4th May, 2013

bikes
It's not that my life isn't much more eventful than it was this time last year, because it is. It's just that the events are more or less the same every week. Tuesday is pub quiz night. Thursday is Norwegian night. Friday is pub night. Sunday is cinema (followed the pub) night. Admittedly that leaves three free days a week, but I'm not used to having such a small amount of time to do... whatever.

Come to think of it, that's a lot of time spent in the pub. I suspect that, despite the increase in the amount of cycling I've been doing lately, I'm actually putting on weight, and this is probably the reason.

If I actually posted here more often than my current once-in-a-blue-moon schedule, I would be taking incessantly about bikes and cycling. It would be very boring. I am, however, going top talk about my new bike for a bit, and the fiasco I had with it.

I bought a 2013 Revolution Track, Revolution being Edinburgh Bicycle's own brand of bikes. I wanted something that was a bit lighter and simpler than my regular commuter, and something that I could leave locked up in the town without worrying about it too much.

I also wanted to try drop bars, which seem to have come back in style and about which everyone is currently raving. I might not stick with them - switching to fixie-style bull bars is an option - but they're working for me so far. And I wanted to try out fixed gear too, which takes a lot of getting used to! I'm back to running it on the freewheel for now, at least until it's six-week service.

It's already been back to the shop though. I'd had the wheel off in order to practice changing it (it's a little bit more involved than a geared bike), and when I took it out for a ride afterwards, the wheel started to wobble like crazy. I had to walk it home, as I didn't feel safe riding it.

So I took it in to the shop, which is understaffed at the best of times but at weekend is just crazy. I suppose the staff to customer ratio is better than in most shops, but when one customer can tie up a member of staff for half an hour, it becomes a problem.
Also, their engineers only work on weekdays. This was also a problem, and I was asked to come back during the week. Because I finish work at five and they close at six, this meant sticking the bike in the back of the car, driving to work, and then going straight to the bike shop afterwards.

Fortunately, the guy I spoke to in the shop on the Monday immediately said, "It shouldn't do this, you're right that it isn't safe to ride, and we'll get it fixed as soon as we can." I was worried that I'd done something to the wheel while I'd been taking it off and putting it back on again. But no - and instead of fixing the wheel, they just took the wheel off another bike that they had in stock and gave me that. So it all ended well.

I should get some photos of the bike itself. It's going to be a bit of a project bike for me. I'm going to try and give it a bit of a vintage look with a brown saddle and bar tape. I'm also going to run it fixed for a while, and if it works for me I'll remove the back brake and freewheel, saving some weight. And maybe change the bars, as I mentioned already, which should lighten it a wee bit as well.

But right now, I'm off for another ride :)

Drive

B&W with camera

I watched the X-Files episode 'Drive' this evening.

A while back, I tweeted for a while about how a whole bunch of actors I was familiar with from a whole bunch of TV series' were turning up in the X-Files. I had to stop tweeting about this, because it was happening so often. I'm starting to wonder who hasn't been in the X-Files.

'Drive' was a bit special, because it had two actors that I recognised. At first I didn't recognise Bryan Cranston from under his ginger moustache (Hal from Malcolm in the Middle, of course), but I recognised Michael O'Neill immediately as the head of the Secret Service from The West Wing.

I was pretty intrigued by the fact that the episode borrowed the central idea of Christopher Priest's novel Inverted World, which is apparently completely unintentional as according to Wikipedia, the episode is a homage to the film Speed.

Cranston's character must keep moving or he will die, but like in Inverted World and unlike Speed, the direction matters; he must move west. In Inverted World, the story ended when the city reached the Atlantic coast of Portugal, whereas in Drive, it was the Pacific coast of California.

The reason for the direction of travel playing a role was never explained in Drive, which I think was fortunate. The ending of Inverted World was very deus ex machina.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

Weekends

marten

My weekends have been getting busy lately.

A couple of weeks ago, I was up in Inverness visiting Kirsty with Adam and Scott. We spent most of the time wandering about, getting lost in wooded areas during the day and going out for drinks at night. And taking photos - we even had a theme: boy band poses.

