Rome 2023

The last time we were in Rome was in 2003. Alex was two; Fiona wasn’t around yet. We flew there on a Wednesday, and came back on a Sunday. We probably booked the flights by phoning the Trailfinders travel agency and getting tickets posted to us, and booked the hotel by calling and making ourselves understood in broken Italian. There were no smartphones, no map apps, no Google Translate. We got around with guidebooks and dictionaries. The word “selfie” had only just been coined, but hadn’t gained traction. And yet we were travelling with not just one but two digital cameras.

The first was an Olympus C-3000Z, our very first digital camera (which we’d bought with the money from winning and then selling a car), and a Casio Exilim EX-S2, for lighter-weight snapshots. We came back with 212 pictures. (They’re all still in my photos library. A few years ago I even went back and geo-tagged them.)

My hair was just growing out of a bleached-blonde phase.

Martin kneeling down at the edge of a paved area, with Alex (two years old) on his back. Alex is wearing a red shirt and blue dungarees. They're both smiling. Martin's hair is dark, with bleach-blonde frosted tips.

This year Abi and I were travelling alone (although with plans to meet up with Patrick & Teresa when we got there). Alex stayed at home in Oostzaan, while Fiona has moved out already and is living in Scotland. We’d booked the flights with ITA Airways through Skyscanner, and our stay at Hotel Nardizzi through We both have smartphones with ubiquitous, fast, wireless internet. Geolocation means we’re never lost We can point our phones’ built-in cameras at text, and have them render translations instantly.

I only brought one digital camera with me, my Fuji X-T20, with three lenses: a XF 10-24 f/4 (which I’d bought in anticipation of this trip), a XF 16-80 f/4, and a XF 35 f/2 prime (which I didn’t use very much). I took 4587 shots with the camera, weighing in at 98.7GB of data. If I\d started with a fresh one, it could have all fit on a single tiny, cheap, 128GB SD card.

My hair is just growing back from a bleached-blonde phase. The roots are grey now.

Martin and Abi looking at the camera from a balcony, with Rome stretching out in the distance behind them. Cumulus clouds draw a line above the horizon before the sky shades into a late-afternoon blue. Martin is wearing a black t-shirt with the white text MEUTE (as in the band Meute), and has a blue rucksack strapped on. Abi has her hair pulled back. She's wearing a red dress, and carring a brown leather backpack. Her red bone conduction headphones are around her neck.

Day 1, Wednesday 3 May

Got up and left the house at a very reasonable hour. Parked at Schiphol P3 & took the bus to the terminal. We’d bought some new luggage the weekend before (a large green case, and a smaller cabin-sized blue one), and using four-wheeled cases rather than two-wheeled cases is definitely an upgrade. Schiphol was unremarkable, and the flight with ITA was fine. Abi had bought some new neck pillow sleep aid technology to try out on this flight before her long flights to the US next month.

Landed in Rome just after 14:00. Walked from terminal T1 to T3, where we got the Leonardo Express train to Termini. (Ticket machines: slow & clunky.) The hotel was not too far away, and we just walked. At the front door to the building it wasn’t clear whether the lift was for guest use, so we took the stairs up to the fourth floor. A bit out of breath when we got there, and the chap on reception was curious why we hadn’t taken the lift. We’ll know better next time.

We took some time to settle into the lovely room. Nice size, good bathroom, shuttered windows looking out on the street below and a Ministry of Defence building opposite. Then we went out for a walk to explore. We headed north into Villa Borghese, where Abi wanted to see if people were using the park for running, and what kind of routes she could use. (Foreshadowing!) We walked up through Pincio, and took in the view out over Spagna. We had dinner at Pasta In Corso on the Via della Maddalena, just a couple of streets north of the Pantheon. Abi had pasta with mushrooms, and I had gnocchi with a tomato and mozzarella sauce. It was lovely.

After dinner we walked past the Pantheon, which was closed by that time, and round by Trevi, which was still packed. The toys of the season are (1) a small plastic light-up thing that you can launch vertically upwards with an elastic band, and which will then gradually float back own again, (2) a weird squishy slime thing that makes a sheep-like sound when you splat it against the ground and it pulls itself back into a ball, (3) pre-loaded USB battery charger packs with built-in laser pointers. We stopped in at a Pam supermarket just off Piazza Barberini on the way back to the hotel to get a supply of room snacks (bananas, abbracci, crisps, chocolate) and cola. (We’re not addicted, but we’re strongly habituated.)

Day 2, Thursday 4 May

A few years ago when I was visiting our pension adviser, I got served a tiny cup of coffee that I hadn’t asked for, but which I drank out of politeness, and actually enjoyed. I’ve always described myself as liking coffee-flavoured things, but not the coffee beverage itself. But I wanted to put that to the test, and try some holiday espresso. We took our time getting up in the morning, and walked in the direction of the Forum. On our way there we stopped at a small caffe and ordered a cappuccino for Abi, an espresso for me, and two fruit tarts (because we were too late for cornetti, the sweet Italian croissants). I enjoyed the espresso! And resolved to try more of it to see if this was just a one-off.

We walked past the Forum, but didn’t go in to the museum part. I’d been using my new XF 10-24mm f/4 wide-angle lens, but just outside the Colosseum I tried my XF 35mm f/2 for a bit, and was somewhat stunned by how crisp and sharp the images were, and how much background blur I can get at f/2. On a sunny day in Rome I also have to use crazy fast shutter speeds to get the right exposure. (I think that for the first time I viscerally understood the need for ND filters. I also think I “get it” about bright, fast primes now.)

Abi with her eyes closed and her mouth open with laughter, lookup up towards the right of the frame . The Colosseum is behind her, out of focus, providing a soft blurry background.

While sitting down outside the Colosseum we got hustled by a vendor for some cheap armbands. We paid the dude, and were able to wave the armbands at subsequent vendors as “we’ve already got one” amulets of protection. Onwards towards the Circus Maximus. At one end of the Circus, there was a tent village set up for a “Race for the Cure” event taking place. We admired some of the local bird life. Rome has black-and-grey hooded crows, whereas we’re used to the local all-black carrion crows. They’re gorgeous. Slightly smaller than our local crows, I think? Also less bold, and they stay further away from the humans.

We got chased away from a monument whose open gate was apparently not an invitation, and crossed the Tiber on the Ponte Palatino. We wandered through the narrow alleys of Trastevere for a bit, then followed the big Viale di Trastevere for a while until we came across a Billy Tacos restaurant where I tried a French Taco for the first time. (A day of firsts!) It was amazing. Abi had a (cold) burrito. Abi also suggested that French Tacos might be a good way to use up left-over frites after a Frites Friday. 🤔

A Billy Tacos tray, with on it my French Taco, wrapped in alumimium foil. The receipt is attached to it. The recieipt shows the ingredients: tortilla, french fries, mayonaise, falafel, mozzarella, spicy salsa.

Refreshed after lunch, we found a walking and cycle path down the side of the river. We came across a tiny and well-hidden geocache at the foot of the Ponte della Scienzia. Does not require climbing. But I did a bit anyway, and was able to get some nice photo angles.

The metal feet of a bridge spear the ground on the right-hand side of the frame. Affixed to the closest one, slightly distorted by the wide-angle lens, is a white poster of a black nine-tailed cat with the text "off-label" printed behind it. On the left side of the frame, a man is cycling on a brightly sun-lit cycle path.

We carried on and stopped for a rest and a drink in Parco Marconi, a new and lovely little park near Ponte Marconi. It’s out of the way of the main tourist routes, so the people in the park seemed to be all locals: teens having out with their friends, parents with their young kids, middle-aged folk like us taking in the day. Sitting at the cafe, we watched as a trio of parakeets harvested thistle heads from the overgrown slope up to the street, and carried them back to a large tree. Were they using them for a nest? Are thistle heads particularly rich in seeds or insects? Not sure. It was a curious sight, seeing them fly with these large purple flowers.

