A collection of pictures, words, etc. of a University of Aberdeen alumnus who enjoys travelling, adventures, and forward thinking technologies.

Currently work with offshore data systems in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Experimenting with a Polaroid 300 and Fujifilm Instax mini film
This has been one of shereenstrachan's and mine's latest experiments, but it's taken a lot of experimenting as we've found out… Shereen had bought 50 exposures back at the start of the year, and I'd say only about a hand full of photos have the correct exposure. 
Above is a set of photos we took down at Aberdeen beach on a cloudy evening, and as you can see, the exposure on all is pretty much off. 
The Polaroid 300 camera has 4 mode settings: Indoor + Dark, Cloudy + Shady, Fine, and Clear (the flash always goes off, regardless of how sunny it is or what mode is used). We’ve yet to really figure out what setting to use when, though with ISO 800 film, we’ve always been surprised by the results as our photos keep coming up a lot darker than we’re expecting. We’ve just ordered another 100 photos, so fingers crossed we will be getting better at it.

Experimenting with a Polaroid 300 and Fujifilm Instax mini film

This has been one of shereenstrachan's and mine's latest experiments, but it's taken a lot of experimenting as we've found out… Shereen had bought 50 exposures back at the start of the year, and I'd say only about a hand full of photos have the correct exposure. 

Above is a set of photos we took down at Aberdeen beach on a cloudy evening, and as you can see, the exposure on all is pretty much off. 

The Polaroid 300 camera has 4 mode settings: Indoor + Dark, Cloudy + Shady, Fine, and Clear (the flash always goes off, regardless of how sunny it is or what mode is used). We’ve yet to really figure out what setting to use when, though with ISO 800 film, we’ve always been surprised by the results as our photos keep coming up a lot darker than we’re expecting. We’ve just ordered another 100 photos, so fingers crossed we will be getting better at it.

Adam Savage’s My 10 Commandments for Makers
I love lists, and I particularly enjoyed listening to Adam Savage’s Maker Faire 2014 Speech in which he listed out his 10 commandments for makers. I sometimes require a little kick in the back and inspiration to get me going, which listening to him really did. I’ve got a couple of ideas he’s inspired me to work on, and maybe now’s a good time to join Make Aberdeen!
Here’s his list, but I’d strongly suggest heading over to Tested.com and watching the whole video, as he goes on to explain each point quite clearly. (Don’t worry, although the video is just over 43 minutes, his 10 commandments are listed in the first 10 minutes. The rest is Q&A.)

1. Make something. Anything. 2. Make stuff that improves your life, either mechanically or aesthetically. 3. Don’t wait. 4. Use a project to learn a skill.5. ASK. Ask for help.6. Share your methods and knowledge and don’t make them a secret.7. Discouragement and failure are intrinsic to the process.8. Measure carefully.9. Make things for other people. 10. Use more cooling fluid!

(via My 10 Commandments for Makers - Tested)

Adam Savage’s My 10 Commandments for Makers

I love lists, and I particularly enjoyed listening to Adam Savage’s Maker Faire 2014 Speech in which he listed out his 10 commandments for makers. I sometimes require a little kick in the back and inspiration to get me going, which listening to him really did. I’ve got a couple of ideas he’s inspired me to work on, and maybe now’s a good time to join Make Aberdeen!

Here’s his list, but I’d strongly suggest heading over to Tested.com and watching the whole video, as he goes on to explain each point quite clearly. (Don’t worry, although the video is just over 43 minutes, his 10 commandments are listed in the first 10 minutes. The rest is Q&A.)

1. Make something. Anything.
2. Make stuff that improves your life, either mechanically or aesthetically.
3. Don’t wait.
4. Use a project to learn a skill.
5. ASK. Ask for help.
6. Share your methods and knowledge and don’t make them a secret.
7. Discouragement and failure are intrinsic to the process.
8. Measure carefully.
9. Make things for other people.
10. Use more cooling fluid!

(via My 10 Commandments for Makers - Tested)

Open Rights Group - Become a founder of ORG Scotland          →

I attended last nights TechMeeup at which Jim Killock (@jimkillock) provided an introduction to Open Rights Group, a UK-based non-profit organisation that campaigns on digital rights issues. With all the news in the past year on mass government surveillance and GCHQ’s wire tapping into private email and digital communications, there isn’t a more important time than now to support activists who campaign for our right to preserve traditional liberties in the digital world.

What’s happening now? Well, ORG is expanding into Scotland, with our help;

We are responding to the strong call we’ve had from our supporters for us to expand and hire a new staff member to work specifically on Scottish digital rights threats. But we need your help!

What’s the situation?

Many people are concerned by the direction the Scottish Parliament is taking with civil liberties. There are growing plans for Entitlement Cards – a scheme that looks rather like ID Cards by the back door, attacks on Freedom of Information law in Scotland, proposals for massive data sharing across the Scottish government, and laws ordering the blocking of sectarian websites.

No rights organisation is currently working on these issues in Scotland.

Whether we hire an activism organiser, a policy expert or a part-time ORG Scotland Executive Director, we hope to begin working on Scottish campaigns very soon.