And on Sunday, I went to Crathes Castle with Amanda and her friend Bennet. In the snow. Wtf, March. We're going to make it a regular thing. A castle a month, perhaps?

And in a couple of weeks, I'm heading to Aviemore for Kirsty's Birthday Weekend Of Adventure, which will involve stuff like quad biking, zip lining… I have no idea what else actually. I probably need to pick stuff soon.

I haven't had a Sunday night cinema night for a while though. I think we've run out of things to watch. Are there any good films coming out soon? We might make it a DVD night instead… more people to introduce to Studio Ghibli, maybe?

In non-weekend-related news, my Norwegian lessons have started up again! My first was last Thursday. After three months of pretty much no practice, it took a wee while to get back into the swing of things. I could read everything I was given just fine, but when I came to start speaking, I stumbled over it the first time round. It got much easier after couple more tries though.

I switched my phone's language to Norwegian a few weeks back, in order to keep the language relatively fresh in my mind. It sort of worked! A lot of apps don't have Norwegian localisations, so a lot of it's still in English, and I sometimes get caught out when something is in Norwegian unexpectedly. Most notably my sat-nav app! I had to learn how to understand directions quite quickly that time.

Two wheeled living

bikes
A couple of months ago, we got a letter from the council telling us that they were going to re-surface the pavement outside the house, that the works could take up to eight weeks, and that we'd lose access to our driveway for some of that time. I don't know why the work is taking so long, but at least it's getting done - it looked like this (actually, worse) before they started.

I'd been cycling to work three or four days a week before this, but laziness often got the better of me and I'd drive in sometimes. But for the last few weeks, I've been leaving my car in the car park at work (so I can still use it if I need to) and cycling to work every day. It actually makes it easier to motivate yourself in the morning when you know that you have to cycle! I've also tried to use it for trips into town and down to the uni campus whenever possible.

Cycling instead of driving certainly has its advantages when it comes to getting around. It's pretty easy to negotiate your way through congestion, and I've had some mornings where I've overtaken lines of twenty or more cars. And parking is free, and usually easy to find (and it means I don't have to carefully edge my way out of the office's tiny car park as often).

But a bike definitely isn't as practical as a car. There's no spare wheel, so you have to remember to bring puncture repair tools with you (and in my bike's case, that includes a spanner and a multi-tool because the gear hub doesn't quick-release). You have to plan for the weather, both for yourself and your luggage. You can't leave luggage with the bike when it's parked. And parking the bike is much more involved than pressing a button on a key. It's all manageable, but you have to be that bit more prepared than a car driver would.

The cost savings compared to driving a car and having to buy petrol for the damn thing haven't kicked in yet. What I'm saving in fuel costs, I'm spending in accessories! My most recent buy was a cheap one - an elastic strap for my rear rack. I used it today to carry a shoebox back from the city centre, which would have been really awkward otherwise. (And a suit in the bag on my back! I bought a suit, wtf. I'm now officially middle-aged!)

I could go on and on. I've been obsessed with this stuff for ages. I've started reading a bunch of cycling blogs, including ones that talk about Dutch/Danish cycling culture, and I've started thinking about what Aberdeen could do to improve the state of its roads. But I'm going to stop here or I never will.

Norskkurs 4 - 7

norway
I've been pretty terrible with my updating lately. How can four weeks have gone by this quickly?

To be fair, it feels a bit like all my Norwegian lessons have started to blend together, as we have to revise what we've done in previous lessons. Once, we spent so long revising that we didn't finish that day's lesson in time.

This week was weird, because only nine people turned up, and then we were down to eight after one guy got a phone call and had to leave. Aina thought it worked well, because it meant that when we paired off to practice conversations, she could hear us and keep track of all the little things we were getting wrong. But everyone is still so shy! I think we're all going to have to go out for drinks together sometime, just to loosen up a bit. Maybe we can have our last lesson in the pub?

We've been doing listening exercises, mostly from the companion CD that comes with the book we're working from. After the first time, where the dialogue was very slow and repetitive, Aina felt the need to tell us, "We don't actually talk like this!" And this week, we watched a clip from the start of the first episode of Headhunters, to see how many words we could pick up. We only managed a handful between us. It's a bit of a shock, after breezing through most of the lessons so far, to suddenly be in a situation where you once again don't understand a word!

