Famous Friends

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Back when our blog was named “Wish I Were Baking,” and when we actually made an effort to focus on food and the occasional knitting project, we met a blogger by the name of Pille whose beautiful food blog was an inspiration – and also kind of terrifying, as she baked and cooked seemingly endlessly, plating up perfectly turned out dishes, photographed stunningly, nearly every day. Also, she hunted for wild mushrooms, gardened, picked berries, canned, made jams… you get the picture. We – Hobbits now – still know her, and are applauding from the blogosphere sidelines. This month, she’s on the cover Estonian version of “Family and Home” magazine!

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As mentioned, we met Pille through her blog and actually got the chance to meet her when we first got to Scotland, as she was finishing up the last details from her PhD here and we overlapped by a weekend. We met her again for lunch when we went to her lovely country, Estonia, for a work-related trip for D. We ate outdoors at a Russian restaurant, and enjoyed an unusual meal (still not sure how we feel about pickles and honey), surrounded by a historical festival in the ancient part of the city, with stunningly costumed dancers and singers. It was like Estonian Disneyland, seriously, only far better. Eventually, Estonia will figure into our travel plans again, and we’ll finally meet Pille’s adorable kids.

Since she’s published a cookbook, Pille has obviously been in print before. She was in the Estonian Marie Clare a while ago, listed as a successful chef and mother, and certainly her food has been included in magazine spreads all over, complete with her sharp photography, but she’s never been a cover girl until now.

Congratulations again, Pille & family! We can now say “we knew you when!”

-D & T

Behold! The PhD Is Done (ish)

Today’s Best Line: “Congratulations! You’ve passed your PhD!”

Today’s Second Best Line: “You know I’m never to call you Doctor, right? Ever.”

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Well. I passed the viva voce exam today, receiving 2 months in which to complete “minor corrections.” I defended my PhD thesis, and have no substantive changes to make. Now, by “substantive,” they mean that, “it’s good research, there are no flaws in the methodology or in the information presented, but you need to make it hang together a bit better – to tell the reader what you’re going to say, to walk them through the whole research a bit more, to join the bits together.” So – my guess is that that means about 40 or so more paragraphs in which I break things down for a larger audience, a bit of re-captioning, and (of course) the inevitable few typos which sneak into any large body of work.

Does this feel “real” yet? Well … not so much. I think it’ll feel more real when I really get through with making these changes. However: the research and degree have been defended to everyone’s satisfaction, and I have until the end of March to nail down the last few changes and get them approved by the internal examiner. So. I guess, put that way, it’s real.

What this means for us, in the short-term, is that we’ll be extending the student visas for a short time, and that we’ll also be able to qualify for post-study-work visas. The post-study visa allows us to stay here for another 2 years – and lets me find the right research job, rather than having to jump at whichever position is willing to take me immediately.

We have some celebrating to do (or, perhaps, sleeping, since I haven’t really slept in the last four days). We feel much safer, as we have a bit of breathing room.


Edited To Add: Yes, that same won’t-call-me-doctor voice keeps saying, “I told you it would be fine.” Perhaps after a good night’s sleep, I’ll stop hearing that little mutter following me around…

Goodbye Glasgow

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We’re settling into our new home. Our first impression: we’ve just had the best night’s sleep we’ve had in several years. Even though the house is in chaos, we’re still taking the time to relax, look out the windows, and enjoy the peace of not living in the middle of the city.

The kitchen is in disarray, so there won’t be much in the way of experimental cooking taking place until we can manage to pack up the dishes and tchotchkes which came with the house. Yes: this house came fully furnished … and apparently the owner has a penchant for decorating, because there are even spare decorations tucked away in drawers throughout the house. So, rather than simply unpacking, we’re doing a mix: unpacking our things and packing hers up to load into the garage.

