Category Archives: News

Opus 500: And Time For A Break

This post is the 500th I’ve made since I fired up this blog back in 2015, during which time there hasn’t been a single week without a post of one kind or another. It’s been great fun, and if anything I have more ideas for posts now than I’ve ever had, but this seems like a suitable moment at which to declare a hiatus—with apologies to the person who subscribed to the blog last week!

I’ve other projects I want to get into, and they’re of a nature that even I can’t turn into a blog post—though they may feed into posts at a later date. And there’s the “problem” that the posts have, over the years, becoming increasing long-form, because I’m fundamentally a long-form kind of guy. They take more writing and editing, and the illustrations take more work, all of which is pleasant enough but cramps my space for other endeavours. And the website itself, after eight years of posts, now occupies 3.5GB on a server somewhere in California, and needs a bit of maintenance work under the bonnet. So there’s going to be a gap for a while, and then a more sporadic approach to posting thereafter.

I’ve just taken a look at the various categories and subject tags assigned to the last 499 posts. My top five categories have been Reading (115), Walking (109), Words (101), Phenomena (81) and Building (70). The top ten tags are Hills (95), Etymology (83), Science Fiction (64), Spaceflight (52), Aviation (44), History (37), Astronomy (30), Apollo (25), Physics (23) and Optics (23). That all feels about right, in terms of my preoccupations since the blog started, though I’m vaguely surprised that I’ve only inflicted 25 posts about the Apollo missions on my Loyal Readers.

Phenomena is the category that has diverged most from what I’d originally imagined. Originally planned to concentrate mainly on natural phenomena in the outdoors, it quickly branched out to include topics relating to animal vision, calendar reform, special relativity, orbital mechanics, and what would happen if you fell down a tunnel through the centre of the Earth. It has also been the category that has generated the most communication—from scientists, artists, space buffs, and people with interesting photographs to share.

Words started off being about obscure and interesting words, but mutated to cover “words in the news” (who, in the last few years, didn’t wonder about prorogation, impeach, and corona?), letters from foreign alphabets, and puzzling phrases like “begging the question”. In terms of visits from Google searches, the surprising winners in this category have been my little series of posts about Latin plural nouns in English.

On the topic of web-search hits, I’m mildly irked that some of my simplest images get the most traffic. Two images that get multiple hits every day are my annotated galaxy map, knocked off in a few minutes as a joke, and my extended table of SI unit prefixes.

Location of our sun in Milky Way galaxy
Click to enlarge
Base map: NASA / JPL-Caltech / R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech)
SI prefixes table, 2022
Click to enlarge

Meanwhile, the pretty, time-consuming and unusual stuff, like my detailed charts of blue moons and supermoons, languish relatively unclicked. Sigh.

As well as helping me organize my thoughts on a variety of topics, the blog has been mentioned by various other bloggers, from the philosophical to the flaky; cited by Wikipedia; translated into French (well, one page); quoted as a blurb for Greg Egan’s novel Dichronauts; referenced in the textbook Maths for Chemistry (though on a topic that has nothing to do with maths or chemistry); and has attracted the attention of one conspiracy theorist (though not, as you might expect, a believer in the “Apollo Hoax”).

And it has also attracted a steady trickle of contact from old friends and colleagues, all of whom have been entirely unsurprised to find me still expatiating on obscure topics for my own entertainment. It’s been nice to hear from them, and some of them may even still be reading some of what I have to say.

To them, and to the couple of hundred other folk who have subscribed to the blog, and to those who just drop by from time to time to see what I’m on about this week, I’d like to say thanks for your attention and indulgence over the years.

’Bye for now, for a while—see you later.

Impending Transfer To New E-mail Notification Provider (Update)

A couple of weeks ago I made the shift from Feedburner to as the provider of my e-mail notifications—more about that here. That seems to have gone fine, as far as I can tell. But it also seems to have been unusually prescient on my part. I’ve just received word from Feedburner that they will stop serving e-mail notifications in July—more on that here.

So I’d have been forced into this change within a few months anyway, and I’m rather glad I was able to approach it in the leisurely fashion I did, rather than having to find another solution under time pressure.

But let me know if you’re having any problems with the new notifications, either by using the Contact form or by commenting here.