Aina admitted this week that she was going to have to start proof-reading the material that she gives us. There's usually an error or two every week, although often it's because she has to switch between Norwegian and English while she's typing.

This week's mistake sort of unfolded. The vocab list contained the word 'liten', but the dialogue used 'lille', and Aina explained to us that one was used with the indefinite article, whereas the other was used with the definite article. I read the dialogue and I had to ask which one was which - it read, "Det er to køyer i en lille lugaren", which had both! But apparently the 'd' was missing from the 'den'. And then Aina also noticed that she'd misspelled 'kjedelig' in the same paragraph. I'd noticed as well, but I didn't want to be a dick by pointing out all of the mistakes!

What also makes things awkward is that I keep bursting into fits of laughter at inconvenient times, every time I read a word that I've learned under amusing circumstances. We did colours this week, which reminded me of the time I asked for my sandwich to be made of green bread instead of brown. Even though the Norwegian 'brun' sounds identical to the Scots 'broon'. But I guess that's a sign that I'm enjoying myself?

Norskkurs 3

norway

Yesterday's lesson was a fun one! Which I sorely needed, after having walked home from work and been thoroughly soaked.

Looking through my notes, we didn't cover all that much stuff. It seemed like a lot at the time, but I guess a lot of the lesson was spent going over what we learned last week.

We did something new this time. After refreshing ourselves of what we did in the previous lessons - introductions and 'polite phrases', mostly - we had to get up and walk around the class, and talk to people. Haha, it was so awkward. Normally I'd be the super shy one in this situation, but I was reasonably confident with what I had to say. Not everybody was. It was weird being the one confidently walking up to nervous people to start a conversation!

I should probably mention the tutor, at least so I can call her by name rather than saying 'the tutor' the whole time. Her name's Aina Middleton, and she's from Mysen, in Østfold. She works as a consultant, providing translation services as well as taking courses.

After we'd done the walk-about-and-talk-to-people exercise, Aina made the observation that it would help some people if they could hear what spoken Norwegian actually sounds like in real life. She said, "There's a programme on BBC Four right now…" Yep, it was Lilyhammer! And she also recommended a couple of films: Max Manus and Headhunters.

I'm sure I still sound exceedingly foreign. I find myself putting on an accent when I speak (because speaking Norwegian in a Scottish accent just feels wrong), but I probably sound ridiculous anyway.

Other things we did were days of the week, seasons, the numbers 21 to 100 (with a moment of thanks for the fact that we weren't learning Danish).

And we discussed genders in more detail. Hoo boy. I seem to get 'en' and 'et' consistently wrong. I should be right about 50% of the time, shouldn't I?

English may be a clusterfuck of a language to learn, but at least we have relative sanity when it comes to genders (OR LACK OF).

At the end of the lesson… I kinda embarrassed myself. twissie had tentatively agreed to help me practice after my lesson, but then said she might be asleep by the time I got back. I wanted to send her a message asking, "Sover du nå?", but I wanted to get the grammar right… so I asked Aina about it after the lesson. More generally, I also wanted to know whether I was asking "are you sleeping now" or "do you sleep now", and whether there was an equivalent of the latter in Norwegian.

Only… I hadn't worked out how to phrase my question in time, and ended up blurting out, "I want to ask my friend if she's sleeping." Aina's response was something like, "O_O What?! This sounds really dodgy!" Much explanation later, I finally found out that what I'd planned to write was just fine in the first place.

I caught up with Giulia afterwards, and after she'd finished laughing at my terrible question-asking skills (and suggesting that I ask how to say "What are you wearing?" next week), I asked her if she wanted to meet up for some practice before the next lesson. She agreed… but we didn't say when or where. Arranging to meet up with people is my new social-situation-I-need-to-get-better-at.

Norskkurs 2

norway
I fail at writing about things until way after they've happened. My third Norwegian class is tomorrow, and I haven't even written about the second yet. I've done a little revision this evening though, so I guess it makes sense to do it now? Can I remember anything?!

