Category Archives: Personal


A couple of months ago, I took a somewhat less than fun exam on software testing.

So last week I got the results.

84%. A pass, with distinction.

So, dear people, what do you think my reaction was?

A. Yay! I passed!
B. Meh. It’s just an exam.
C. Where did I lose 16 whole marks?
D. All of the above, in turn.

Answers on a postcard, please.

Questions that Answer Themselves

Darn it, what am I going to do about this huge three-cornered tear in my purple linen trousers?

(I didn’t photograph the original tear, because I didn’t have the heart.) I didn’t want to patch them, and I didn’t want to make a new pair. So I learned to darn.

Darning is using spare threads from a scrap of the same fabric to recreate missing cloth. So first you work a bunch of threads in one way, then reweave the cloth by going the other way. It’s time-consuming, detailed work – I would have been faster making a whole new pair of trousers (not as smug, though!)

From the front, with one “leg” of the tear done and the other half done
taken 16 August 2006

From the back, same point in time.
taken 16 August 2006

In theory, a darn should be invisible. In practice, this darn suffers from the amount of thread added to the texture of the cloth in the area outlining the tear. I don’t know what to do about it. Note that I melted some Wondaweb onto the loose threads at the back because I was afraid of it ravelling. It hasn’t changed the texture more than the basic darn itself did.

Front of finished darn.
taken 19 August 2006

Back of finished darn.
taken 19 August 2006

Drop Spindle

One of the painkillers I’m taking for my sore shoulder contains coedine, which makes me mildly spacy. Since I’m not the most graceful person at the best of times, I’ve decided to hold off on any sharp-knives areas of bookbinding unless I go off the medication for an evening.

Unfortunately, that leaves me with idle hands, which drives me nuts.

I’ve been flirting with the idea of taking up spinning for some time. Drop spindles aren’t that expesive, and I’d love to get good enough at it to spin my own headbanding silks. My friend EJ sent me some handspun silk that I’ve enjoyed working with.

But I like instant gratification, and ordering a drop spindle from ebay or the local spinning place has a time delay that has kept me off of it. Of course, there were those instructions on how to make one from a dowel and a CD…

So I did. My bad.


An old hair stick + a mini driver CD + a hook from some beading wire + leather to wrap the hair stick so the CD fits on it = 15g spindle. It’s perfect for spinning thick thread/thin yarn from cotton balls.

(Of course, it’s all wrong. One shouldn’t start with a lightweight spindle, because they’re too difficult to control. One shouldn’t start with cotton, which doesn’t draft and spin as well as wool. But then, one shouldn’t start binding with leather either…)

I don’t think this is going to be the obsession binding is, but it’s an interesting piece of skill acquisition. I may even order some proper fibres today. If that’s not too orthodox.


Last Friday, I woke up at 5 am with pain shooting down my left arm from the shoulder to the elbow. It felt like connective tissue that had become inflamed, and left me gasping and unable to get back to sleep. I had the day to myself around the house, and I was glad to see that the pain faded away over the space of the day.

M suggested I go to the doctor’s, but I was fairly sure it was just the result of sleeping on it wrong.

Then, last night, I woke at 3:15 with the same shooting pains. Ibuprofen failed to make any dent in the pain at all, and a hot water bottle didn’t do any good either. I finally found some paracetomal with coedine, which took enough edge off of the pain to allow me a bit more sleep. It wasn’t much – a couple of 45-minute dozes – but it stopped me whimpering in self pity.

The morning was a challenge – it was my day to get the kids up and get them to nursery. Alex was deeply sympathetic and protective of me (he’s a good guy when the going gets tough). Fiona, though oblivious, was charming and co-operative. But I usually lift them over a tall iron fence near our house, which was clearly impossible. We had to take a longer route, with Fionaberry on my shoulders (she doesn’t walk very fast yet).

I don’t know whether it was the medication or Fiona’s habit of holding onto my throat, but I was intensely dizzy and nauseated by the time I got the kids to Goose.

Just when I was sinking into self-pity again, though, I got a good dose of proportion. Three or four doors down from the nursery, I came across one of the neighbourhood lasses lying down on the pavement, attended by three other women. She appeared to have had some sort of siezure, and one of the others was clearly onto the emergency services. A couple of doctors from the local surgery strode up as the three women declined my help, and an ambulance drove screaming up just afterward. For a while, my shoulder didn’t hurt a bit.