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When we’re not tripping over boxes in the kitchen, though, we’re looking out at our garden … and realizing that we really do need to get organized so that we can have a few meals out there before the weather turns cold and mucky again. This morning the table was in full sun, but it was still too chilly to be out there without coats, which are packed somewhere still. We figure that the unpacking will take a few weeks. Hopefully we’ll get some use out of the space before Winter sets in.

Tomorrow morning we’ll be walking to D’s work – a walk of just under a mile, one way. Between our home and work is all residential, with a footbridge over the motorway. There are no shops, nor even any major roads to cross except for via that footbridge. It’s an amazing difference from where we’d been.

Cambusbarron itself has only five or six shops for the few thousand people who live here. We’ve gone to the opposite extreme from Glasgow: from a huge, sprawling, filthy city to a tiny village. We believe we’re seeing a better side of Scotland.

The sun is streaming into the living room, and we’re feeling lazy. The unpacking can wait awhile – there are books to read, and maybe even naps to be taken.

-D & T

This Land is Your Land, Oh, Wait. Not Really.

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Ah, August. Time of flooded festivals and The Fringe and in George Square it’s the time of movie-making frenzy. Our usually placid square has been carved up, fenced off, and is a major traffic causer. Why? Two words. Brad. Pitt.

He’s makin’ a zombie movie.

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This gets a BIG eye roll around these parts. Last year, in the service of being a judge for a book award, T. had to read one and later complained, “The whole zombie thing has never to me made sense. How come the zombies never eat each other? And yeah, we’re omnivores and designed to be that way, but how does a person spontaneously develop a craving for brains, and how does one’s (undead) digestive system suddenly deal with eating people raw? I mean, seriously. Zombie outbreaks happen, and you never see people rolling around in agony and dying of bowel flux and dehydration. Sorry. That’s unspeakably gross. But I have trouble suspending disbelief about some things.”

Neither could she care less about Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and their six U.N. representative children they’ve hauled up from London for the month.

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However! Should you care, the movie is called World War Z, and is apparently nothing like the book (movies never are) which allegedly takes place in Philadelphia. Having never been to Philly, we have no idea if it looks the same, but frankly throwing up a few street signs, American traffic lights and scattering yellow cabs and SWAT and police vehicles around a Scottish city doesn’t exactly make it look American. On the other hand, those things are like adding spices to a dish; they’re tiny touches that no one will notice but which will make a difference. Unless you’re from Glasgow, and then George Square will still look a lot like …George Square.

It’s all in good fun, though. Except to the cab drivers, who would like to set the whole bunch of them on fire for snarling up the traffic.

Ah, well. In four days, none of this will be our problem anyway. Woot!

42 Months. On to Greener Pastures (literally – they’re behind the new house)

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So, now that the PhD thing is winding down (when will it end?!), I’ve gotten myself a new job: Lead Developer and Technical Architect at Cloud Street, Ltd.. Today was my last day at V.Ships. I’ve been with them half-time for the past 42 months (yes, I’ve counted), leaving behind a massive legacy of code: more than 60,000 lines of Visual Basic .NET code and more than 20,000 lines of Transact SQL code just for one project. Skip the next paragraph if you’re not into the details of what makes a programmer (read: technical writer) happy.

I’ve spent the past two weeks handing that code over to another developer and enjoyed the time immensely. Consider it a code review but with the incentive that if the other guy doesn’t understand it, well, he’s either going to need to email me for an explanation or he’s going to have to spend some time to figure it out. It’s a massive code-base, most of it hand-coded. One stored procedure alone is nearly 5,000 lines of code. To top it off: many of the stored procedures perform operations on entire sets of data rather than operations on individual rows. Set-based operations are some of the most mind-bending things to do in a database, particularly when using things like set multiplication (a.k.a. Cartesian Products). Not only are there set-based operations, but there are binary operations that I truly struggled to explain (but which drive the whole application). The user interface uses inheritance, polymorphism, overrides, shadowing, multithreading … basically, any Object-Oriented technique you can think of (except for being able to inherit from multiple base classes – stupid .NET!), the UI uses. All in all, I’m very proud of the code-base, and truly had fun watching somebody else try to grasp the complicated concepts involved in it. Best of all, I guess, is that it’s used around the world, every day, and has helped the business reduce their invoice payment and issuing process from more than a month to something like 1/2 of an hour; that’s best for the company, but to me, the production of elegant, efficient, useful code is the payoff. Having someone else appreciate it is a tremendous validation of my efforts.

