Archive for the ‘scotland’ Category

I fought the Law…

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

Dundee is dominated by a massive hill (the photo above doesn’t tell the whole story – I took it when I was nearly at the top) called the Law (it means ‘hill’), formed by the plug of an ancient volcano. A smaller one forms Balgay Hill which is just up the road from me and is home to Britain’s only public observatory.


(Balgay Hill, above)

After a year of promising myself I’d do it, I finally got round to walking up the Law the other week and it was well worth the effort. The views from the top are stunning.

The photo above is the view across the Tay (known as the Silvery Tay for obvious reasons) to the Kingdom of Fife.

This photo shows the Tay Rail Bridge. The first one collapsed famously one New Year’s Eve just over 100 years ago, killing everyone on the train. Spookily, you can still see the original piles next to the current bridge. At the time it was the longest rail bridge in the world and is still the longest in Europe, apparently.
The white building in the bottom left corner is the life sciences building at the university. My office is just behind it.

To the north you can see all the way to the Sidlaw Hills, but between here and there are relics of Dundee’s industrial heritage. Several of the old textile mills, some of them massive, remain and even where they’ve been knocked down some of the chimneys remain. Its shipping heritage (Dundee was home to ship builders and Britain’s whaling fleet until relatively recently) can be seen in the east of the city.

At the top of the Law is a large war memorial that towers over you, and over the city. The lamp is lit on a few occasions each year, in particular Remembrance Sunday, and can be seen for quite some distance. This photo doesn’t do justice to the scale of the thing.

When youreach the summit you can see over towards the east and the mouth of the Tay where it meets the sea. In the distance you can see Broughty Ferry and its castle on the left, and Tayport and its large sandy beach on the right. Just past Broughty Ferry is Carnoustie where this year’s Open golf tournament was held.

At the moment a large pod of bottlenosed dolphins is making this part of the Tay its home, as it does each summer.
The bridge in the distance is the Tay Road Bridge that replaced the ancient ferry service connecting Angus to Fife.

You can see all the photos I took here, or as a slideshow.

My feet hurt

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

I just got back from an 8 mile walk round Dundee using part of the ‘Green Circular’ route. (Click the image above for a bigger view. The numbers are mileposts – I walked clockwise from my home, down to the Tay, past the airport, up to Invergowrie, then north to Camperdown Park, up to Camperdown House, then south back home. A mix of country path, suburban cycle dirt track, pavement and concrete).

I planned it using a site called ‘Map My Walk’ which if you do a lot of walking might be worth a visit. There’s also ‘Map My Run’ and ‘Map My Ride’ for cyclists. It’s a nice mashup using Google Maps – I visited it last year when it was in beta and it’s come on a long way. Well worth a look.

You can convert your route in to a Goggle Earth file so you can see your seemingly long walk on a global scale. If you’re planning a round the world trip this could be just your thing. Here’s my walk as a Google Earth file…

Proof that design is important

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Dundee University in the news again. And this time it backs up what I was saying about how design at university should be so much more than just producing Mac monkeys, even at undergraduate level.

(I saw some of these images earlier this year and they’re a bit ‘odd’ (I can’t think of the word I want – ‘odd’ isn’t right) – they make serious illnesses look almost beautiful…)

(Click here to watch a video)

“Doctors are turning to graphic artists to help patients better understand their illness and course of treatment.

The artists turn medical images from 3D anatomical scans into less formidable forms, suitable for patients.

Trials of the system have shown it can aid understanding and deepen dialogue between patients and their care givers.

The system is also being used as part of a project to raise awareness among diabetics of some of the most serious side-effects of their condition.

‘Doctors talk shop, which can be difficult for patients to penetrate,’ said John McGhee, a PhD student and 3D computer artist from the University of Dundee, who helped to direct the visualisation project.

The tools and methods used to pass on information about illnesses and cures were as various as the doctors themselves, Mr McGhee said.

‘None are that great,’ he said.

But, by producing simplified images from detailed MRI scans, for example, patients can get a far better grasp of what is happening inside them, how it came about, and what is being done about it, he said.

