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Franklin found

Wednesday, 10 September, 2014 0 Comments

CBC headline: “Lost Franklin expedition ship found in the Arctic”. Victorian England was fascinated by the tragedy of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to chart the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic, which failed after the ships with their 129 crewmen disappeared. It is believed that the vessels were lost when they became locked in the ice near King William Island and that the crews abandoned them in a desperate bid to reach safety. Sir John Franklin’s wife led an attempt to locate the men, launching five ships and leaving cans of food on the ice in the hope they would find them.

Here, the late Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, accompanied on fiddle by Kevin Burke, sings Lady Franklin’s Lament.

“In Baffin’s Bay where the whale fish blow
The fate of Franklin no man may know
The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell
Lord Franklin alone with his sailors do dwell”

Apple day

Tuesday, 9 September, 2014 1 Comment

What’s coming up later today? John Gruber has the must-read of the moment. As we wait, let’s contemplate this snippet by Walter Isaacson from Steve Jobs.

“Was Steve Jobs smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. … Like a pathfinder, he could absorb information, sniff the winds, and sense what lay ahead. Steve Jobs thus became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.”

What would Burns have done?

Monday, 8 September, 2014 0 Comments

Born in 1759 in Alloway, Robert Burns died in 1796 in Dumfries. Because of the Acts of Union of 1707, both places are now part of the United Kingdom. But for how long more? The national poet of Scotland savaged the Scottish aristocrats who had been bribed by the English to agree to that 1707 Union of Parliaments in “Such A Parcel of Rogues in A Nation“:

What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro’ many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor’s wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But English gold has been our bane —
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Despite this, Burns recognized that there were good sides to the Union, and he saw that an alliance of all the British peoples offered Scotland considerable advantages. He had his loyalist, royalist moments, too, and one imagines that today’s news from Clarence House would have pleased the man who penned “Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat:”

“… For never but by British hands
Maun British wrangs be righted!”
Burns was even prepared to toast the monarch:
The next in succession I’ll give you’s the King!
Whoe’er would betray him, on high may he swing!

The same poem contains the couplet: “O let us not, like snarling curs / In wrangling be divided.” Depending on how one reads Burns, and when, and where, he can be construed as an “Aye” and a “Nae”.

Meditation on the images of 9/11

Sunday, 7 September, 2014 0 Comments

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1996 was awarded to the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.” Her meditation on the fate of those who plunged to their deaths from the burning Twin Towers on 9/11 ponders those unforgettable, searing “fragments of human reality.”

Photograph from September 11

They jumped from the burning floors —
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

Wislawa Szymborska (1923 — 2012)


Saturday, 6 September, 2014 0 Comments

Nice beats here by Spooky Black from St Paul. There’s lots more at SoundCloud. Fans of the American hip hop scene will be aware that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Twin Cities played a significant role in the American hip hop scene with artists such as Atmosphere and Brother Ali.


Friday, 5 September, 2014 0 Comments

Rainy Day is now being powered by version 4.0 of WordPress, named “Benny” in honour of jazz clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman. Blurb: “Paste in a YouTube URL on a new line, and watch it magically become an embedded video. Now try it with a tweet. Oh yeah — embedding has become a visual experience. The editor shows a true preview of your embedded content, saving you time. We’ve expanded the services supported by default, too — you can embed videos from playlists from YouTube, and talks from TED.”

The best job?

Thursday, 4 September, 2014 1 Comment

A famous professor once said: “When I was an engineer I was happy once a month, when I got my paycheck. When I was teaching, I was unhappy once a month, when I got my paycheck.”

Putin’s peace plan

Wednesday, 3 September, 2014 1 Comment

“When I left Russia in 2006, I was exhausted by it,” says Oliver Bullough. Since then, he has recovered his energy and his analysis of the country’s murky workings is always refreshing to read. His pointed tweets on the peace plan produced today by Vladimir Putin are very funny.

Writing: a corrective to the curse of knowledge

Tuesday, 2 September, 2014 0 Comments

From How to write, by @OliverKamm in The Times (£) last week:

“The best piece of advice I’ve ever had on professional writing was from James Harding, then editor of The Times, when I joined as a leader writer in 2008. The big news story was the banking crisis. I knew the technical details very well and wrote many columns on the same subject. They weren’t very good.

James, having listened to me in the leader conference one day, urged me to write down what I’d just said — literally what I’d said and how I’d said it, instead of trying to affect a tone of gravity appropriate to the subject. Writing as if you’re having a conversation with someone who knows at least as much as you do, but different things, is a valuable corrective to the curse of knowledge. As a guide to writing, it’s more useful than following made-up rules about when to use less and fewer, or hanged and hung, and the rest of the pedants’ catechism.”

Typos suck

Monday, 1 September, 2014 2 Comments

“We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct. By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination.” So writes Nick Stockton in “What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos.” The reason it’s so hard to spot the errors, according to Stockton, “is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.” And that is what happened with the makers of this in-house publication in Aberdeen. Sometimes, we are unable to see what is before our eyes.


Seamus Heaney remembered

Sunday, 31 August, 2014 0 Comments

It’s been a year since the Irish poet Seamus Heaney died. His last text message to his wife was Noli timere — ‘Do not be afraid’. He made his publishing debut in 1966 with Death of a Naturalist, from which “Blackberry-Picking” is taken.


Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Seamus Heaney (1939 — 2013)