This coming Monday means a new start, at a new company, where I’ll be able to have an impact. The company is switching over from building their user interfaces in Microsoft Access to building things in .NET. As their lead developer / technical architect I get to shape how development will be done, and to help build a code-base which will be used for years to come. Best of all, though, is that they’re a consultancy: I’ll be able to build a variety of software, hand it over to the clients, and not have to deal much with support of those applications. So, it’ll be a combination of teaching programming techniques and creating new applications – truly, I’m looking forward to it.

Next weekend we move up to Cambusbarron, to a townhouse which looks out over a greenbelt. There will not be people fighting outside our bedroom window. There will not be cars trying to get into a petrol station. There will not be people singing as they make their way home from the pub at 3 a.m. Anyone who’s familiar with the area says that we’ll have trouble sleeping because it will be too quiet. Watch us! The house is less than a mile from the office, most of which is on quiet, residential streets. The house has double-paned windows (it was built around 2000), it has thermostats (yes!), and it has a garden. The change, from living in Glasgow, is truly radical. We’re looking forward to it immensely!

So, it’s now Friday evening, we’re settling in to have a quiet evening, and will be spending the weekend packing things up for the move. Radical change is in store for us, and we’re looking forward to it. After living in the current flat for over 2 years, it’s about time to have someplace new, to have different things to photograph, and to get back to living quiet lives.

I will miss seeing the people absailing down the side of the building washing windows in the rain, though. What a job!


Caution Raised Ironworks

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I wonder about this city. Really, I do. There have been some truly horrible potholes around the block, on my way to work. I’ve almost been hit by a car, which skidded after hitting one of them. Finally, after many months of enduring the potholes, the city has gotten around to repairing the road damage (only after having installed two new bike-lanes, mind you!).

I wonder about this city, though, not because they’re lame about repairing potholes, nor because they install bike lanes before they repair obvious damage to existing roads, but because they lay asphalt over top of utility covers. Yes, that’s right: they lay asphalt over top of utility access and then go back and have to cut away the freshly-laid asphalt.

Seems that there could be a solution to this, no? No. Makes work, I suppose.


Pretty Ships, etc.

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Another weekend, another wedding. Huzzah! Fortunately, we were merely guests at this shindig, which meant we enjoyed our time, and actually put down the camera! We only brought the small one, too, so that some of us would not be tempted to go the Unofficial Photographer route, *cough.* Chatting with friends over the scrumptious reception meal – an all vegetarian spread, for once! – gave us the comfortable feeling of being at a church potluck. Bemused, we went home to get out of our shiny, sequined outfits. (Well, some of us had sequins and gold beads and ribbons. The rest of us wore a dashing Bond-esque tux.)

It was a ceremony of “smells and bells,” as our friend C. put it – a lot of lovely incense, and bells, but we didn’t have quite the understanding of the service, although we had the program in English, and the priest – whose English was staggering under the weight of only six months in the UK – did his best to make sure we were all with him as he went along.

So, this was wedding #2 during which the couple participated in faith rituals that they did not believe or share. We couldn’t help but remark on the similarities to the last wedding. The couples both shared the same half-anxious, half-amused expressions, the same fumbling responses, the same bemused glances at the priest’s explanations. They endured a language they didn’t understand, and rituals they don’t profess, and why? T said it over dinner, “Well, these guys really love their parents…”

From the showers of flower petals to the ghee-drizzled fire to the incense and the rice tossing, it was an unique cultural experience. We were glad to be invited, and came away with plenty to consider.