Impending Transfer To New E-mail Notification Provider

In the next week or two, I’m planning to shift the provider of my e-mail notifications from the increasingly creaky Feedburner to the service at Feedburner has been a little flaky recently, and a couple of weeks ago I had to resynch it with my RSS feeds to get it to send out any e-mails at all—some of you will have suddenly received a long list of previous posts, rather than the usual single notification of a new post.

The service is a feed aggregator, which pulls in RSS feeds from multiple sites (including mine) and serves them up on a single website. But it also does the job, like Feedburner, of sending out e-mail notifications to its users when new content is posted on a subscribed site. E-mail subscribers don’t need to interact with the site at all (unless they want to), except when they sign up for an e-mail notification, and when they unsubscribe—you can do the latter at any time by following an “unsubscribe” link at the head of the notification e-mail. You can also use the “Manage Your Feeds” button at the bottom of the e-mail to make some changes to how you receive notifications, and also to further filter your notifications using the subject tags I add to each post, or by defining your own keywords.

If you subscribed to my blog via the WordPress “Follow” button, this change won’t affect you. If you currently get your e-mail notifications from Feedburner, then at some time in the next couple of weeks you should notice a change in the origin and format of the e-mail (I think it looks prettier). The process might kick off with a single e-mail containing links to the last ten posts in the blog or category you’ve subscribed to, but it will settle down after that. Honest.

Your initial e-mails will (so they tell me) contain a link allowing you to formally confirm that you’re happy to receive notification e-mails from them, but the e-mails will keeping coming to you even if you don’t confirm (so they tell me)—unless, of course, you elect to unfollow.

You can look at‘s privacy policy here, which is GDPR-compliant.

Five Years On …

I’m posting this on 13 November 2020, which is the first Friday 13th in November for five years—two leap years and three normal years have pushed the 13th right through all seven days of the week, in nudges of one or two days per year. This has significance for me because it was on Friday 13 November 2015 that this blog went live, which was also the day on which the Boon Companion and I retired.

On that day, I posted a couple of mind maps. One was a map of how I had been filling my time when not engaged with friends and family, food and shelter.

Mind map with work
With work

The other was the same map, with “work” removed.

Mind map without work
Without work!

To me, it looked like I wouldn’t be left short of stuff to fill my day with. And I wrote:

This blog is about how that network of stuff is actually working out for me. You’ll find the labels from my diagram cropping up as items on the blog menu. As time goes by, I’m guessing that some of those items will generate more activity than others. I have no idea which will flourish and which will fade, but I hope that you find something of interest in there.

In my One Year and Two Year updates, I reported that things were going well. After that point, even my most sceptical friends and ex-colleagues seemed to accept that my step-transition into retirement as winter approached, without tapering my workload, having attended no special courses, and devoid of any particular plan, might just have worked out. It’s probably two years since anyone has frowned seriously and intoned, “Well, it’s maybe still too early to be sure …”

A lot of strange stuff, impossible to imagine in 2015, has happened, of course. I wouldn’t have anticipated writing about topical words that included “prorogation” and “impeachment“, or “isolated” and “immunity“, for instance. And the whole “Oikofuge” conceit has taken a bit of a battering this year, with foreign travel not really worth the hassle (not to mention the potential for unnecessary excitement) for most of 2020. So the oikofugic bits of the blog have been largely confined to off-piste hillwalking, and my general tendency to wander off in odd directions from any given topic.

But the blog, combined with the topics in my little mind-map, have worked well. I’ve found that researching and writing about something that interests me is a good way to convince myself that I understand it, helps me remember it, and provides a useful reference source when I later revisit the topic.

And it has gradually become useful to that minuscule proportion of the world’s population who share my interests. I know you’re not going to believe this, but there seems to be a surprising number of people who are interested in the Coriolis effect in rotating space habitats, plastic models of the Saturn V rocket, the celestial view from relativistic starships, the geography of the glen drowned by Loch Mullardoch, the exact orientation of bits of Apollo hardware, the use of Ordnance Survey data in Geographical Information Systems, and the curious history of the word antiagathic. Among other things. Some readers contact me directly, some post public comments, and some link to my stuff from their stuff. It all adds to the interest. And my book reviews have prompted (so far, friendly) contacts from authors or from their families. Quotes from my reviews have appeared on publisher’s websites, and on one occasion in the inside cover of a later edition of the book itself. A couple of my posts have allowed people to get in contact with each other through the comments section, and my review of Brian Lecomber’s fiction has now turned into a location where people feel free to post their memories of the man.