(image of cancer cells)

The effect of the images has been used in a study of 18 patients suffering from arteriosclerosis, an illness that causes hardening of the arteries which can, over time, lead to heart attacks and stroke.

Initially, Mr McGhee said, the trial was all about whether the patients – average age 71 – could understand what the images depicted.

But, he said, it proved its effectiveness in other ways too.

‘It was about imparting information but more importantly about getting a dialogue going on to help to get the patient discussing what is going on,’ he said.

Exposure to the images also helped in subsequent discussions, said Mr McGhee.

‘When they talk to health professionals and go armed with better questions and knowledge of their anatomy,’ he said.

In a related project, computer graphics derived from medical images are being used in a bid to prompt diabetics to keep an eye on their health.

Run by PhD student Emma Fyfe, also from the University of Dundee, the project has produced a five minute film that explores the effect diabetes has on the retina.

In some cases diabetes can cause abnormalities in the blood vessels serving the retina and make sight deteriorate.

It was important for diabetics to have regular scans to catch the side effects of diabetes at the earliest opportunity, she said.

‘If they catch it early they can stop it,’ said Ms Fyfe. ‘But they cannot go backwards; they cannot cure it.’

The film has been shown to the Scottish Diabetes Group and there are plans to show it to other groups around the UK.

The research was shown off at the Siggraph computer graphics convention being held in San Diego, US from 5-9 August.”

Is design important?

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

From BBC news:

“A schizophrenia drug developed at Dundee University is to be tested as a new cancer treatment.
Ground-breaking research has revealed Rimcazole can also be used to fight cancer.

Scientists have discovered it restricts the growth of tumours and kills cancer cells, but has little toxic effect on healthy tissue.

Clinical trials will get under way later this year, with conclusive results expected within two years.”

About a year ago, I moved in to my new flat and a man came round to install my telephone line (the previous occupant having, for some reason, carved through the old one with a bread knife).

We got chatting, as you do, and he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I teach at the university. He seemed impressed: “you’ll be one of those people curing cancer then?”

“Er, not quite. I teach design history”.

End of conversation (though he did later start telling me stories about Prince William’s nights out in Dundee when he was studying down the road at St. Andrew’s).

I can see the centre mentioned in that news report, where they work on cancer cures, from my office window, and occasionally I go to the little ‘restaurant’ they have there. It’s full of people who look like the ones you used to go to school with who were good at science and liked wearing lab coats and big goggles. It’s odd comparing it to the ‘Cantina’, the design school’s refectory which, despite being open to all is monopolised by art and design students and staff who all seem keen to stand out from the crowd and manage, somehow, to look like one homogenous group.

But there’s a quiet air of determination in the life sciences restaurant, as though everyone knows they’re working on something important, and having lunch is an inconvenient truth their education manages to nag them with in a way their stomach can’t. I walked past that building on Christmas Day and again on New Year’s Eve and the lights were on, cars were parked, and people were at work. I suppose petri dishes don’t do vacations.

So when I look out of my office window (something I save for the afternoon so I’m always sure I’ll have something to do…) I can’t help remembering that conversation with the telephone guy and my sense of guilt that I don’t work on something as important as my colleagues in the white coats, many of whom probably get paid far less than me.

But should I feel guilty?

I think this is one of the things that should define design study at university. It shouldn’t be about simply learning and repeating the skills needed to get a job, but about trying to understand how design works and how it can improve people’s lives.
A presentation I went to earlier this year by researchers looking at the nearby Frank Gehry-designed cancer care centre, Maggie’s Centre Dundee showed a real link between the design of buildings and the rate of improvement in patient health, irrespective of the drugs they were on, and other studies looking at the working space for nurses showed design to be an undervalued contributor to healthcare – a hospital is more than a set of rooms with beds and a few chairs and filing cabinets. Yet any hospital that spends money on good funiture and art for the walls will be accused of wasting money – why aren’t we getting that message across more? Why do academics like talking to themselves so much but so rarely tell their stories to others?