It was a tough day, between the pain, the dizziness, the nausea and the tiredness. In retrospect, I should have stayed home and called the doctor, but I was sure the pain would go away as it did last Friday. My colleagues were both sympathetic and truthful, saying things like, “You look terrible.” (They meant well.)

By 3:00, I had lost all strength of will and went home. I nearly fell asleep on the bus, and did collapse on the bed as soon as I got to the house. Not even the new flatscreen TV could keep me awake. A couple of hours’ nap helped reduce the nausea and exhaustion, but the shoulder still hurt.

As a matter of fact, it still does hurt. If it doesn’t go away tonight, I’m calling the doctor first thing tomorrow.


How To Break Things Real Good

Martin has been absent because he’s been redesigning his side of the site. (Go check it out. It’s cool.) I’ve been absent for much less interesting* reasons.

Basically, I’ve been studying for a test. About testing. The Information Systems Examination Board (ISEB) Practitioner Certificate in Software Testing, or, as I think of it, How To Break Things Real Good.

After eight days of classroom instruction spread over two weeks, I had less than a month to cram the syllabus in between my ears (Only click on the link if you have persistent insomnia. Not suitable for reading whilst operating heavy machinery*). I did it – I can now go on at great length about the relative strengths of boundary value analysis and state transition testing in the design of functional tests, name 18 types of automated test tool, and describe three software development lifecycle models and how they relate to testing.

I wasn’t a very good classmate, I’m afraid. I got massively insecure early on in the instruction section, when I came in on the second week to find that someone extra had turned up and taken my seat and my course materials. The instructor was mortified, but I felt deeply unwelcome, and turned to the same obnoxious behaviour I used to get through high school. When I feel out of place, I become the most annoyingly, articulately intelligent pain in the posterior ever…trying to prove that separate does not equal inferior, I guess.

I did this throughout the second week of classes, and only got worse in the revision session. I even straightened the instructor out on his understanding of one area of the syllabus. Yes, I was right and he was wrong. But that doesn’t make it less obnoxious**. I hope I made up for it a little with some of the tutoring I did on the side.

The exam was a pig, but I knew it would be. I think I did OK, on balance, though I won’t know for a couple of months. The pass mark is 60%, and if I get over 80% I get a distinction. (Which is, in a small community, considered rather cool.) I’ll be content to pass.***

I promise, now that I’m done with that, I’ll post to the blog again. I’ll even go back and pick out the best photos I took over that time, tell you about the time Fionaberry did a face plant at full speed running downhill, and even update my cinnamon roll recipe. Promise.

* I don’t think it’s boring. But I know everyone else does.

** Peter, if you’re reading this, I am sorry.

*** This is a lie. I would be marginally content to hear that I got 100%. I’ll gnash my teeth over every missed point. I know I missed at least 7 marks, and it’s driving me nuts.

Happy Birthday to Me

Today was my birthday, and a very good one it was, too. From the flowers the kids gave me first thing, to the cards and the presents that started my day so well, to the very good day with my colleagues at work, it was both ordinary and magical. Even got my usual walk through the Botanics, taking the odd picture along the way, seemed a little special, though I don’t know if that shows in these phiotos.

Something sprouting through the rocks


Taken 15 February 2006

Something about this drystane wall spoke to me too.


Taken 15 February 2006

Then, on the walk home, I was struck by the beauty of these balustrades in the raking sunlight.


Taken 15 February 2006

But that was nothing to the sky over Calton Hill! (Photo cropped to remove a crane)


Taken 15 February 2006

The best moments came at the end of the day – playing tag with the kids on the walk home in the last of the sunlight. Noticing that Alex has finally figured out how to moderate his pace so Fiona can catch him. Chocolate cake. Silly kids in their bubble bath. A chance to talk to Martiin in the evening (and to thank him – I am aware that the flowers, the presents, and the cake only seemed to appear magically at the right moments!)

In some ways, having such an ordinary working-day birthday was better than having an all special day, because it made me look at my everyday life afresh and see it sparkle. I hope I can hold onto that for a while yet!

Citizen Sutherland

I have lived in the United Kingdom for 12 1/2 years now, nearly all of my adult life. I have, however, always held myself a little apart from the people around me, partly because I am an American and they are British. And I am distinctly American – my accent betrays me every time I speak, and I have a very American political philosophy. (This is in reference to the idea that sovereignity derives from the consent of the governed, for instance, and the idea that liberties rest with the citizens unless those citizens consent to surrender them for the greater good. It does not mean I think that politics should be spiteful, mean and rude.)

I have lost a little of that separation today. I have become a British citizen.