A parakeet sits half-hidden behind a thistle stalk, cheekily looking straight at the camera. Its wings and tail feathers are dark green, but the fluffy feathers around its legs are brighter. The overall effect makes it seem like it's half in shadow and half in sunlight, even through it isn't.

We crossed back to the East side of the Tiber at Ponte Marconi. Spotted a cute little lizard at the other end of the bridge, and it was willing to sit still enough for me to take its picture. This was as far south as we’d go. We walked north along the Via Ostiense, talking about living in different countries and imagining what we might do in the future, perhaps after retirement. We passed the Pyramid of Cestius and arrived at the gates of the Baths of Caracalla just before they closed. (We figured we’d save that for another day.)

As we were crossing the road in front of the Baths, we had to sprint to avoid some traffic, and Abi felt a pain in her leg. Thinking it might be just a cramp, we sat down for a while to see if it would pass, but it didn’t. We were still about 5km from the hotel, and Abi wasn’t going to make it back on foot. We could have called a taxi…I suppose…but instead we swallowed our dislike for capitalism making things better for people who can afford it and worse for everyone else, and took two of the ubiquitous Bird electric scooters. The app onboarding process was very easy; navigating our way back through the city centre along Rome’s busy streets was a mix of exhilarating and terrifying.

Abi was able to stand on the scooter while it was moving, and able to hobble along where we had to jump up on the pavement and push it on foot to avoid the worst of the traffic hot spots. We made it back to the hotel. I went back out to the supermarket to get some crusty rolls and cheese that we made into a room picnic dinner.

Day 3, Friday 5 May

We’d hoped that Abi’s leg would be better this morning, but it wasn’t. Abi had consulted the internet and found that the pain she’d experienced (“like being kicked in the calf”) was consistent with an Achilles tendon injury. Abi identified some medical centres that would take walk-in tourists, but decided that she wasn’t completely out of the game, and could still hobble along and take the scooters again. We resolved to make it a quiet and restful day.

We started with coffee and cornetti at the hotel. The hotel doesn’t do breakfasts as such (although when we were checking out on the last day they said that they might start), but they do have two seating areas at reception, a basket of fresh cornetti every day for guests to grab for free, and a self-service coffee machine. This was my second espresso. It seemed perfectly nice!

The Bird scooters were still where we’d left them the previous night. We re-hired them and scooted to the park at Trajan’s baths. The park was a scooter no-parking zone, so we left the scooters at the gates, and hobbled through the park until we came across the Piazza Martin Luther, which had some nice places to sit, with some sun for Abi and some shade for me. A film production company was shooting a scene a hundred meters or so away. We ate leftover bread and cheese from the previous night’s room picnic, read our books, watched the birds, and the locals eating their lunches.

Mid-afternoon we got up and walked the short distance to the Colosseum, where we figured out the metro system. Just like the Dutch OV-Pay system, you can tap in to the metro with a credit card and be on your way. At least, it worked easily enough for me. It didn’t like one of Abi’s cards. We took the metro to Barberini, and then walked to the Centro Storico (which I’ve dubbed “Romeland” to distinguish it from the rest of the city). Abi wanted to have a look at leather bags to use as a new backpack while we were there. We found one on Via in Arcioni, and Abi also picked up some postcards and weird non-standard “stamps” in a shop on Via della Panetteria.

We bought some cola from a Coop supermarket, then got some expensive gelato from a surprisingly quiet gelateria just round the corner from the enormously crowded Trevi Fountain – our first of the trip. We walked back along the Via del Tritone to Barberini and stopped that the Pam supermarket again for more room picnic bread and cheese. This time we also bought some olive oil and balsamic vinegar (in a spray bottle?) to liven things up. The room didn’t have any plates or bowls, so we used the left-over plastic tray from our bananas as a dish for dipping our bread in the oil and vinegar. Despite the intention to take it easy, we’d been out for most of the day, and had covered over 5km on foot. In the evening Abi wrote postcards, while I read a book.

Day 4, Saturday 6 May

I wanted to get out of the city this trip, to see some of the surrounding area. I remembered that on my high school trip to Rome in 1987 we had gone to Villa D’Este in Tivoli to see the Renaissance buildings and gardens. Abi scouted a medical supplies shop in advance that might supply her with a crutch, and we identified the right train to get us there. We got up early (by holiday standards) and took Bird scooters to Termini. We rushed to buy our tickets, and made the 09:00-ish train. (There’s only one direct train every hour and a half or so.)

The train ride was lovely, with some great views. We walked over a delightful modern wooden bridge into town, and stopped at the first available farmacia to see if they had a crutch (stampella). They did, but only the forearm kind, not the under-arm kind that Abi was looking for. They gave us directions to a different store closer to the town centre. We walked on to another farmacia, but when we described what we were looking for the shop assistant quickly waved us on to the Sanitaria further down the road, which turned out to be an orthopaedic shoe shop. They had one under-arm crutch that looked like a rental, but which they were willing to sell us for €45.

Abi spent some time adjusting the crutch until it was comfortable, and then we walked on to the Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, where we sat down at a caffe for our now-traditional coffee and cornetti. We had a little look at the views from the square, and found the entrance to the Villa. The first set of rooms we encountered were a modern art exhibition of the works of Pino Pascali. Very cool, but not quite the Renaissance vibe we had expected. Downstairs we did get into the Cardinal’s chambers, and then out into the gorgeous gardens. Beautiful sights and views, but lots of stairs, and not terribly well set up for going around on crutches. We munched on some bread and cheese in the gardens, saw our fill of fountains, and walked back to the station to catch the 15:30 train back to Rome. At Termini we spent some time hunting around for a letter box where we could drop the custom postcards with their custom QR-code stamps. We also tapped a street vendor for some scarves that Abi turned into strapping to mount the crutch on her back while we took Bird scooters back to the hotel.

We rested at the hotel for a bit before heading back out to meet up with Patrick and Teresa for dinner. They were staying in a different part of town. We walked to Barberini and took the metro to Lepanto, and walked to their hotel, where we ate at the hotel’s restaurant downstairs. Abi had Carbonara, I had Cacio e Pepe. After dinner we took the metro back to Barberini. It was part 22:00 and our trusty Pam supermarket would have been closed, so we walked up the Via delle Quattro Fontane to buy some room drinks from a mini market there. As we turned up the street, we were faces with a GIANT MOON, perfectly positioned at the top of the street. I tried to take some photos while Abi blocked traffic for me. Although they capture a bit of the scale of what it looked like, I didn’t catch any detail in the moon itself. It was an amazing sight, though.

Day 5, Sunday 7 May

On Sunday we wanted to take the metro for a distance out of the central area to go to a park. We walked to Barberini and took the metro to Lepanto, where we’d been the previous evening. It looked nice, and we thought it would be a good place to stop and get our morning coffee and pastry snacks. We were right. We had coffees and fruit tartlets at Fabric Coffee Bistrot on Via Marcantonio Colonna before taking the metro another few stations to Valle Aurelia.

We walked through some lovely residential areas in the direction of the Villa Doria Pamphili (also written as Pamphilj with a “j” to represent an end-of-word “i”). What we thought was an entrance to the park turned out to be the way in to a residential area, where people were hanging out and grilling. We eventually found our way to what looked like a motorway off-ramp, but people were parking there, and it was actually right next to a park entrance. It’s a lovely park, far away from the tourist zones. We heard very few non-Italian voices as we walked around.