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Post-wedding, a lovely long – sunny! – afternoon stretched before us, so we decided we wanted to go to the shore. This weekend was the midpoint of the Tallship Regatta, and we went with our friend C. out to Greenock to look at the tall ships. Many of the ships set out from Waterford, Ireland last Tuesday, and have been making their way to the Firth of Clyde for the races which were held all weekend long. With their sails furled, they weren’t as interesting to T., but D. and C. happily swanned through all 800,000 attendees (or so it seemed) to photograph every angle while T. quietly mutinied.

The waterfront was absolute madness with all of the people (and the bands, and the food vendors, and the craft fair and the midway and the food stalls). It was also a bit crazy to see all of the masts jumbled together, gathered from all over the world just for this weekend. From Americans to Australians to Norwegians to Russians, there were sailors on hand in uniforms of every stripe, massive peaked caps, the small bowl type, and somehow, every fifth pedestrian was either a pirate or a sea captain. All that was lacking were peg legs and parrots…

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The clouds were piled high, like sculpted whipped cream, which meant that it was quite windy. Fortunately, although it was very sunny, and freckles popped up and skin bronzed, we never got overheated. Indeed, C. kept saying that it was “fresh,” which is apparently a euphemism for “freezing in the shade!” The color of the sky, the water, and just the general fairground atmosphere of flags whipping in the breeze was just lovely, though. We wish that we’d been able to see the ships sailing, but driving around through the countryside was itself a treat. Just to get away from the city seems to be something we’ve forgotten how to do! – To take a small break from the work and worry of wrapping up PhD studies and wondering where we’ll land next was just what we needed.

The PhD Thesis / Dissertation (if you’re in the UK it’s the former; in the US it’s the latter) has been sent to D’s supervisors for a final review prior to submission to the committee. Depending upon who’s counting, it’s either just over 66,000 words or just under 104,000 words … and it’s supposed to be between 70 and 100,000 words. Sigh. So to be within the letter of the rules, it’s either 1) expand the text by 4,000 words or 2) cut out an appendix. Here’s hoping that neither of those are the option and it’s accepted as is for submission!

-D & T


As the end of this PhD thing approaches (I submit a hopefully-final draft to my supervisors on Monday), it occurred to me that it’d been quite some time since I did a Wordle of my work. Below are the two earlier wordles and the one from today. I suspect that there’s not going to be much changing about the thesis, or at least not enough new words added to affect the wordle.

09-Feb-09 Wordle
February 9, 2009
09-July-03 Wordle
July 3, 2009
11-July-07 Wordle
July 7, 2011

After this next run-through with the supervisors I’ll do any corrections they think I need and will hopefully be able to submit that for the viva. The viva will take place sometime between September and October, I’ll do any corrections arising from the viva, and am expected to graduate in November.


Pirates and Zebras and Bards (Oh, My.)

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Since the temperature has hovered in the mid-to-low sixties (16-18°C) here, it’s been harder to think “summer,” but lately it’s been hovering in the sixties when it’s overcast, and OY! Hello, humidity hair. Along with the bouffant locks, and we have clouds of “midgies” around our back gate, hideous, nearly invisible specks that actually hurt when they bite. Strange times over here, weatherwise.

Fortunately, we’re having positive times with regard to friends and activities. AB is on a QUEST to make SURE we enjoy ourselves for what might be our last summer in the UK.* A dizzying array of concerts and picnics and dinner activities have us wandering from one end of the city to the other, and next month she plans to drag us back to Edinburgh for the Book Faire…during the Fringe Festival (Be afraid).

Our most recent excellent time was last weekend where we rose and went back to BBC Halls in Candlerigg… and once again forgot to take a picture of the BBC Stage Door sign. ::sigh:: The gathered crowd was given pencils and scores and directed to various sections of the performance hall, where the audience became the performers. The BBC Chorus and orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Manze, played a sang the solos for Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, and we were the chorus.