I’ve so far attracted only one conspiracy theorist, which is not bad going, considering that I’ve posted regularly about the Apollo missions to the moon. And it wasn’t an Apollo Hoax nut, but a devotee of a conspiracy theory of quite breathtaking obscurity.

The hill-walking stuff has also seen an increasing amount of traffic—I can practically chart the dates on which particular posts graduate to the first page of a Google search. That’s not bad, given how much stuff is already out there about the Scottish hills, but it would appear that my concentration on obscure hills and unusual routes commands some sort of audience.

And then there’s “Biggles FRCA“. I posted the text of that little piece on a whim, mainly because I was slightly irked to see it circulating on social media, uncredited and full of typographical errors. My desire to take back possession has been fulfilled—the copy here at Oikofuge has finally crept to pole position in the Google search results. It also sees regular pulses of traffic from Facebook and Twitter. And it has recently, quite literally, taken on a life of its own, in the form of @BigglesFrca. I’ve interpreted that as an homage, but have also posted a little disclaimer at the head of the “Biggles FRCA” page. Whoever it is, it isn’t me. (And, quite frankly, shame on those of you who, even for a moment, imagined that it might be …)

I’m not short of ideas, so the blog will likely chug along for a while yet. Thanks to everyone who has dropped by to say hello, to comment, or to ask questions over the years.

Sub Sea To Summit (Update)

Sub Sea To Summit - Ben Nevis in a diving suit
Click to enlarge

They made it, and in an astonishingly short time—they conquered Ben Nevis while wearing an 80-kilogram diving suit, and reached their original crowdfunding target.

You can take a look at more photos (and give some money if you haven’t already), at the Sub Sea To Summit JustGiving webpage:

Sub Sea To Summit

So I’ve told you before about my friend Ginge Fullen, and his distinctly epic conquests of the highest points of every country in Europe and in Africa. You can find more about that in his interview over at the 7 Summits Project, and in my reviews of his two books Finding Bikku Bitti and Sic Diximus.

Ginge has a background as a Royal Navy clearance diver, so it was perhaps inevitable that his diving and mountaineering interests would come together at some point. I just didn’t expect them to come together like this:

Sub Sea to Summit poster
Click to enlarge

Yeah—he (and three companions, in relays) is climbing the highest mountain in Britain while wearing an 80-kilogram nineteenth-century diving suit. Starting from five metres below sea level.

Here’s Ginge as a young man, modelling the gear:

Ginge Fullen in historical diving gear

(No, he’s not actually so old that he operated in this stuff back in the days of black-and-white photography. The photo was taken in the 1980s.) *

The publicity information for this bonkers challenge is given below, with a clickable link to the project’s JustGiving page at the end, should you care to sponsor the event. Proceeds go to the Lochaber Mountain Rescue (which operates on Ben Nevis), the Historical Diving Society, and the family of Saman Kunan, the Thai Navy Diver who died during the recent rescue of 12 boys and their football coach, trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand.

A never before… and probably never again walk up Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain in Historical Diving Equipment weighing over 80 kg (176lbs). The ‘walk’ starts on the 1st September 2018 and will be done in a relay between several different people; taking an expected 4 to 5 days to complete. It will begin at minus 5 metres in Loch Linnhe and finish at 1345 metres, the summit of Ben Nevis. A total climb of 1350m or 4,430ft.

The idea came from Ginge Fullen, a former Leading Diver in the Royal Navy’s elite Clearance Diving Branch, who has combined a career in diving with his passion; climbing the highest mountains in more than 170 countries around the world. Ginge wanted to do an expedition so brutal that it will probably never be repeated again so, after meeting up with Ty Burton, from the Historical Diving Society (HDS), these two like-minded people came together to make this challenge happen.

The HDS has come on board supporting the project with both manpower and equipment. All funds raised will be distributed evenly between; The Historical Diving Society, The local Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team (LMRT) and the family of Saman Kunan, the former Thai Navy Diver who tragically died, while taking part in efforts to rescue 12 boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. He lost consciousness on his way out of the Tham Luang cave complex, where he had been delivering emergency air cylinders.