We passed some fountains, and water courses filled with turtles. At the edge of a large pond some people were throwing bread into the water and watching the carp and turtles fight it out for the scraps. (The carp mostly won.) We found a quiet spot to sit for a while and ate some of the snacks we’d brought. After we’d rested we walked further through the park, past the actual Villa and its amphitheatre, fountains, statues, weird relief sculptures, and gardens. I spent some time taking pictures of a gorgeous pigeon who was done for the day, and had no interest in moving from its out-of-the-way perch.

We left the park through the north-east entrance. We walked to the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola and enjoyed some great views of the city. We descended into Trastevere and had dinner at Ristorante La Piazzetta on Via di San Francesco a Ripa. This was, after five days, our first pizza of the trip. After the meal we stopped at a farmacia on Viale di Trastevere to pick up some more (extremely expensive) ibuprofen, and crossed the Ponte Garibaldi back into the historic centre. We passed the Largo di Torre Argentina and its cats, and had some more gelato. We passed the Pantheon and Trevi on our way back to the hotel, and made our daily stop at the Pam supermarket for additional room snacks.

Day 6, Monday 8 May

The weather forecast for Monday was not great. It would still be warm, but we’d see some rain in the middle of the day. We thought we’d do the Pantheon and then the baths of Caracalla, which we’d missed on an earlier day. We walked past the presidential palace on the Quirinale. We had our morning coffee and cornetti at a caffe on the east side of the Pantheon. (I noted that the espresso tasted more burned than on previous days, and the taste didn’t linger the way others had done.) Unfortunately by that time the queues for the Pantheon were also hideously long. We were approached by a guide who asked if we want to join a tour and get in without waiting, but we preferred to go our own way. We decided we’d get up early one morning and get there at opening time.

We walked on past the south edge of Piazza Navona, and stopped at Campo de Fiori to browse the market. We continued towards the Tiber and took steps down to the path down by the river itself, where we followed the path for a stretch. I wasn’t sure where we’d be able to get back up to street level again, but there are stairs next to pretty much every bridge. We came back up at the Ponte Palatino, near the Bocca Della Verita and the Circus.

The weather was starting to turn, and there was a bit of warm drizzle as we walked the length of the Circus to the Baths of Caracalla. When we got there we found that they were closed on Mondays. We checked the short-term weather forecast and radar on our phones — not something we could have done twenty years ago. It didn’t look promising, but we decided to wait under a tree on the path to the entrance of the Baths to see if there would be any change at ground level. We finished off a crossword while munching on some biscuits, but the drizzle persisted, so we called it off. We walked over to the nearby Circo Massimo metro station (getting the entrance on the wrong side of the road at first) and took the metro to Repubblica.

Just round the corner from Repubblica, at the foot of the road to our hotel was a McDonalds where we’d hoped to find our late lunch, but it turns out that McDonalds in Italy doesn’t carry the McPlant burger, or any other vegetarian options (beyond fries, or the egg McMuffin at breakfast). Disappointed! Our memories of Rome from when Alex was tiny include McDonalds. Instead, we hit up the Coop a little further down Via Nazionale for some more cheese, and then the Pam a little further back for more bread. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in our room with another room picnic.

Day 7, Tuesday 9 May

A day of Ostia with Patrick and Teresa. We got up and took the Metro over to Lepanto again and had our morning coffees at Fabric Coffee Bistrot again, this time with cornetti instead of the fruit tarts. We caught up with Patrick & Teresa at their hotel, where Patrick had booked an Uber to take us out of town. Ostia was beautiful. We wandered around the ruins, stopping here and there. I took some nice photographs. Down in the Mithraeum I tried to take some pics at unusual angles, not just the standard shots looking straight at the statue, but they didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped.

We had lunch at the restaurant at the visitor centre, right at the same time as a school party of teens. It was busy. Towards the end of our time there, as I was taking some portrait shots, I leaned back against a tree and got the back of my T-shirt covered in sticky resin. (Just a few minutes before I leaned against it, I remember looking at the tree and thinking to myself “gosh, that’s a lot of resin running down its trunk.”) Fortunately I had a denim shirt with me to change into, so I wouldn’t stick to the chair on the way back.

At the end of the day we called another Uber to take us back. We left Patrick and Teresa at their hotel while we walked a bit further up Via Cola di Rienzo and found a delightful restaurant where I had parmigiana di melanzane for the first time on the trip. It was amazing. Abi had gnocchi, and we split some (very crusty) bread a salad with cheese and a primo sale salad, with rocket, spinach, olives, and pomegranate seeds. The restaurant was Bar & Ristorante Marco Ciampini, which we later discovered is the sister restaurant of the much more famous and exclusive Caffe Ciampini just above Spagna.

After dinner we crossed the Tiber on Ponte Regina Margherita. We stopped for (slightly disappointing) gelato just off Piazza del Popolo, and climbed the hill behind the Piazza towards Pincio just as the sun was setting and the street lights were starting to come on. We stopped for a bit to listen to a busker singing on Terrazza del Pincio, and tossed him some coin. We walked along Viale della Trinita dei Monti, past Ciampini (before we realized the connection with our dinner), and then along Via Sistina to Barberini. As usual, we stopped off at the Pam supermarket to pick up some bananas and cola just before getting back to the hotel.

Day 8, Wednesday 10 May

The forecast for the day was rain, and so it turned out. This was the day we wanted to hit the Pantheon early. We got out the door just before 9, bought a temporary umbrella for me (Abi already had one). We zigged and zagged through the streets to the Pantheon. As expected, there were no queues at that time on a wet Wednesday morning. We looked around for a bit, then set off in the direction of the Vatican, where Abi wanted to locate some hard-to-find Saints medals. We took our time, taking photos along the way, and having our morning coffees (and egg McMuffins) at the McDonalds just off Navona.

After we crossed the Tiber at Ponte Sant’Angelo we didn’t go into the Vatican. We just orbited it, with Abi diligently combing the Articoli Religiosi shops for the exact medals she was looking for. (She came up empty in the end. But knowing that it wasn’t for lack of trying.) We stopped for lunch at Hostaria Ago e Lillo on Piazza Risorgimento, where I had another parmigiana di melanzane. (It was good, but not as exceptional as the one at Ciampini the evening before.)

Our walk around the outside permiter of the Vatican was pleasant. All the tourists hang out at the “front” of the Vatican, to the south-east. Beyond the north-west walls it’s all residential Rome rather than Romeland. The rain had mostly stopped by the time our route curved around the south. We stopped at a street vendor and also at the Leonardo museum just off St. Peter’s Square to pick up some souvenirs for Alex & Fiona. Then a long wander back through the Centro Storico, stopping off at The Gelatist on Via del Tritone for some very good gelato, and Pam (again) for a final top-up of room drinks.

Day 9, Thursday 11 May

We’d originally thought that we might go out for one final morning coffee before packing up and checking out, but we decided not to force ourselves into any kind of hurry, and we just enjoyed coffee and cornetti and a crossword on the terrace at reception instead. At checkout, the manager wanted to show us one of the newly renovated rooms before we left, so we could see what it might look like if (when) we come back. It was very nicely done, but it was perhaps a little less characterful than the room we had. We like our hotels a little quirky.

No rushing. We walked to Termini, got the express train to the airport, and found that because we were flying with ITA Airways we could drop our checked bag right at the exit of the train, rather than having to stand in a queue later. There was a funny moment at security, where I had gone through the gate already, but got fished back out of the system because the staff insisted that Abi (and me, by association) go through the fast-track line because she was still walking with the crutch. Our flight was at 14:35, on time. The crutch got us onto the plane in the pre-boarding queue, which was nice. Uneventful flight. Back at Schiphol we took the bus back to the car park, and drove back home.