We had been invited by AB to accompany her mother, and her mother’s good buddy, both of whom are in their seventies, and knew all the words and the tunes to the rollicking piece from their school days (Apparently, it was de rigueur to have students learn light opera in British schools in the thirties/forties). While the rest of us frantically sight-read, having only listened to the entire piece the night before, they had a marvelous time.

And, in the end, so did we. We weren’t very sure of the whole thing, to begin with — tongue-twisters? Policemen? Pirates? And though indeed the words are ridiculous (Inshort, inmatters animal,vegetable,andmineral, (gasp) heistheverymodelof amodernmajorgeneral), it’s a workout for the brain to get it all right, and it was fun to have our section rehearsals, and then a final “dress rehearsal,” after which we left, feeling like we’d accomplished something, if only for ourselves. And that was the nice thing – it was only for ourselves. The purpose of the morning of play with the orchestra was simply to learn. Bonus: we sounded really wonderful.

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We thought we’d only be recorded for BBC Radio 3, and were a little astounded to see… cameras. Oh, the rushing toward the toilet during the break between section rehearsals and the dress rehearsal! Oh, the pounds of makeup whipped from various bags, and hastily applied! Oh, flying hairbrushes, couture adjustments, and puckered lips in the mirror! Oh, the primping! Oh, the snarking AB and T. did… ::cough:: Eventually, BBC 3’s Light Fantastic will have pictures and a recording up — we don’t know when, but the fun for us was just in being there.

T. decided that she would like to kidnap the conductor and make him direct every single chorus she’s ever in, for the rest of her life. Maestro Manze was amusing and patient and soft-spoken and just was into the music – no fuss, no frowns. (AB did not swoon, tending to be rather cranky at that hour of the morning, but it was a close thing for T. – his courteous mien truly is a big departure from some other conductors we’ve had in this country.)

Khublai Khan Restaurant 2

While we loved Pirates, we were disappointed that the rehearsal overlapped with the Come-and-Sing Messiah held at St. Mary’s just up the block from our house! Our friend Dr. B played a big part in celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi with her church – she got to process up the aisle on strewn rose petals and swing what T. somehow insists on calling the “thurigible.” (AKA thur-i-ble) The Messiah was just the culmination of a day full of song and celebration, including Parry’s I Was Glad for the hymn and the orchestral evensong the following night. We are making a point of wandering over to St. M’s sometime soon — they do a lot of that orchestral/organ/choral stuff, just as part of their regular services. Some days here it feels like we are surrounded by the best music in the world.

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Our post-musicale quest for food found us wandering through the city to a place called Khublai Khan. A Mongolian bbq joint for a bunch of vegetarians (minus one) seemed an odd choice for lunch, but truly, one can have the very best stir fry in the world there, and the chefs kindly reserved a clean grill simply for our veggie-only orders (you can get them to do that when there’s only two other parties in the whole restaurant. Just don’t try that on a Saturday night). They supply diners with a bowl, and they load them up with their favorite veggies, meats, and seasonings — they had various oils, sauces, and spices in a station, and “recipes” supplied to help people choose complimentary flavorings.

Khublai Khan Restaurant 3

The statuary was meant to bring to mind the Qin terracotta warriors, and while the restaurant itself was pretty nifty, we were a little startled by the menu for the omnivores. Apparently the restaurant, for good or for ill, culls safari parks in Southern Africa for their meat. They had springbok, ostrich, zebra, kangaroo, and camel on the menu, to name a few beasts. Khublai Khan is definitely a good place for the gastronomically creative to eat… and those who like to watch the gastronomically adventurous eat and ask, “So, does it taste like chicken??”