The HDS was formed in 1990 by a group of enthusiasts whose aim is to preserve and protect our diving heritage and to advance the education and interest of the public and other parties in their study of Diving History.

The LMRT depend on the public’s continuing donations and fundraising support as the costs involved in running a mountain rescue team are extremely high. For example, a 800m rope, which might only be safe to use once, costs around £1000.

Please support this physically and mentally demanding challenge by donating today.

* When I went looking for a good quality version of this photo online, to avoid having to scan a rather small version from one of Ginge’s books, I happened upon a web page describing the circumstances under which Ginge earned his Queen’s Gallantry Medal, after the sinking of the Herald Of Free Enterprise. It’s grimly impressive reading.

Two Years On …

At this start of this week, the Boon Companion and I finished two years of retirement, both of us still completely untroubled by this allegedly Major Life Event. To celebrate, we cracked the final bottle of wine in the mixed case I had received as a retirement gift from my colleagues. (Cheers for that, folks.)

I still don’t miss work in the slightest—it has rapidly faded into a background memory, as seemingly remote as university days. The only insight I’ve gained from this airily detached viewpoint is that giving anaesthetics for a living was a very strange way to spend my time. But then, I always had a strong suspicion that was the case.

Some may remember the two mind-maps I drew two years ago, of my then-current and anticipated future activities:

Mind map with work
With work
Mind map without work
Without work!

So that’s all worked out pretty much as planned, with probably a bit more model building and a bit less computer programming than originally anticipated. And while this blog certainly counts as writing, I have yet to buckle down and write anything with the intention of actually selling it, which was a fairly common occurrence in my pre-retirement life. That’s nagging a little, so I may need to do something to rectify it in the coming year.

The blog ticks along, with more readers every month, mostly arriving from search engines. It’s odd what takes off and what doesn’t. A sudden burst of visits from the Netherlands to my Wrangel Island post alerted me to the fact that Dutch television had just screened an episode of Floortje Naar Het Einde Van De Wereld featuring a visit to Wrangel. (The host, Floortje Dessing, had travelled on the same ship with us, along with her cameraman.) My review of Paul McAuley’s “Jackaroo” short stories, which I considered an extremely minority interest at the time I wrote it, is much-visited and now even referenced by Wikipedia.  And there was a minor social-media frenzy in these parts a few months ago, when a former colleague posted a link to “Biggles FRCA” on her Facebook page—suddenly traffic was dropping in from all around the UK, and then started arriving from Canada and Australia, too. The Australians seemed to be particularly taken with Biggles, and I’m still seeing sporadic visits from that part of the world.

In view of the increasing traffic, I’ve fiddled with the blog a bit more in the background—moving it to a new server and doing a few things to reduce the page-loading time. On automated website rating tools, I now have an astonishingly skewed rating—typically scoring pretty highly on page delivery speed, very highly on website security and an absence of broken external links … and zero on social media presence. Well, that’s not going to change any time soon. This is as social as I get.

Cheeky … [Update]

I recently reported how a publisher had used a quote from a book review on this blog on the book’s Amazon pages. But the quote contained an ellipsis that omitted 350 words and four paragraphs, significantly altering the sense of what I’d originally written. The original post is here.

Well, I contacted Amazon to report misleading product information, and got no reply. So I contacted the publishers, Night Shade Books, to take issue with their use of the quote. I got a reply within 24 hours, offering to either remove the quote entirely, or to use a more representative quote. I was happy with the quote they chose, so told them to go ahead—and within another 24 hours they had changed the quote on their own website and revised the Amazon material.  It’s taken a while for the revision to filter through, but the US Amazon pages are now showing the revised content, although UK is lagging.

So that was all quickly and amicably resolved.

Cheeky …

Back in the 1960s, I occasionally used to get access to a copy of Mad magazine. As a simple Dundonian lad I found a lot of it impenetrably American at the time, but I do remember being amused by a feature that purportedly gave examples of how publishers got the quotes for their book covers. It went something like this:

Original review: “I hated this book. It is a great pity it was ever published.”
Cover quote: “this book … is … great”

Ho-ho. Like that could happen.