Good holiday. Lots of walking, even with Abi’s injury. We’ve been to Rome before, and seen a lot of the sights already, so what we wanted out of the trip was to just be there, and soak up the atmosphere. That’s exactly what we got.

Hot Chip

Listening to Hot Chip’s latest album Freakout/Release, I spotted that I went to see them at Melkweg in December 2019, but I never did an entry here on the blog about it. Hmm. Must do better. There are a few recent gigs that I need to catch up on.

The things I remember about the gig are:

  • Alexis Taylor is smaller than I’d expected.
  • Joe Goddard looked like he didn’t want to be there
  • Owen Clarke (synth, guitar) reminded me of my therapist. He also has some great little shuffle dances around his keyboard.
  • The cover of Sabotage they did as part of their encore was flippin’ amazing. It brought the house down.

As for Freakout/Release, I wasn’t sure about the song “Eleanor” at first, but it has really grown on me.

Rotterdam city break, 10-12 February 2023

Abi and I enjoy taking weekend breaks at Van Der Valk hotels. They have locations all around the Netherlands, mostly just outside towns and cities, but near main roads. They’re all easily accessible by car, and they’re often close to the countryside walks and cycle routes. Most of them have a large, family-friendly restaurant. The facilities are typically modern, elegant, and very comfortable. And somehow they manage to do this at very decent prices. Especially if you don’t have a specific destination in mind, but rather just want to “go somewhere,” you can usually find a multi-day or last-minute special offer.

Last year, for example, we went to the Valk hotel at Spier-Dwingeloo, which is right on the Dwingelderveld National Park, and we had some wonderful walks. Around Black Friday in November the Valk marketing teams kept bombarding us with special offers. Although we like getting out into the countryside, this time we decided to go for a city break, and Abi booked us a weekend at hotel Rotterdam-Blijdorp in February.

I had taken the day off work. We took a leisurely morning, and set out for Rotterdam mid-afternoonish. (For future note: the hotel only has minimal parking of its own – only a dozen spaces or so – but they have a deal with the Zoo next door, which has hundreds of spaces. We were able to find a space on-street close by, and then we got lucky with an open spot in front of the hotel later.)

At dusk, a nine-storey factory building is lit up from the inside, on the other side of a wide canal. The words "Van Nelle" are lit up in red on the right of the building.
The Van Nelle factory

After checking in and dropping our bags, we wanted to go our for a walk while there was still a bit of light, and then come back and order room service. We walked to Coolsingel along the Delfshavense Schie, past the old Van Nelle factory. It was cold. We walked back to the hotel through the Heemraadspark and past the Blijdorp Zoo. On the way, we stopped at a Jumbo supermarket for room snacks, and at the Turkish bakery next door to it for some amazing baklava. What we didn’t realize was that room service stopped at 20:00, and we got back to the room about ten minutes too late to order. So we just made do with the (large quantity of) snacks we’d brought back with us.

The next morning we got up and had breakfast in the hotel to set us up for a big day of walking. We reversed the previous evening’s route and walked back south through the Heemraadspark, where I took photos of some odd-looking ducks that I later found were actually Egyptian Geese. They were characteristically aggressive and territorial.

An Egyptian Goose goose-stepping over grass. Its legs and feet and bill are bright red. Its has a red eye surrounded by yellowish-brown splotches. Its breast is beige, and its folded wings brown, blue, and white. It looks peaceful, but looks can be deceiving.
Egyptian Goose

We continued south past the Euromast. We stopped at an Asian supermarket just nearby, where Abi bought some cream of tartar (hard to find in mainstream NL supermarkets) for making snickerdoodles, and some root-beer-adjacent sarsaparilla beverage. A little further south we found that the Maastunnel under the river has a tube dedicated for cyclists and pedestrians, and that it’s accessible by classic wooden escalators. We couldn’t resist.

Wooden escalators to the pedestrian and cyclist tube of the Maastunnel
The pedestrian tube of the Maastunnel
Cyclists on the wooden escalator

We continued our walk on the industrial south side of the Maas. We stopped for a rest and a bite to eat at the Foodhallen. Afterwards we crossed the Erasmusbrug and walked past the Maritime Museum and the Cube Houses to the Coolblue shop where Abi had placed an order to collect some new bone conduction headphones. We were coming to the end of the day by this point, and we were getting tired. We headed for the Markthal to get some dinner, but I’d got to the point of tiredness and hunger that nothing really seemed right. (This is, regrettably, a habit.)

I felt like some pizza, but the options were limited. When I finally found a place that would sell me a simple slice they were happy enough to take my order, but then they discovered that they didn’t actually have any margherita. All their other options had meat on them, and their payment terminal didn’t allow them to do refunds. This did not make me any happier. I had seen a New York Pizza shack nearby, but they weren’t selling by the slice, and because it was a busy Saturday it would take them an hour to make a whole pie. Boo. Fortunately Abi was able to find some nice ramen, and in the end I bought some peanuts at the AH in the Markthal to get my energy back up, and resolved to get room service when we got back to the hotel. (We also got more baklava from a stall in the Markthal, although it wasn’t nearly as good as the pieces we’d had from the bakery the previous evening.)

It was getting dark, and we’d seen all the things we wanted to see that day, so we just made a relatively straight line back. We got back in plenty of time to order me a pizza and Abi a glass of wine. We clocked just over 20 meandering kilometers in the course of the day, and we slept well that night.

On Sunday we got up, had breakfast in the hotel again, checked out, and drove to the water taxi stop at the Marconistraat. The Rotterdam water taxis are very cool. They’re not sedate cruise vehicles, they’re point-to-point speedboats. You do have to book them well in advance, though – you don’t just flag them down. We took one to the stop just outside the Maritime museum, and walked from there to the Kunsthal.

Nick Cave’s Soundsuits

The main exhibit was “In the Black Fantastic” which featured several of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits. We also enjoyed the “Women’s Palette 1900-1950” exhibit, which featured groundbreaking art by women who were overshadowed by male artists at the time (and also since). There were some amazing pieces on display, but overall the Kunsthal felt a bit unwelcoming and clinical to me. I appreciated the art, but the vibe of the place made me want to get back to the Stedelijk here in Amsterdam.

Afterwards we walked across the museum park, which was under heavy construction. The the monstrously mirrored Boijmans Van Beuningen Depot dominated the view, but it was fenced off and the light was drab, so it lost some of its impact. (Although it’s still quite a sight.)

Boijmans Ven Beuningen Depot

We wandered through the city centre a bit, and had lunch at McDonalds, sitting outdoors despite the chill. The rest of the country has abandoned masking, but we’re still keeping ours on in most indoor spaces, and taking care around crowds. (Just because we take some risks doesn’t mean we take all the risks.) We stopped in at the Bever outdoors shop opposite, and Abi bought some socks. We walked around the centre a bit more, through the Koopgoot, and finally back to the Maritime museum where we got the water taxi back to the car.

Abi in a water taxi

On the drive back, we discussed the notion of replacing the build-in car radio on our 2007 Ford Fusion with a screen unit that supports Apple Carplay. This is a thing that one can do! (And we did. I expect this will come up in my future “Nice things 2023” post at the end of this year.)

Photo workflow, early 2023 edition

I want to record my current photography workflow as a reminder to both my future and current self. (It has a lot of steps in it, and sometimes I forget them.)

iPhone X:

  • Take photo in the normal Camera app or
  • Take photo in the Halide app if I want to grab a RAW as well as a compressed file.

In both cases, the photo goes into the photo roll on my phone, and gets synced to my iCloud/photos account. Photos are 4032 x 3024px (12 MP). This usually clocks in around 1.5-2.5 MB per image for the compressed HEIC/HEIF files, and 12-13MB for the accompanying DNG/RAW file if I take one of those.