This week’s adventure includes The Bard in the Botanics — we’re off to see A Midsummer’s Night Dream in the botanical gardens — the main Victorian glasshouse called the Kibble Palace. We’re going to dress lightly, as we expect the venue to be a bit warm, and we’re going to take along picnic foods so as we sit on our benches we can enjoy our play with dinner.

Speaking of picnic foods: we are loving the early strawberries that are cheap and plentiful at present. We are experimenting with an unsweetened life for a few weeks — just adding no sugar to anything and not eating desserts, and early on in the experiment, T’s skin is suddenly clearing up. She is torn between being disgusted and delighted, as she rather likes her sugar, thankyou. On the other hand, the berries right now require no sweetener whatsoever, and will be a welcome addition to Thursday’s feast. Sadly, we have no photograph of our after dinner repast from last weekend – Claire and T. set to those piles of strawberries, and they are GONE.

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Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts. We are deciding right now not to think about, answer questions about, or talk about moving, relocating, or anything to do with what will happen “next.” Paramount to our lives right now is T. finishing her science fiction revision (1/3 of the novel to go, and she’s been urged to use a cliffhanger and make it a series, because she was told that, “you may hate them, but readers love them, dear,”), and D. finishing and turning in his Big Fat PhD Paper without losing what is left of his precious sanity. Too much job hunting and talk about “what next” to the exclusion of all else has produced an incredible amount of pressure and stress and more than a few bad moments and sleepless nights. We’ve decided that level of panic isn’t conducive to what we need to do, so for now it is a closed subject. *Thus, this COULD be our last summer here, or the path may lead elsewhere in the UK. We don’t know, and we’ve stopped trying to pry a glimpse of the future from the hands of the divine – for now, it is enough to just take each day, and enjoy it, end of story.

And, at present, there’s a sliver of blue in the sky, and a cricket game going on. We’re going to go run outside.


For those who have ever participated in a pub quiz, you know sometimes those things are HARD.

If you watch QI on BBC America, you know that Stephen Fry asks random, weird questions for no points at all, and while the randomness of the questions may be similar, there are teams at a quiz, and you strive for the glory of your mates and your place in the ‘hood. Or something like that.

Well, the Hobbits, who are generally useless at things like this, despite having two heads stuffed with minutiae, were on a winning — okay, within a half point of — team! We were invited to attend The West End Festival Literary Quiz at Partick Library on behalf of the Langside Book Group, our friend AB’s book club. The quiz was tough. We covered books and authors from the countries of India, Spain/Portugal, China, America, and Scotland. Guess which ones we were most helpful on? Um, yeah. Yay for Anne Tyler, Amy Tan, Pearl S. Buck, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and knowing the names of all the girls from Little Women, and who wrote The Little Princess. Good old children’s lit to the rescue; T. mopped up that section. She was fairly useless at India, but D. turned out to be surprisingly competent in supplying replies for some of the rest. We had a 38-years-in-the-trenches librarian on our team, and she was fifty-eight shades of impressive. She continues to kick herself for losing us a point and a half, but without her, we wouldn’t have even come close.

More fun than just flexing our wee brains over tea and tiny cakes was the fact that we got prizes!!! Did we need more books? No. Did we covet them anyway, especially with their commemorative World Book Night 2011 covers? Well, yes! A book of the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi a new book by Christopher Brookmyre — a local gent, apparently — a wee cake of a notepad with pencil from Costa Coffee (purveyors of REALLY big mugs of anything) and eraser from the Aye, Write! Bank of Scotland Book Festival, a Glasgow: Scotland With Style pin they HAD to have dragged out of the vaults somewhere*, and a lovely Waterstones book bag completed our stash. We were as ridiculously gleeful that we had conquered the other teams to receive all of this.

The West End Festival is usually good for the spectacle of the Festival Parade, for fun coffee talks, and a concert or two, and we’re pleased to have participated. And (mostly) won.

T. plans to proudly display her “Scotland With Style” pin right along next to her “Yoga Kills” pin. They both make the same amount of sense.