If you look at many of the top concerns for people in the UK (and elsewhere) such as crime, terrorism, the economy, the environment and so on, there is a clear (and sometimes not so clear) role that design can play in each of these.
And it’s the university’s role to explore these – not just at the postgrad research level and beyond but at the undergraduate level as well.

Design is important. It will never win a PR war against cures for cancer (which, incidentally, are also ‘designed’, even if by accident as in the story above) and perhaps we should stop with the gnashing of teeth about this. But I can’t help feeling that a philosophy for university-based design has to stop obsessing with churning out employees for a shockingly visionless and often amoral industry and start seeing its contribution in terms of changing society for the better.

Inappropriate music

Monday, July 30th, 2007

This story today reminded me of a post I meant to make after flying on one of these planes, with the same airline (Flybe), recently.

An aircraft has had to make an emergency landing at Edinburgh Airport.
The Dash-8 Flybe plane had 36 people on board when crew members were forced to shut down one of its two turboprop engines on Monday morning.

The airport was put on full emergency alert after the plane’s captain put out a mayday call at 0740 BST.”

Flybe have an annoying habit of playing music as you board the aircraft, but what’s worse is the speakers are so poor it reminds me of the 70s, listening to the radio on longwave (those of you too young to remember pre-FM or even pre-digital days, you don’t know what you missed).

Anyway, the song playing as I got on? “Buck Rogers” by Feeder. The repeating refrain didn’t fill me with confidence: “I think we’re gonna make it”…

It played twice on the way there, and again on the way back. Inspiring.

I meant to write and complain…

Chinese letter finds right character

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

A letter sent from China to Britain’s oldest driver reached her despite featuring the wrong name and address on the envelope.

The mail, thought to be from a Chinese journalist, was intended for 105-year-old Sheila Thomson, who was recently named as Britain’s oldest driver.

But the inscription on the front of the envelope identified the intended recipient only as ‘Sherry Thomson, 105-year-old driver’. It gave her address as ‘Angus County, Scotland, England’.

The letter was mailed by Ding Hanning from Zhen Jiang, Jingsu, China.

Despite the wrong name and address, a Royal Mail postman managed to fulfil the task by asking around if anyone knew Britain’s oldest driver.

After many inquiries, the postie managed to slip the letter through the correct door and has now been praised by his bosses.

Yesterday at her home in Broughty Ferry, Dundee, Mrs Thomson, who has been driving since 1936, paid tribute to the postman.

The centenarian said: ‘That’s about three weeks they’ve been trying. It’s really very funny. The postman has done a fine job.

‘The letter doesn’t have a word of English in it. I was thinking I will have to get someone from the university to translate it.’

A spokeswoman for the Royal Mail said the account proved how postmen often go ‘beyond the call of duty’ to deliver all mail.

She said: ‘They do everything in their power to deliver items correctly, even when the address that is given appears more like a cryptic puzzle. In cases such as this, they succeed due to their dedication, pride in their work and their unique local knowledge of the communities they serve.’

Mrs Thomson hit the headlines earlier this year when she emerged as a candidate for Britain’s oldest driver.

She still drives her Peugeot 106 to church in a 15-mile round trip that she has repeated every Sunday for more than six decades.

Before Mrs Thomson’s case attracted attention, it was believed that Britain’s oldest driver was Charlie Howarth, of West Yorkshire, who renewed his licence in March at the age of 101.

In May, Mrs Thomson lost the no-claims bonus she had built up for 71 years after she had a bump on the way to church.”

(Via The Scotsman.)

Meanwhile I had to fight Dundee council tooth and nail against a £16 fine for not paying the final installment of my council tax because the letter they sent me revising my original bill never arrived. Their office is about two miles away.

Just say no

Friday, April 6th, 2007

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IMG_0862.JPG, originally uploaded by artistry.

Matt, my ex-student, is now art director of ‘Disorder’, a music magazine (if you can call that music, I mean…)

Anyway, unbeknownst to me, the mag had recently featured a club night, Neon Nights, organised by a current student of mine up here in Scotland (it’s a small world), and Matt, knowing he was coming up to stay with me for the weekend, got us on the guest list to take some pics for the ‘street style’ section.