But recently I was trying to track down the origin of a little cluster of visitors who’d come here to read my review of Greg Egan’s novel, Dichronauts. And I found that his publishers were quoting my review on the book’s Amazon pages. Under Product Description, among a number of other appreciative quotes, here’s what I’m reported to have said:

“I enjoyed this one very much . . . go and buy the book.”―The Oikofuge

Now, if you know me, or if you’ve hung around this blog for long enough, you’ll recognize that as being something I’d actually never say. Even when I do enthusiasm, I don’t do unqualified enthusiasm. So I was a bit puzzled, and I went back to check what I’d written. Here’s the full text of the section quoted; I’ve highlighted the bits that appear in the Amazon quote:

I enjoyed this one very much—in large part because the characters and problems become very engaging as the story progresses, but also because I just liked messing around with the maths. I do think Egan skipped rather lightly over some problems with the physical environment he builds—zeroes and infinities are never too far away. For instance, two objects that are aligned northeast-southwest or southeast-northwest in his world will have a separation of precisely zero, no matter how far they are separated along the north-south and east-west axes. But they will also have zero thickness measured at those 45º angles, no matter how wide they are north-south and east-west, so they shouldn’t collide—the world just seems to go a little indeterminate at those special limiting angles. And it’s not clear what actually happens to a vertical object that falls to the south or north. It gets longer as it topples, certainly, but it shouldn’t be able to get closer to the ground than a 45º tilt. Egan refers to this situation a couple of times but doesn’t get into detail. I think what he envisages happening is that the endlessly lengthening and thinning object breaks up into sections under the differential torque of gravity (like a toppling factory chimney), and then the broken sections fall vertically to the ground with minimal farther rotation. toppling chimney

But these tilted segments should then start to undergo their own asymptotic lengthening …

And I do think there may be a problem with this novel if you’re not a special-relativity junkie, like me. While the odd spacetime of Orthogonal was only an occasional intrusion in the narrative, which could be skimmed over, the counterintuitive spacetime distortion in Dichronauts is front-and-centre, influencing plot and the characters’ behaviour on every page. It may simply be too weird an environment for a reader who doesn’t enjoy playing with maths a little.

So the question is: when I described those exotic spacetime axes, did you perk up and want more detail? Maybe feel the need for a graph? In that case, take a look at Egan’s website, and then go and buy the book.

That’s remarkable, isn’t it? The ellipsis in the publisher’s quote conceals 350 words, four paragraphs and an illustration! In which I provided a lot of information qualifying both my enjoyment of the book and my purchase recommendation.

Cheeky is perhaps too mild a word for that elision, but we’ll go with it until I think of something better.

I’ve reported the quote to Amazon as “inaccurate product information”. I’ll let you know what happens.

Update: I got no joy from Amazon, so I contacted the publisher directly, with good results I describe in this post.

A Sidlaws Gazetteer

Blank title stripToday, the home page has acquired a new menu item: Sidlaws. This links to a set of pages that I’ve rather grandly entitled a “photographic gazetteer” of the Sidlaw Hills. There’s an introductory page (packed with useful background information, though I say it myself), and then a set of pages dealing with all the Sidlaws in alphabetical order—saying where they are, which hills they’re next to, what their names mean, some information about the summits, some notes containing anything else that I thought was worth mentioning, and some photographs. Oh, and links to any blog entries describing a visit to that hill.

The idea for putting this together occurred to me this spring, when I realized that I had stood on top of, and photographed, almost all of the named hills in the Sidlaws range (and several unnamed ones). My various Sidlaws posts are among the most popular in terms of traffic arriving through web searches. Apart from walking logs describing visits to some of the more popular hills, there’s very little information out there on the web, and it’s widely scattered. So I thought I’d try to provide a sort of unified resource describing these interesting but largely neglected hills.

In the last few months I’ve been dotting around in odd moments, filling the gaps in my photographic record—I wanted to provide pictures of each hill, of the summit of each hill, and also of any interesting objects on the summits or slopes. I’ve been defeated on a summit visit only once, by a dense new forestry plantation on a minor bump that I considered omitting from the gazetteer. But it has a name, so it’s in there. (See if you can find it.)

Each page is headed with the view that appears at the top of this post. It’s the classic “ABC” view that is familiar to all Dundonians—Auchterhouse Hill, Balkello Hill and Craigowl.