This was the conversation practice thingy that we were handed out:



Yep, it's the same Sue from my Teach Yourself Norwegian book!



I wonder how many of these conversations will come from the book? Will we get the conversation where Sue declares, "Læreren er en kjedelig gammel dame"?

I ended up sitting with a couple of guys that I hadn't spoken to before. We didn't get as much practice this time as I did with Giulia in the first lesson, and whenever I tried to say something it seemed like a tongue-twister. A couple of times my mind just went completely blank too. It didn't help that I accidentally took notes anti-clockwise round my page, so I couldn't find anything when I needed it.

I'm going to try to get more practice tomorrow, it's starting to get more difficult!

OH HAHA LILYHAMMER IS ON!

Norskkurs

kodama

I'm just back from my first Norwegian class. It was fun!

But getting there was a challenge, because half of the doors in the MacRobert building were locked. They all had staff-only swipe-card readers. I'm not sure how I got in eventually, but I followed some other people and eventually found myself there. I'm not sure how. I was one of the last, but not the last, to get there.

The lesson started out with something that I had never learned: the Norwegian alphabet! As in, saying the names/sounds of the letters out loud... just so that we could pronounce the words that we'd be using throughout the rest of the lesson. It was a huge help, because we spent a lot of time getting the vowels right. Some people found this easier than others! But we didn't go into the difference between long and short vowels. I guess that will come up in a later lesson?

None of the vocabulary was new to me. It was along the lines of, hei, jeg heter Chris, hva heter du? Jeg er skotsk. Hvor kommer du fra? Simple stuff. But it was useful to be forced to pronounce it, repeatedly.

We learned the numbers one to ten, and then the exercise we were given was to say our phone numbers. At which point, it was quickly pointed out that we'd need to learn zero as well! I found it difficult, mainly because I remember my phone number by the sounds I use to say it in English. Remembering what the numbers were meant to be in Norwegian was easy, but I had to sound it out in English in my head first!

Oh, and... at one point, I had to read my phone number out to the whole class while somebody wrote it on the board. And when I got to the 2 in my number, I said 'ni', which of course means nine... but I quickly corrected it before anybody noticed!

There was a bit of a mix of people there. There were a few couples, where one had a connection to Norway (either relatives or work-related), and the other had never encountered any Norwegian at all before. Some people were having real trouble getting their pronunciation right, but the tutor was picking up particular dialects from other people. I was paired with a Maltese girl called Julia for the exercises, who was really nice. I think she was the only non-native-English speaker there. It was fun to talk to her.

I'm really looking forward to next week's lesson!

My rock and roll lifestyle

marten

This evening I have tasked myself with organising my big box o' cables.

I use the term 'organising' loosely. Basically I'm taking them out of the box (in one great tangled lump), untangling them, and tying them individually in knots so that they don't spontaneously re-tangle.

I found a modem cable. Why do I even have a modem cable?

...

Hopefully my next entry will be more exciting than this.

Edit - I found another modem cable. What.

Never seconds

buddha

Since late on Thursday night I've been following the story of Martha Payne (aka VEG) and her NeverSeconds school dinners blog, which Argyll & Bute Council tried to shut down.

You can read about it on the BBC. Or The Verge. Or even Slashdot.

And STV have the council's original statement, which they released on Friday morning as the story started to spread (and which has since been replaced by this one).

It's fantastic that the story ended up being such a good example of the Streisand Effect, but I couldn't help but feel sad about it when I read about it on American websites. It was an isolated incident, but it's reinforced this silly idea that Americans have that the UK is actually like something out of 1984. And it's probably the first time that most of them have even heard of Argyll.

I lived in Argyll when I was Martha's age. I loved growing up there. I liked the school that I went to, and I liked (most of) my teachers. I cried my eyes out when I was told that we had to move. There are now people jumping to the conclusion that Argyll is a horrible place, which it really isn't. If I could go back, I would.

Thankfully, there's a fantastic up-side. Martha was raising money for a charity called Mary's Meals, which is based in Argyll and which works to provide school meals for children in third-world countries (I donated £10). Her target was £7000. Look how much she's raised thanks to the coverage!

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