Fuji X-T20:

  1. Before I even get to going out and taking photos, it starts with memory cards. After some time spent with wiping old cards, I have given up on that, and I treat them as write-only media now, just like rolls of film. My Fuji camera takes SD cards, and they’re very cheap these days: about €15 for a 128GB (gigabyte!) card. I don’t take photos with this camera every day, and often not even every week, so a 128 card lasts me many months. After filling up a card I label it and pop it in a wee storage case I bought for them.
  2. Next comes the GPX Trail Tracker app on my iPhone. This is a simple app that does one thing really well: record my geolocation coordinates while I’m out on a walk. (Free download, €3.99 to get rid of adverts. Worth it!) Not everyone feels the same, but I find it enormously valuable to have geo coordinates on all my photos. My Fuji camera doesn’t have any built-in geolocation capabilities, so I need some way of adding them after the fact. (I tried a few different geotagging workflows before ending up with this one.) If I’m going out with the Fuji camera I try to always fire up this app and start a new “trail” before I go.
  3. Go out and take photos. Shoot in F + RAW (“Fine” JPEG quality). Image size Large 3:2, which is the native aspect ratio for the X-Trans III sensor. Uncompressed RAW, because MacOS can’t handle Fuji’s compressed RAW format. (Or at least, MacOS Big Sur can’t. Maybe later versions can.)
  4. Back at my desk, I unload the photos from the memory card onto SSDs. Hard disks should always be bought in pairs. I have two Samsung T7 Shield 1TB drives connected to my laptop via USB, one called “Photos Import” and the other called “Photos Import Clone”. I copy the photos from the SD card onto the Photos Import drive. I use a scheduled task in the the SuperDuper app to keep the Photos Import Clone backup drive up to date with its primary. 1TB of storage might not be enough for a professional photographer, but it’s quite enough for me for now. Once I fill them up, I’ll buy more.
  5. I’m not 100% happy with my folder structure for imports yet, but I’m working on it. Inside the DCIM folder on the memory card, my Fuji uses folders called NNN_FUJI, where NNN is a 3-digit number, currently standing at 117. Most of the time, I end up with multiple “events” inside a single such folder on the card. When I copy photos to the SSD, I want each event/batch import to go into a separate folder. So I make a new folder on the disk for each import event, named after the original folder on the SD card, with a sequential letter suffix and a short description. The folder structure on disk ends up looking like this:
    • / (root)
      • Fuji X-T20
        • 116_FUJI_a Short event/location description
        • 116_FUJI_b Short event/location description
        • 117_FUJI_a Short event/location description
  6. Next, geotagging. Step one of this is to export the recorded trail from the GPX Trail Tracker app, in “<trk> formatted GPX” format. I export this from the app on my phone to a folder in my iCloud storage, and wait for it to sync over to my Mac. Usually this only takes a few seconds, but sometimes, you know, 🍎🤷‍♂️.
  7. I then fire up the HoudaGeo app (€46, and definitely worth it) on my Mac.
    • In the “Load” view in the app, I drag the .gpx coordinates file into the “Tracks” pane. I select all the photos from the new import folder on the Photos Import drive, and drag them into the “Images”pane.
    • In the “Process” view, the app will show the trail on a map, and will use the timestamps in the photos to match them with GPS coordinates from the supplied trail. Here I can tweak the locations if I want to, or, if I forgot to create a trail in the first place (oops) drag and drop the photos onto the map from memory.
    • In the “Output” pane, I choose which photos I want to finalize. (All of them, generally.) For JPEGs, the export process modifies the source file to add the geolocation information in an EXIF block. It does this without modifying the timestamp on the file, unless you want it to. You can mess around with time zone offsets in the export process as well. This is useful if I take photos in Scotland (or elsewhere) and don’t process them until I get home. For RAW files, the export process generates a sidecar .xmp file with the geolocation metadata.
  8. With all the photos now nicely geotagged, I import only the JPGs into Apple’s Photos app on my Mac. The JPG files from my Fuji are typically 11-12MB in size (6000×4000, 24 MP), while the RAW images are about 50MB. Most of the time I don’t process the photos any further, and there’s no need for me to bloat up my photos library by 500% at this point. The imported photos are automatically synced with my iCloud photos library.

At this point the photos from the Fuji camera eventually exist in eight separate places:

  1. On the original SD card, where they will stay. These files are untouched by any extra processing, and that’s how they’ll stay. This is pure archive now.
  2. On the Photos Import SSD, attached to my laptop. These files have been modified by HoudahGeo to add geolocation information, and they’ve been sorted into import batches per event/occasion/date.
  3. On the Photos Import Clone SSD, also attached to my laptop. This is a bitwise clone of the Photos Import drive, so this also has the geolocation modifications.
  4. On my laptop, in the local Apple Photos photo library. The app renames the photos along the way, and stores them in its own private library location. You can still export “unmodified originals”, but good luck finding where the app stores them in its own internal folder structure.
  5. In my iCloud photos library, on Apple’s servers, from where I can view them on my iPhone and iPad, and share them with others.
  6. Bonus location 6: because hard disks should always come in pairs, I have another external SSD that is the clone of my laptop’s internal SSD. Again, I run a scheduled task with SuperDuper to give me a bootable drive that is a bit-for-bit copy of everything on the laptop itself, which includes the Apple Photos library.
  7. Bonus location 7: because the SSDs are attached directly to my laptop, everything on them gets added to my online backup with Backblaze (US$ 7 per month)
  8. Bonus location 8: likewise, the Apple Photos library on my laptop is also automatically backed up to Backblaze.

I’m not paranoid. I’m protected.

Apple Photos

Once the JPEGs photos have been imported, I tend to arrange them into Albums based on the import for the event/occasion/date, named with the date of the event/occasion in them (in YYYYMMDD format) and arrange those albums into folders by year, so:

  • 2022
    • 20221225 Christmas Day
    • 20221226 Walk in Amsterdamse Bos
    • etc.

You’d think that this would make it easier for the app to keep all these albums sorted in a sensible order, but apparently not 🍎🤷‍♂️. It’s good enough most of the time, though.

For imports from the Fuji, if I’ve been taking photos of birds or people, I’ll generally have a lot of bursts of consecutive photos. I cull these in Apple Photos, actually deleting the JPEGs I don’t want. It’s not so much that I want to save space in my cloud storage (I have 2TB, which is plenty for this workflow, for now) – it’s more that it helps keep the most important photos easily to hand.

This is the library from which Apple selects “memories” to display on my home screen, and where I look back to find my favourite photos of a year, or an individual event. I don’t typically need a dozen burst shots of a magpie taking off – it’s enough for me to just keep the best one. The fact that the originals (and the RAW versions) are still available on the SD card and on the SSDs if I need them is good enough.

Photo processing

Here’s the thing: I don’t generally process my photos very much once I finally get them into Apple Photos. I may make small tweaks to exposure, black levels and contrast, and I’ll often crop images. But I don’t do any extensive editing of the because I don’t know how. Yet.

I’d like to learn how to do more with the RAW files, but there’s a bit of a learning curve. Adobe Lightroom is one fo the standard tools in this space, but I’d like to avoid Adobe software if I can, because I dislike how it leaves behind background tasks and doesn’t clean up after itself. Capture One might be an alternative. I also don’t always appreciate subscription software, so I might give Exposure X7 a try.