The whole process started with an immigration official in Stansted Airport when we were coming back from France last summer. After querying me about the terms of my residency here, he suggested I look into naturalisation and handed me a leaflet with the Home Office URL. I was a bit staggered – wasn’t his job to keep people out?

An EU passport would be handy, though, because we are talking about a move to the Netherlands in 2007. Right of abode throughout Europe is not to be lightly set aside.

Why Not?

My major concern was with my American citizenship, because I am not keen to lose that. But a little research, including the US consular site, revealed that the American government does not deem the taking up of a non-exclusive foreign citizenship as the renunciation of one’s American citizenship. (It’s different if one’s new citizenship requires one to renounce all previous allegiances, like the Japanese – and the Americans themselves – do. But the Brits do not require that.) They don’t like it, but they allow it.

A minor, but still persistent, point was the requirement to swear allegiance to the Queen. The full text of the things I had to say today is:

I (name) swear by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.

I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.

The second paragraph is fine. Absolutely. The first took some thought, both because of a profound discomfort with the notion of personal loyalty to the sovereign, and because I am not naturally a monarchist.

But the way I parse the oath (there is an alternative “affirmation” version for those who do not wish to swear, or do not wish to mention Almighty God, but it parses the same) is that the last clause (“according to law”) modifies the entire sentence. That’s why there’s a comma before it. So my true and faithful allegiance is limited by, and defined by, the law. The Queen is an office-holder, even if she is born into it rather than elected into it.

But what of the office itself? Americans are as wholeheartedly monarchist as, say, ancient Romans. But remember what happened to them – they ended up with Augustus “restoring the republic” by turning it into an Imperium. And, watching the current Executive Branch grab at primacy in the US system, I’m not sure we Americans don’t yearn for some sort of monarch to tell us what to do as well.

As monarchies go, the British one is remarkably powerless. In theory, the sovereign can dismiss a prime minister or dissolve Parliament. In practice, she can do that once, and the next day the UK will be a republic. But while Queen Elizabeth is on the throne, no one else can be. She is an effective blocker of any claim to absolute (political) power, while simultaneously excercising none herself. (Thanks to my university friend James for pointing this one out.)

Practical Considerations and Tests Evaded

So, having assuaged my moral qualms, I sent in my application for citizenship in October. My timing was close – had I sent it in in November, I would have had to sit a test on British life. I was one of many, too – 57,000 others wanted to avoid the test as well. Despite reports of slow processing, with some responses expected to take till June, I got my reply back within the 4-month pre-rush average.

Then I booked my “citizenship ceremony” by ringing up the City Council offices. As an American, I was bemused by the reaction, or lack thereof, of the staff. Had I called an American local government office to book the US equivalent ceremony, someone, somewhere along the line, would have said “congratulations.” Here, it’s like booking your car in for a service.

Martin, in deference to my American-style emotional engagement in this whole process, took the day off and took me out to lunch before the ceremony. We showed up in good time and sat in the city chambers till about 10 minutes after the hour, when Edinburgh’s Lord Provost (a woman, as it happens, but the title does not change) came in. She gave a wee speech, the chief registrar gave a wee speech, and then we all stood up and mumbled through the oath and pledge. We were each then called up to shake hands with the Lord Provost, get our certificates, and get our pictures taken. Then we all had tea and biscuits.

But What Does it All Mean?

The British government introduced these ceremonies to try to give a stronger sense of identity to the new citizens. I think it does that, a little, but I am not convinced that the Brits are really interested in an American-style citizenship model. I encounter a lot of bemusement among my British friends about the test of British life, for instance – no one is sure what would go on such a test, or whether they themselves would agree with the “right” answers. And this lack of enthusiasm, which I first really noted in booking the ceremony, pervaded the whole event. The oath and affirmation were murmured rather than proclaimed, and the Lord Provost had to prompt people to applaud each new citizen as she presented the certificates.

Basically, the Brits aren’t entirely sure what citizenship means to them. For instance, the Lord Provost’s speech made no reference whatsoever to anything expressed in that oath I agonised about it. She spoke almost exclusively to the Pledge about upholding the UK’s traditions of rights and freedoms. The Registrar was a little more forthcoming, managing to mention the “sovereign” twice, and there was a picture of the Queen looking benevolent in the room. But the monarchy was clearly not the heart of the ceremony. The ideas of respect and inclusiveness, both much mentioned in the speeches, didn’t ring true either (they are neologisms in the political discourse), though the very ethnically and religiously mixed crowd needed to hear them.

