Mixed media, Wednesday 31 October 2018

Cover of The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande


  • ⭐️ The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. Remarkable book! Although it’s ostensibly about checklists, it’s actually about the benefits of (and outright need for) cross-functional teamwork in highly industries with high degrees of specialisation, such as construction, air travel, and medicine. Although he doesn’t talk about the software industry, I feel like all the lessons apply there as well.
  • Shirtless Bear-Fighter by Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner, Nil Vendrell, Mike Spicer. Silly, over-the-top, fun.
  • 💩 Time Travel – A History by James Gleick. I have liked James Gleick’s other books, but this is garbage. It reads like an essay by a pretentious literature student who hates science fiction nevertheless trying to impress their teacher with their erudition. I couldn’t finish it.
  • ⭐️ The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker: it’s a book about a writer suffering from writer’s block, who decides to write a book about a writer who suffered from writer’s block. In some ways it is incredibly clichéd, but it finds its feet and turns into a carefully plotted and intricately revealed murder mystery set in a close-knit rural community. It reminded me quite a bit of the first season of Broadchurch. Some of the dialogue reads like the author has never had a conversation with other actual humans, which can undercut the serious treatment of some horrible events. But overall, an engrossing read.
  • ⭐️ The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross. The latest episode of the Laundry Files series sees Britain under the rule of an elder god who has taken over as prime minister, and who demands a covert intelligence operation against the American supernatural security services who have made the entire country forget about the concept of “the president”. It’s a fast-moving eldritch spy thriller, and although I miss Bob Howard as a character, I reckon this might be the best book in the series so far.


  • 🤔 The Death of Stalin: Not what I had been expecting. It’s a comedy, yes, but a very black one. It gave me the impression that it was trying to be an exaggerated version of the truth rather than an “inspired by actual events” retelling. It felt like I would have appreciated it more if I had been more familiar with the historical period.
  • ⭐️ A Simple Favor I talked about this in a previous post. It’s a film that keeps you guessing whether it’s a comedy or a thriller or both. We saw it without even having watched a trailer, which was great. So many trailers these days give you 2/3rds of the film right there.
  • ⭐️ Mr Right Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick doing the kind of roles they do best. Rockwell does suave, sly, tough on the outside but vulnerable on the inside. Kendrick does calm, pretty, and timid on the outside, but wild and adventurous on the inside. He’s a former hit man who now kills the people who try to hire him. She’s the woman who crosses his path and he falls in love with, and who turns out to have an innate talent for his line of work. It’s simple and funny, sweetly murderous.
  • ⭐️ Coco Beautifully animated, sweet, a little predictable. Not as emotionally triggering as I had feared.
  • ⭐️ Halloween (2018) Simple and effective classic slasher thriller. Great music, tight script. You know exactly what’s going to happen, but it totally works.


London Spy cover art

  • ⭐️ London Spy Slow, meticulous queer relationship drama that inhabits some of the trappings of a spy thriller. Brilliant, touching and tense.
  • How To Get Away With Murder Series 1: ridiculous but hugely entertaining legal drama with sexy young legal students doing sexy law stuff and a whodunnit mystery running playing out over the course of the show’s 15 episodes. Series 2: wait, you’re going to do exactly the same thing again? I’m out.
  • ⭐️ Community Alex, Fiona, and I have been working our way through this. We’ve finished season 2, and have got S3 queued up. We’re loving it.
  • ⭐️ Daredevil season 3: As in previous seasons, Matt Murdock is a plonker, and all the interesting story lines and character development happen to the secondary characters. Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk remains utterly magnetic to watch.


I adored Avery Trufelman’s ⭐ Articles of Interest mini-series in the 99% Invisible feed, about clothes. I’ve also been looking forward to new episodes of the Slate podcasts Hit Parade by Chris Molanphy (stories about songs and artists and their path through the music charts) and Decoder Ring by Willa Paskin. The latest episode about the Ong’s Hat conspiracy theory and the Incunabula Papers is particularly good. If you’re in the habit of skipping adverts during podcasts, don’t do that for this one.

20181031 That’s no moo..actually never mind carry on

Half moon hanging in the sky above some chimneys

Went for lunch with John today. Mamma’s pizza in the Grassmarket, rather than the grilled cheese place, but I will try to get there tomorrow of Friday. My usual pizza is pepperoni and jalopeños, but I cut out the pepperoni and had pineapple instead. Very tasty!

Afterwards I went to the cinema and saw Halloween. I listened to the John Carpenter episode of Song Exploder on the plane yesterday, and I felt inspired to go and see the new film. It’s good. The new theme updates the original in subtle ways, and is still just as mesmerizingly effective.

Daily self-care checklist:

  • Sleep: good, if a little shorter than I would have liked because my flight was delayed and I got in very late.
  • Walk: yes, probably 7-8km around Edinburgh.
  • Bass: no
  • Photography: a little. It was dark when I got out of the cinema.
  • Snacks: maltesers at the cinema, and I’m nibbling o some peanuts in my room now.
  • Meat: no

20181030 Back on the plane gang

Selfie of Martin Sutherland in seat 2A on EasyJet flight 6924 from Amsterdam to Edinburgh

I’m in Edinburgh again, back at the Dorstan Guest House, my home away from home. Today was a day of errands, rushing about hither and thither, typing up loose ends before travelling. I’m free-ranging Edinburgh tomorrow, and then I’m back at work on Thursday. Fiona is flying over on Friday evening, and we’ll be staying the weekend at my parents (although Fiona will be spending most of it with her man).

