonder how they can feed that constant motion. More recently one circled us in the park, at a distance of a couple of meters, intimate closeup but impossible to track as more than a blur.
Thursday, June 12th, 2014
12:38 pm
Heated atmosphere
I have another half-formed thing to write, about loyalty and belonging. It would have been called "Loyalty: the most dangerous of the virtues", because I see it taking more and more of a role in people's conversation. Are you with us or against us? But the tone of online discussion has got a lot nastier just now.

I've long held a couple of unpopular political views which I keep quiet about because they are difficult and time-consuming to explain without someone jumping to conclusions, mistaking for something nasty, getting outraged and refusing to speak to you. I don't accept that because similar views are advocated by unpleasant people that I'm automatically wrong or evil regardless of my intent or thought process. In fact, I'm repeatedly told that it's wrong to assume that atrocities by members of a particular identity group reflect badly in any way on other members of that group. I wish I could get people to apply that principle consistently.

So I'm hedging here. I'm choosing to go no further because I prefer the quiet life. I don't need to be surrounded by people who agree with me, nor do I feel the need to go on condemn-athons of views or actions I dislike. I do however make very sure that I can trust people to actually listen to what I say and consider it before I open up to them. If not, it's fine; you can have some blandly conventional answer. Or a question in return. I like questions; they're a slow but effective means of undermining someone's offensive certainty. Ask the right question and watch someone row backwards to a more measured, nuanced, defensible position. Contradict them and they'll charge in, full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes.

(Traditionally Yeats gets roped into this: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst // Are full of passionate intensity." but also "Those that I fight I do not hate, // Those that I guard I do not love")
Saturday, March 29th, 2014
10:41 pm
Good day out
Today's bit of Cambridge we'd never got round to visiting: the Scott Polar Research Institute. Compact, clear, and moving exhibition about the heroic age of polar exploration and "the worst journey in the world". Quite a few Inuit artefacts there too.

A few weeks ago we'd done the Anthropology museum, which was also from the pith helmet era. Striking huge totem pole in the middle of the first floor; slightly awkward and apologetic feeling about the whole place and the spears-and-funny-hats collection.

Lunch at a little newish Chinese place, North China Dumpling. Does precicely what it says on the tin: £5 gets you 12 very tasty meat dumplings. Bit slippery with the chopsticks. I'm a great fan of uncomplicated cheap dining; we'd recently been to the Pint Shop, which is something of a high watermark of posh pub dining. The pork belly was delicious; wide selection of expensive beers. Hipsterish.

One week left of work, and two and a half weeks to moving. It's an odd feeling, to be leaving a job with nothing wrong with it. I've ejected from a disorganised employer, been made redundant, quit after a decade when taken over by Cadence, and now I'm moving on by choice. The new job is more pragmatic than idealist, so we'll have to see how that goes.

Most of the books are now in boxes. Still a lot of things to pack...
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