In the end, I don’t know what being British means to me, or to anyone there. I thought it would sum up something of these last 12 years for me, give me a label for that half of me that is not American, but it doesn’t. There is no summary, no single easy definition, apart from that gentle, mild unease with the pretense of certainty that an easy definition would give.

Picture here. I would also like to express my gratitude to Jules and Fiona, who told the Home Office I was a good person despite the evidence to the contrary.

Abi’s Wishlist

As usual when I try to make these sorts of lists, I find myself overwhelmed by how little I actually need, or even really desperately want.
I’m very lucky.

My clothing sizes are:

  • Tops UK size 12, US size 10
  • Bottoms don’t even try – they never fit
  • Shoes UK size 5 1/2 – 6, US size 8 – 9

Please do consult Martin before getting anything, to avoid duplication!

I am aware that many bookbinding items are excruciatingly expensive or a pain to obtain. If there is something you want to give me, but don’t speak enough binding jargon to obtain, I would be delighted to receive “money toward” any of these items. Martin has prices, if you want to do a price-based query (I’ll never know!)



  • Star Trek, the original series box sets
  • This is Spinal Tap


  • A massage (preferably “Theraputic massage” at the Floatarium
  • Dinner out somewhere nice, with childcare
  • A jewelry box – preferably wood or leather – with multiple small compartments
  • Hair ornaments – hair sticks, clips for extra-thick hair
  • Chickens. Everybody needs more chickens.
  • A bike. (or anything else from that site for the Third World)


So I’m finally off work until Christmas, just in time to meet up with a friend from my accountancy days, Kirsty. The two of us on Princes Street with no agenda but a very brief shopping list (present for x, stocking present for y, spray mount): what do you do?

Well, you go to the German Christmas Market, and Munich-resident Kirsty suggests what to order. (Thanks for the tip about the shot of Amaretto in the gluhwein, Kirsty!). You go to the Bucks to escape the lunchtime rush. You go on the giant Ferris wheel by the Scott Monument to see the city. You egg each other on to buy a suit.

And (unless you’ve just done your ankle in) you go jumping.

Taken 21 December 2005

With flips


Taken 21 December 2005

The Nature of Photography (and the photography of nature)

Due to a combination of factors (longer lunchtime walks, better camera phone, encouragement by commenters), I’ve been taking a lot more pictures of late.

I’ve been in love with photography since I was 15 or 16, when I got a 35mm camera (a Pentax ME Super) from my parents along with free run of the darkroom. I spent a year or two exploring the world as seen through a lens, and inhaling vast quantities of extremely interesting chemicals.

One of the things I learned early on is that other people don’t see the same things I see. Yes, we both look at a tree and go “Big thing, brown on bottom, green on top.” But something in me is also going “Oooh! Oooh! Pattern and regularity of leaves as they grow, shapes of trunks and branches! Wow!” Seriously. For every tree unless I consciously shut it off. I walk through the Botanic Gardens with my mouth open, or smiling irrepressibly, when I go alone. I also get that feeling from a lot of repetitive patterns and textures. (Ask Martin about my reaction to the hobbit cloaks in the Lord of the Rings films.)

But I found, showing my “Oooh! Oooh! Pattern!” shots to other people, that they didn’t get the same buzz. My mother once said it looked like I’d just pointed the camera at everything and taken a picture. The two decades since then have been spent, at least in part, trying to find ways to show other people what I see all the time. I do things like choosing a contrasting element against the patterned background, or photographing patterns with other redeeming features, such as good colour saturation.

But the other day, I found a link to a set of photos by professional photographer Jim Brandenburg. Although I’m intrigued by the specific challenge he set himself – 90 days’ photography permitting only one exposure a day – what really delighted me is that some of his pictures are ones I would take myself (if I were his technical equal). He can use pattern, and pattern alone, to lead the viewer into the shot. His quaking aspen shot, the Patterns of Branches, and most of all his picture of Norway Pine grove are all part of what I have been trying to capture for twenty years.

I’m not discouraged to have seen these shots – far from it. I’m excited by the chance to learn from them. Maybe I can find other ways to lead people into the world I see, and show them how beautiful it is.

Today, at lunchtime, I made my first attempt at a “pattern” photograph that did not use a contrasting foreground element to focus the viewer.


Taken 20 December 2005

On an unrelated note, I also got my camera to do this ghostly image (entirely untweaked, I promise you!). It’s of the disused Scotland Street tunnel, which has one brave plant trying to eke out a single-leaf existence in its shadows.


Taken 20 December 2005