In all of these cases I would probably benefit from a computer refresh. My current laptop is a 2013 MacBook Pro, which means it’s coming up on 10 years old. It was top-of-the line when I bought it, and it still works fine for most of my daily use, but it is starting to struggle with my photo library. On the occasions when I do open up a RAW file, it’s noticeably slow. I’ve replaced the battery pack in it once already, and I can tell from the slightly bulbous bottom plate (spicy pillows) and mere 2-hour battery life that it’s due for another. I’m trying to hold out as long as I can, though, because these things are expensive

Nice things 2022

Will there ever be a year that I look back on and go, “wow, that was an amazing year”? It would be nice. 2022 was miserable at work for the first eight months, but I turned things around by changing roles in September. In the first half of the year we were working hard to get Fiona ready to leave the house, move to Scotland and start college. This was a great achievement for her, but it was hard work for all of us. The kitchen renovation is wonderful now that it’s finished, but we were living in a construction site for the whole of October and November, and the actual process of buying the kitchen from Ikea and arranging everything was far from easy.

Actually, those were three things that were hard, but with a good outcome at the end of them. I guess we enjoy things more when we have to work hard for them?

Photography: I continue to enjoy the FujiFilm X-T20 I bought last year. This year I added two more (second-hand) lenses to my setup: an XC 50-230mm f4.5-6.7 and an XF 16-80mm F4. It took me a while to get used to both of them, and to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. I still don’t think I’m all the way there, but I’ve had some nice bird shots with the 50-230, and some great portraits with the 16-80. At the 16mm end it’s nice and wide for landscape, architecture, and group shots, while at 80mm it gets in close for faces. I took it with me as my do-everything lens on my work trip to New York and New Jersey in September. One evening our team took a trip out to the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey. There were no races that day, but we wandered out of the stadium towards the track just around sunset, and the golden hour gave me some of the best portraits I’ve ever taken.

Black and white portrait photo of Abi. She is positioned on the right of the frame. She is smiling widely, showing teeth, with her eyes niched closed behind her rectangular-framed reading glasses.
Abi in Dwingelerveld. FujiFilm 16-55 F2.8 @ 32mm

In March Abi and I took a trip to Drenthe. We stayed at the Van Der Valk Hotel Spier-Dwingeloo and spent a couple of days walking around the national park Dwingelerveld. I had rented a couple of nice lenses from BudgetCam for the weekend, Fuji’s super-sharp XF 16-55 F2.8, and the ultra-wide XF 10-24 F4. I’ve never played with a lens that wide before, and whenever I attached it I would just kind of giggle a lot and exclaim about how much I could get in frame. The 10-24 is expensive, and it wouldn’t be my typical everyday lens, but I could see myself getting an ultra-wide prime at some point to add to my kit.

The radio telescope at Dwingelerveld against a clear blue sky. In the foreground are five display boards showing images from the construction, history, and scientific uses of the telescope.
The radio telescope at Dwingelerveld, shot at 10mm ultra-wide.

Photography as a hobby just continues to give me a lot of enjoyment. Obsessing over the gear, the mental focus I get when I’m concentrating on taking pictures, and going over the pictures afterwards to curate (and sometimes process) them. I’d be surprised if I didn’t talk myself into picking up another lens or two in 2023, but I’m not sure what they would be. An ultra-wide prime, if I can get one cheaply. Given my interest in portraits, the XF 56mm f1.2 R WR looks amazing, but also expensive. The older version of the lens, which doesn’t have weather sealing also has a great reputation, and is available second-hand for much less. (But do I want to be future-proof, and only choose lenses can resolve the full 40MP of Fuji’s new sensors in the X-T5 and X-H2, in case I want to upgrade at some point…?) The XF 150-600mm f5.6-8 would be spectacular for birds and wildlife, but at €2000 also way too spendy. Renting it for a weekend, now, that’s a different matter…

Something else I want to spend time on in 2023 is learning how to process my photos better. I’m going to write something soon about my current photo workflow, which I’m happy enough with for now, but which I know can be improved.

Plug-in electricity meter: Energy prices have been on quite a journey this year. To keep an eye on my personal electricity usage I bought a couple of plug-in pass-through electricity meters, and used them at my desk for a while to see how much all my devices were using. I found the results eye-opening. With electricity prices here hitting almost a Euro per kWh in the autumn, even a Mac Mini acting as a media server, idling along at about 25W most of the time runs at €0.60 a day, or about €18 a month. Those kind of numbers add up pretty quickly.

Generic pass-through electricity meter

Even though we’ve got a ton of solar panels and our net electricity consumption is low, using these meters has made me a lot more conscious about turning off devices completely, or putting them into proper sleep mode rather than just letting them idle. (Another example: our old subwoofer was sipping about 10W in idle mode. The “off” switch was inaccessible. The new “temporary” subwoofer idles around 9W, but it has an “off” switch on the front, and I use it.)

Kühl Konfidant Air Hiking trousers: Bought these at Tiso in Aviemore when we were there in the summer. They’re lightweight, comfortable, fold up very small for limited-luggage situations, don’t restrict movement, have lots of pockets, and they look good on me. I have a Kühl sweater my parents bought for me over ten years ago, and it’s still one of my favourite items. If these trousers last even half as long (and if I can keep my weight to a level where I can still fit into them) I’ll be delighted. I’ wore them a lot on holiday, and since then’ve work them a lot.

Creative Image Adore 112 Indigo Blue hair dye: Back in the early 2000s I used to bleach my hair, but I haven’t done anything else with it until this year. Then I dyed my hair blue just ahead of seeing Set It Off in Utrecht in November. Doing something off-beat like this is fun because I like the way it looks, but also because I like the way people react. All the way from “I didn’t think you were the kind of person who would…” to “wow, that looks great”. I’ve never had complete strangers comment on my hair before. I could take the wind out of my own sails and figure that it’s only because blue hair is extraordinary for “men of my age”. Or I could figure that I just look plain fabulous.

Man in blue

Abi trimmed my hair yesterday, and I re-dyed it today, six weeks after the first time. The original colour had faded significantly over time, going from a super vibrant blue in the first week to a lighter and shade after a week or two, but as new (greyish brown) hair growth came through and the blue discoloured even more, yesterday’s trimmings had a slightly greenish-yellow undertone. So going six weeks without a refresh is probably pushing it.

Today I didn’t go to the effort of re-bleaching it beforehand. The colour effect is very different. It’s much darker, and it looks, well, like I applied colour on top of existing colour. If I want to keep up the ultra-vibrant look, it seems that I’ll have to trim, bleach, and colour once a month. That seems like a lot of work! Before I grew out my beard in 2020 I could barely be bothered to shave even once a week. We’ll see how this balance works out over time.

Sonos One SL speaker: In the old kitchen we didn’t have a lot of work surface space to lay things down. We also didn’t have very many power sockets on the walls. But in the new kitchen we do. Because I like listening to music or podcasts if I’m cooking, I wanted to get a speaker that would be an improvement over playing audio through my phone’s old and tinny speakers. The Sonos One SL is connected via wifi, but it doesn’t have a voice assistant built in. Our household prefers not to have our devices listening in on our conversations all the time. I waited for Black Friday deals at the end of November, and got a unit for just over €100. It works with Spotify Connect, so I can just push any Spotify music straight to it, and it works seamlessly with Apple’s Airplay as well. Alex commented on its heavy V-shaped sound signature, but I’m not too concerned about an audiophile hi-fi experience in the kitchen. I think it sounds just fine.

Airpods Pro 2: Abi got me these for Christmas. I’ve had a pair of the original Airpods Pro since early 2020. I use them for hours of video calls at work every day, and also for listening to music and podcasts, so I’m very familiar with their performance and sound profile. The Airpods Pro 2 are significantly better, and the difference was noticeable from the moment I first popped them in my ears. The noise cancellation is far better. Transparency mode, where it passes through sound from the outside world is amazingly better – it sounds almost like I’m not wearing earbuds at all. Turning off the active noice cancellation features entirely illustrates how much sound is cut out by the physical plugs. Toggling between that and transparency mode is just mind-boggling. The increased battery life (6 hours?) is also welcome because my old ones were only giving me about 2 hours on a full charge.