Daily self-care checklist:

  • Sleep: not bad, but I’m still not convinced about this whole winter time change thing.
  • Walk: yes, around Schiphol and from Waverley to Newington.
  • Bass: a tiny bit before I left.
  • Photography: couple of selfies on the plane.
  • Snacks: Lion bar at Schiphol. Couple of biscuits here in the room.
  • Meat: no. Grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. In service of my grilled cheese addiction, I’ve discovered that there is a dedicated grilled cheese bar here in Edinburgh, just on the other side of the meadows: Meltmongers. It’s hard to get mature cheddar in the Netherlands, so the cheese blend I have settled on for my home-made grilled cheese sandwiches is mature Gouda (standard “oude kaas”) and an almost wholly artificial individually wrapped “cheddar cheese” slice. The oude kaas gives it a strong tang, and the artificial slice contributes a gooey melting texture. I’m looking forward to giving something different a try.

20181029 Landing

Composite of four consecutive frames of a crow landing

While I was taking pictures of the birds yesterday, I noticed that the magpies would come in to scoop up a couple of peanuts, and then fly off the the roof of our shed, where they’d pause for a few moments before heading on to wherever they keep their stash. So I thought I’d be clever and set up inside the shed, with our sun shade tarpaulin draped over the door to keep me concealed.

The magpies saw straight through this.

Instead of grabbing peanuts and taking off towards the shed, they dropped down from our neighbours’ roof, putting the branches of our pear tree between me and them. Then they walked behind the wooden planters and hopped into view just long enough to grab a peanut, and retreated back behind the planters. They didn’t take off in view of me at all. I’m convinced they knew exactly where I was, and they were gleefully mocking me.

The crows, of course, DGAF. They’re probably big enough to see off a fair-sized cat. So they just landed and stuffed their gullets. I saw one take off with two peanuts half-way down its crop, and another two wedged in its beak. I see who’s in charge here.

Late afternoon I drove to the spotters site next to the Polderbaan at Schiphol. I had hoped to get some good light around sunset, but it was just cloudy, indistinct, and cold. (At least I had wrapped up warm.) Also, I don’t have my tripod back yet. (Must call the camera shop.) I was able to manipulate a couple of shots to be somewhat okay if you squint a bit.

Daily self-care checklist:

  • Sleep: pretty good. Helped, I think, but not drinking any fluids to fill up my bladder too late in the evening. We’re into winter time, and I’m about to go back to work, so I need to be taking a lot more care with my sleep now.
  • Walk: a bit, while I was out plane spotting. After parking at the main site, I walked up the road parallel to the runway for a distance.
  • Photography: quite a bit!
  • Bass: not yet, but I’ve still got a bit of evening to go.
  • Snacks: surprisingly, no.
  • Meat: no. Beans on toast for dinner.

KLM plane taking off from the Polderbaan runway at Schiphol

20181028 NOPE

Magpie running away from the camera

Alex had his first day at work today. I drove him to Station Noord in the morning. I picked him up again shortly before 6. He was exhausted, barely able to talk. He ate a stack of pancakes and then collapsed straight into bed. Maybe tomorrow he’ll tell me what it was like.

This afternoon I scattered some peanuts and seeds in the back yard, and closed the curtains on our new sun room space to turn it into a makeshift blind. The magpies sent in some scouts that took a quick peek and then flew away. About ten minutes later the magpies arrived in pairs to pick the place clean. Then the crows showed up and took control. (They’re the Men In Black of the bird world.) They didn’t attack the magpies, but they certainly asserted their dominance.

I had my camera set to shutter priority with a speed of 1/4000 to try and catch the birds in action. Even though there was a good amount of light, I’ve been taking pictures with a lowered exposure compensation, and a lot of the pics came out dark and mushy. (I discovered the zebra striping feature on my camera, and I think it has been leading me astray.) I have an idea for setting up a blind in a different position tomorrow, if the weather holds up.

Daily self-care checklist:

  • Sleep: terrible. Found myself unable to fall asleep & was awake until after 02:00. Got up early to take Alex to the station. Came back and had some more sleep, but it wasn’t great either. Paul recommended the book Why We Sleep a while ago, and I ordered it last week. It was delivered at 12:00 today, ironically waking me from my slumber.
  • Walk: no
  • Bass: 10-15 minutes.
  • Photography: yes, quite satisfying. The magpies around here are very skittish, and the answer to photographing them is lots of patience.
  • Snacks: I cleaned out my private stash of chocolate kruidnoten. I really shouldn’t have them around.
  • Meat: no. Big plate of scrambled eggs for dinner.
Magpie jumping down from a bench
Magpie holding a peanut sideways in its beak, making it look like it has a moustache
Look at me, I’m a human with a moustache. I’m Ron Swanson. Please and thank you.

20181027 All my ducks in a row

Four ducks all leaning down to the ground and trying to eat one thing

Quiet day. Read, walked, cooked. Disabled the email forwarding that copied Abi and me in on Fiona’s email. We disabled Alex’s when he turned 13, but Fiona was in a bit of a different state when she hit that same age. She’s back on top of life again now, though. She can fly solo now.

Daily self-care checklist:

  • Sleep: good.
  • Walk: yes, a roundabout route into and back from the village centre, picking up errands on the way.
  • Bass: no.
  • Photography: ducks! They crowded around me and quacked adorably on my walk. One of my errands was to go to HEMA to pick up some poster-sized prints of some of my favourite photos from Pictober. On nice glossy paper, at 30×30 and 30×45 size, they came out beautifully.
  • Snacks: banana bread, chocolate kruidnoten
  • Meat: no. I cooked roast potatoes and grilled steaks and roast potatoes for Abi and Alex for dinner, but I made charred mixed peppers for myself.

Five ducks, one of them looking at the camera with its head slightly cocked