So, several years after my last clubbing experience, off we trotted to the Reading Rooms, a weird, rather beautiful building in Dundee’s east docks area that has been transformed into a seedy den of iniquity in true authentic style.
There was a large queue of people outside but we sauntered straight to the front and got in without waiting or paying, which made me feel rather special.

Inside I became the designated photographer (as it was my camera) and we pitched up in the corner opposite the bar, trying to attract the strangely-dressed to come and be snapped for the mag.
The evening got really odd. I have a short video from my phone in which I can be heard accepting the offer of a drink from Matt and saying ‘last one’. That, if I remember, was around midnight. We got home at about 4.30am…

This is one of my favourite shots of the evening. I have another version without the flash obscuring the letters but as Matt has first usage rights I thought I’d post this one instead. The dress says “Fuck off I don’t sell E’s” (I’ll tell her when I see her that Es is not a possessive and does not require an apostrophe, but I was off duty at the time).

Anyway, it’s a charming message and one we should support. Clearly ‘just say no’ has had its day and no longer works the way it did in Nancy Reagan’s day.
Actually there’s a thought – this girl may well be Prime Minister one day, so I’ll hang on to this pic just in case…

Oh, and yes, we danced like idiots. Hopefully there’s no video of that

Drunken weekend

Friday, April 6th, 2007

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IMG_0793.JPG, originally uploaded by artistry.

Last weekend I played host to Matt and Shaun for a calm weekend of, ooh, drinking, pizza, Xbox, bitching, lewd conversation and – ultimately – dreadful hangovers.

Matt and Shaun are graphic design graduates of mine from Brighton (well, I say ‘mine’, clearly my input was marginal).

Friday night I showed them the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre, though no art was consumed, it has to be said (I mean, they’re not students anymore, they don’t have to pretend – and nor do I) and over pizza and Stella Artois we watched Tom Baker in The Pirate Planet, a rather strange Doctor Who story from the 70s written by Douglas Adams.

On Saturday I showed them Edinburgh and we completely failed to make it to the Pixar exhibition. We did, however, stand outside the castle (third time I’ve been there, still not been in, thanks to the extortionate entry fee), go to ‘World of Whisky’ in the hope of a free tasting (sadly denied) and find a comic shop five minutes before it shut. (Which was quite handy as I found a couple of collections of PvP (my favourite comic strip) but couldn’t remember if I had one of them or not (memory like a small metal thing with holes in it) so being kicked out potentially saved me a few quid (oh yes, I’ll pay £7 for a comic book but not for entry to one of Scotland’s most historic buildings!)

Saturday night, back in Dundee, we drank, ate too much Indian, and staggered back to watch a recording of that night’s Doctor Who episode during which Shaun fell asleep and I wondered what makes Russell T Davies fool the world in to thinking he can write drama…

Anyway, a full ‘safe for work’ pictorial record is available if you are so inclined.

‘David Hume could out-consume…’

Friday, April 6th, 2007

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IMG_0787.JPG, originally uploaded by artistry.

Growing up a Monty Python fan I learnt more about philosophy and the great philosophers than you could ever wish to know (if you’re not a Python fan the title of this post will mean nothing).

Anyway, this is David Hume’s old house in a little close off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. (Actually, his house could have been the less picturesque one on the other side, but I doubt it).

I read Hume as part of my degree – a very interesting and readable man, still highly relevant today.

That person there completely failing to be impressed is Shaun, an ex-student of mine up for the weekend.

‘You can see the sea, it’s over there between the land and the sky’

Friday, April 6th, 2007

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IMG_0967.JPG, originally uploaded by artistry.

It’s worth the climb to the top of Balgay Hill behind my flat in Scotland. One minute you’re in a post-industrial landscape, the next you’re in the second best scenery in Britain (after Yorkshire, natch)

If you really want to see the rest of the photos from this walk, head over to my Flickr set