Highland Holiday Cottages just off the A9 near Kingussie: We rented one of their cottages for a week in August, and it was delightful. The house was comfortable for all of us (although the showers were weak), and the location was hard to beat. Close enough to the A9 for easy access, but out of the way enough for peace and quiet. Decent internet access. Lovely walks nearby right from the doorstep. Kingussie only ten minutes away for shopping, and Aviemore about half an hour away for the cinema, more extensive shopping, and even Escape Rooms.

Abi resting near a cairn on the hike up Cruban Beag
At the top of Cruban Beag

LogSeq: I mentioned in my mixed media post in October that I’d started using LogSeq for note-taking at work. I feel slightly surprised that I’m actually still using it. I’m not generally big on “productivity tools.” Over the years I’ve tried a variety of tools for taking notes and keeping track of todo items, and none of them have stuck. LogSeq, on the other hand, seems to have found a niche for me – at least for now.

The way I’m using it is heavily skewed towards its journalling feature. I try to scribble down bullet-points of events and thoughts throughout the day: notable conversations, interesting findings and links, screenshots of the talking heads on Zoom calls to quickly track who was present. (Being able to paste an image straight from the clipboard — cmd + ctrl + shift + 4 on the Mac — into a note is essential.)

I also use it to keep track of my to-do list. I start each daily journal with a bullet-pointed list of my active to-do items, indicated with a finger-pointing emoji 👉🏻. If I start to work on one, I’ll change that to a walker/runner 🏃‍♂️, and when it’s done I mark it with a tick ✅. If an item becomes obsolete, I use a cross ❌. If I add an item, it starts with a “+” in front of the 👉🏻.

Each morning I copy the previous day’s list, and paste it as the first item on the new day’s journal. I remove any completed items, and I remove any “+” signs from items that were added the previous day. And the cycle begins again. I tend to think of a “good” day as one where I finish more items than I added, but I’m not sure if that’s a healthy mindset, or if it’s leading to me feeling frustrated about the days where I add more than I cross off. What I do know is that for the first time in a long while I feel “sufficiently organized”, and don’t find myself falling back to sticky notes pasted all over my desk and my notebook. And although I do still keep a notebook next to my keyboard at all times, I find myself using it less than I used to. I find the change interesting, and I’m curious to see if I keep up the habit in the new year.

Although I’ve started using it on my home laptop for taking academic notes, it feels cumbersome in that arena. Several classmates swear by Zotero, and I might give that a try instead.

Miscellaneous Other Stuff:

  • Having high blood pressure: not nice 👎🏻 🥴
  • Getting back to live music again: nice. 👍🏻🎶
  • Marathon walk around Amsterdam: nice 👍🏻🚶🏼‍♂️
  • Jules & Becca’s wedding in July: nice 👍🏻 💍
  • Taking the Eurostar train directly from Amsterdam to London: nice 👍🏻 🇬🇧 🚅 🇳🇱 🇪🇺
  • Coming back from that trip with Covid: very not nice 👎🏻 😷🤢🤒
  • Seeing family in Scotland on a big family visit again: nice 👍🏻 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 🚗 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦
  • ROAD TRIPS: mixed feelings. 😐 🚗 👨‍👩‍👦
  • 3M Aura 9330+ FFP3 masks: nice, very comfortable 👍🏻 😷
  • Visiting New Jersey for the first time: nice 👍🏻 🇺🇸
  • Visiting a Panda Express for the first time, and trying their famous (meatless) orange chicken 👍🏻 🇺🇸 🐼 🍊🐓
  • Managing to find a new Levis denim shirt in New York when every outlet in NL was out of stock: nice 👍🏻 🇺🇸👖
  • Walking up the New Jersey side of the Hudson to the George Washington Bridge: nice 👍🏻 🇺🇸 🌁
  • Magnetic knife rack rather than a wooden knife block: nice 👍🏻 🔪
  • Finishing the last of the taught modules (Employee Relations & Motivation) on the OP course: nice 👍🏻 📚
  • Making the decision to defer my research project by a year: nice (I’m getting an inside view of how my classmates are tackling it, without actually doing it myself. This will help me be better prepared next year.) 👍🏻 📚📑
  • My parents moving to North Berwick: nice 👍🏻 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿
  • Travelling in to Edinburgh on the train from North Berwick: nice 👍🏻 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 🚆
  • Mastodon: nice 👍🏻 🐘

Mixed media, Saturday 31 December 2022

Two mixed media posts in one year. Gosh.

The Lazarus Project was one of my favourite shows this year

Episodic Video (“TV”)

  • Legion season 2 || Did not finish. The novelty of the first season was gone; the characters were scattered; I wasn’t invested in the grand story arc. Got bored after a couple of episodes.
  • Mr Inbetween || Did not finish. Australian low-key character-based dark comedy about a hit man and how he integrated his job with his life. I liked it, but it didn’t draw me in enough to keep coming back for the next episode.
  • The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season 1 || Watched three episodes, but did not finish. I had hoped to enjoy this, but it felt too affected, and the plot didn’t move quickly enough. Was watching this while sick with Covid, so missing half my brain might have played a part as well. Don’t feel inclined to go back to it, though.
  • Bosch season 1 || Won’t finish. I’ve read and enjoyed several of Michael Connelly’s books about Harry Bosch, and I find Titus Welliver compelling on screen, but episode 1 of this was outright copaganda and super hard to watch.
  • The Boys season 3 || Keeps on digging deeper into how horrible these superheroes are.
  • ⭐️ She-Hulk season 1 || Fun. I like the version of Jennifer Walters Marvel has out together for the TV show. It’s bright and quirky and the season was short without feeling (too) awkward. Although it wasn’t entirely out of place, I thoroughly disliked the finale. Breaking the fourth wall, yes, super-self-referential in-jokes, maybe not.
  • ⭐️ The Old Man season 1 || Good. I enjoyed Jeff Bridges as a grizzled, long-retired spy, and John Lithgow as his handler. Great pair of actors they found for the younger selves as well. I enjoy this kind of low-key spy drama, with occasional action, to giant big-budget slug-fests. I think I would have preferred it if they’d wrapped up the story in a single mini-series with an actual ending, though.
  • ⭐️ The House of the Dragon season 1 || Yeah, good. Happy to keep watching this to see where it goes.
  • ⭐️ The Peripheral season 1 || Based on William Gibson’s book, which I loved. I enjoyed seeing some of the very vivid characters brought to life on screen. This is a great adaptation, but just like The Old Man, I wish they’d wrapped it up with an actual ending.
  • ⭐️ The Lazarus Project season 1 || Time loops + secret agents? Sign me up. I adored this. Episode 3 is thoroughly harrowing, though – content warning for all parents. Just like The Old Man and The Peripheral, I regret the choice to end the season on a cliffhanger, but this one feels more like a natural jumping-off point to a new chapter of the story, whereas those other two shows just failed to end.
  • ⭐️ The Undeclared War season 1 || Near-future thriller that isn’t so much a spy thriller as a surveillance and intelligence thriller. But that’s what makes it feel very realistic. These are the trenches of information warfare.
  • War of the Worlds season 3 || This third season criss-crosses two parallel timelines that were created by the time-travel device at the end of season 2. It’s fine, but compared to the first two seasons this felt perfunctory and tacked-on.
  • ⭐️ Dead to Me season 3 || This third season wrapped up all the threads from the first two seasons in a satisfying and gentle way, but with a sense of inevitable sadness that it could never have a truly happy ending.
  • ⭐️ Andor || Amazing. It feels grounded in a way that other Star Wars properties completely don’t. This is helped by the fact that they used very visible real-world locations with (retro-)futuristic appearances for some of their sets (e.g. the Barbican in London, the Cruachan Dam near Loch Awe in Scotland), and seamlessly enhanced them with digital effects. But the story is low-powered (no Jedi), and it skims the borderlines of grimy and shiny, rich and poor, corrupt and principled in a way that no Star Wars show or film has done before. It was a bit like Captain America: The Winter Soldier in that sense. After watching two seasons ot The Mandalorian I was bored with the setting. After one season of Andor I want more of it.
  • Archer season 11 || I keep watching this. By this point it’s neither good nor bad, it just kind of exists?
  • ⭐️ Star Trek Picard season 2 || Even though they abandoned far-off planets in favour of exploring the strange new world of present-day Los Angeles, I found this compelling. The story felt more cohesive than season 1, although building up the character of Kore only to have her whisked away in the finale felt like a bit of a cheat. Maybe this means she’ll be back in season 3?


  • ⭐️ Govert Schilling – De Olifant In Het Universum (The Elephant in the Universe) || I came across this book on Tim Bray’s blog. It’s a history of the scientists and scientific theories of dark matter. Because Govert Schilling is a Dutch science writer, I figured I might as well read the book in Dutch rather than in an English translation. However, when I actually got the book I discovered in the afterword that he’d written the book in English originally, and the Dutch version is the translation. Oh well, nice try. It’s a good book, although perhaps a little unsatisfying in the sense that we still don’t know what dark matter actually is. It’s the first whole book I’ve read in Dutch in a long time.
  • ⭐️ Richard Osman – The Bullet That Missed || Third in the Thursday Murder Club series. Lightweight and fun, intricately plotted.
  • Mick Herron – Bad Actors || Another in the Slough House series. I remember enjoying this when I read it, but looking at it now I can hardly remember anything at all about it. I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or a bad one. On the one hand, enjoyment is good, and I’m happy to encourage myself to read books that I can go through super quickly, because it reinforces the long-form reading habit, which I fear I’m in danger of losing. On the other hand, “not very memorable” isn’t exactly high praise, is it?
  • Oliver Darkshire – Once Upon A Tome: The Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller || A collection of quirky little autobiographical stories about the author getting a job at Sotheran’s in London, and learning the ins and outs of the trade. Reads like a collection of blog articles, or Twitter threads. A few good laughs, but I’d hoped for a bit more depth.
  • ⭐️ Harry Connolly – The Flood Circle || This follows on immediately from The Iron Gate. With this book Harry is rolling towards the endgame for the Twenty Palaces series. I don’t think I’m giving much away if I say this book ends on a cliffhanger, which is normally a big no-no for me unless I’ve got the next one lined up. But I’m invested in the series, and I really want to see how he lands this. In The Flood Circle we learn a lot more about Ray and Annalise, and get clues about the original spellbooks: how they might not be what they seem, and how the Twenty Palaces society might not be as knowledgeable as they seem. (Tangentially, I ordered this book and its predecessor in paperback, through Amazon, where they were fulfilled as print-on-demand books. I was impressed by how quickly it was generated and arrived on my doorstep. The interior printing and binding were fine, but the card stock used for the cover is very prone to curling. After handling it for just a little while, the covers just seem to peel open like a banana.)
Harry Connolly – The Flood Circle


  • Day Shift || Forgettable vampire hunt. Only slightly enlivened by the presence of Snoop Dogg as a bad-ass cowboy vampire hunter. Pity he’s just a minor supporting character.
  • Werewolf By Night || Fun little black-and-white Halloween snack.
  • 💩💩 Moonfall || Bad. Very bad. There’s a cool idea behind the film (moon’s haunted), and I’m sure there was a shooting script, and that they took a lot of footage… but then they reassembled it in a random order? Like a lego kit dropped on the floor and then rebuilt without the original instructions. While drunk. In darkened room. Wearing gloves.
  • ⭐️ Prey || Predator movie set in 1719, on the North American plains, with native American protagonists. Simple but effective – a classic cat-and-mouse thriller, fantastically executed.
  • ⭐️ Thirteen Lives || Ron Howard’s adaptation of the story a group of boys who got trapped by flooding inside the Tham Luang cave system in Thailand in 2018. This is an incredibly tense film. It does an amazing job of portraying the scale and difficulty of the rescue effort. Filming this must have been an enormous technical challenge, but the film never tries to be a show-off. Howard keeps the focus on the individuals, the danger they’re in, and the risks they were taking. (Similar to Apollo 13, in that sense.)
  • Margin Call || I hadn’t seen this before, but in the wake of the crypto collapse and the spectacular demise of FTX, it felt appropriate to track it down. Just like The Big Short, Margin Call is set in the heart of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. The Big Short tries to tell a bigger story, and explores just how big a hole the crisis created, while Margin Call focuses on just a handful of people in a single firm, watching disaster strike them personally in the course of a single day. It carefully selects which characters are worthy of a small amount of empathy, and which ones get painted as ruthlessly detached monsters. It feels very real, but also horribly dispassionate and bloodless, and free of the cosequences we know played out in the real world.
  • 💩Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special || Take human trafficking and make it fun. Take Mantis and Drax and make them even more cringe. Not the worst addition to the MCU, but … actually it might be.
  • ⭐️ Glass Onion || Rian Johnson takes aim squarely at Elon Musk in this follow-up to Knives Out, and given that this film was in the making long before Musk’s catastrophic 2022, this looks wonderfully insightful and prescient. (The new insights into Benoit Blanc’s character are wonderful, and I can’t wait to see more of him. My main issue with the film is that every piece of it goes on for too long. It takes too long to get to the island, it takes too long for the murder to happen, the flashback sequence is more of a film-within-a-film than a peek behind the scenes while the detective does the big reveal, the comeuppance sequence takes forever and ultimately feels like a soft landing for the villain, although that’s perhaps part of the overall critique of the ultra-rich. I eagerly await more Benoit Blanc, but I hope future iterations will be a little more tightly constructed (like the original Knives Out).
  • Wakanda Forever || Still digesting this. Just like Glass Onion, I thought it was slow, and went on for too long. I’m ambivalent about setting the kingdoms of Wakanda and Talokan at each others’ throats. Given that we see UN members being willing to violate Wakanda’s generosity and attempting to steal vibranium, and that there seems to be a developing narrative setting up Director de Fontaine as a new subversive Hydra-like authoritarian force, it feels our heroes are being fooled into losing sight of who the real enemy is. Maybe that’s the point? But I found the big battle between Wakanda and Talokan to be more distressing that thrilling. Beautiful production design, though.


  • ⭐️ Horizon Forbidden West || I re-played Horizon Zero Dawn before tackling the new game, and I didn’t play it as soon as it was released (18 February) because I didn’t want it to get in the way of my last exam. But once everything was wrapped up, I played the heck out of this. I didn’t quite 100% it. After getting Covid in July, followed by going away on holiday in August, I hadn’t played for about a month, and found it a bit hard to go back to. But according to the PlayStation clock I had logged 103h and 15m by the time I finished it. Good game, good value. I’m looking forward to the DLC next year, but I don’t think I’ll play through the whole game again in the run-up to its launch. (I’m curious to see where the DLC will be positioned in the game’s timeline as well – I hope it comes after the endgame.)
  • ⭐️ Stray || Cat game! Short (about 5-6 hours) exploration and puzzle-solving game in a post-apocalyptic world filled with robots with video screens for faces.
  • ⭐️ Hades || Haven’t finished this yet, but I’m still enjoying it. I find it holds my attention for a run or two, and then I’ve had enough for the day. But the structure of the game means that I still make a little bit of progress each time, and then come back the next day. Lovely graphics.