The more new people joining ORG, the more we’ll be able to work for digital rights in Scotland.

Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland [June 2014]

Shereen (shereenstrachan) has never been to Edinburgh Zoo, ever, so we’ve had it on our to-do list for some time now. A surprise trip was much needed!

I recently started looking into last minute deals websites, apps, and so on. See I’ve never been that impressed by Groupon—their holiday deals are always so unreasonable in my opinion. Who has the time for a mid-week city break? Not us, we have commitments. (Groupon and other’s hotel offers are usually Sunday to Thursday, which just doesn’t work for us as I’m working and Shereen is at college throughout the week.) I did come across an app called Hotel Tonight.

I read some info about Hotel Tonight online and found that users suggested it as an app for totally spontaneous people as your best deals are always gotten later on in the day. When they say last-minute, they mean last-minute. See, you can’t book in advance with their apps, and their deals only start coming in around late-morning, but that was fine as this was a spontaneous trip-t-be. It was Friday, just as I was finishing work, and I decided to have a quick look through the app for Edinburgh hotels. There was one, The Links Hotel, that showed up for just £39. Location? Great. Price? Really great. Review? 4/5 on TripAdviser. So I booked it, but I used a sign-up credit and got £15 off. £24 for a room that usually costs over £100? Not bad if you ask me. And as for the hotel, The Links was great. It’s a modern, boutique kinda place, really welcoming staff, and great amenities. The only complaint I had was that the room was very warm and the windows didn’t open very much, but seeing as it was an extremely hot day in Edinburgh, it’s probably not an issue they often face.

So that was accommodation sorted, now just to organise Edinburgh Zoo. There’s not much to organise for the zoo, but one thing you really should do is book your panda viewing in advance. I planned our zoo visit for the following day, so Saturday, and as I said above, it was late afternoon when I started planning this trip. Nearly all panda-viewing slots were fully booked. I’m not sure what their limit on people is—probably around 30 to 45—but we did manage to get the last two slots in at the 10:15am booking. Good thing, as the earliest one after that was 16:00 and it was forecast to rain heavy in the afternoon.

We didn’t really follow a specific path through the zoo, we just sort of wandered about the whole place. Every bit is worth seeing though, and I’d suggest to plan a good 4 hour stay. There’s usually shows throughout the day, but other than the panda viewing, we decided to just make our own way through the zoo and enjoy everything in our own time. The park’s map is clear so I suggest taking one of these with you so you can make your way around, but it’s really a quite simple layout and pretty impossible to get lost. We brought plenty of drinks and a light picnic to have, which we enjoyed in the picnic area at the hilltop. I can’t say much about the on-site restaurants and cafes as we didn’t have anything, but they looked ok. Definitely bring your camera, as photography is permitted as long as you do not use any flash.

After the zoo, we were starving and headed into town for a quick bite to eat before the rainy drive back up north to Aberdeen. We parked the car on street parking in town (tip: as far as I can tell, it’s relatively cheap compared to garages and paying via the RingGo app on the phone means no worrying about having to find change for parking meters) and headed towards Princess Street. We didn’t make it far though as we came across a great looking place called Wannaburger. If you’re into fresh, homemade burgers, shakes, and amazing fries, this is the place to go. It’s on 7/8 Quensferry Street EH2 4PA and an average meal costs £6 to £8. 4½/5 on TripAdvisor.

P.S. If you’re interested in £15 sign-up credit for Hotel Tonight, you can use the code KSARIC. Just download the app from Google Play or Apple’s App Store (there is no way to book through a website as far as I’m aware). I used someone’s referral code and it worked a charm.

Wild Camping – Rothiemurchus, Aviemore, Scotland [June 2014]

Scotland is beautiful, and there’s no better way to experience its stunning countryside than a night of wild camping. And that’s exactly what we did.

Having packed our camping gear, food supplies, and plenty of drinking water, we set out to Aviemore, a town situated at the heart of the Scottish Highlands. We had no idea where we’d actually go camping however, so after having walked around the town for a while and got a bite to eat (Smiffy’s Fish and Chips Restaurant - an average chipper but great for a quite bite), we headed out towards the Rothiemurchus Estate. We still had no idea where we were going, although I’ve previously read that there are some wild camping spots in this area.

We parked our car outside the Rothiemurchus Camp and Caravan Park and had asked one of the kind workers about their camps site. At £20 for the two of us per night, we felt that it was far too expensive for a night of camping, but he was kind enough to give us guidance on wild camping on the estate. He informed us that there’s an area about three miles south of where we were that was good for wild camping, and also let us know that we should be sticking to other wild campers as rangers may make us move on and stick together so they can control wild camping.

We started walking along the path, past the Rothiemurchus caravans, past the official camp site, and continued along the path for about an hour (taking the left path at the first junction). It did feel like a very long walk, considering we were both carrying a lot of gear (even just a one night camp requires all your basic camp gear and warm layers for the cold Scottish evenings!), but we still managed to walk the roughly 3 miles in just over an hour. We had gotten to a bridge crossing the river. I’ve yet to find out what this river is called (pictured in the photos above), but it’s a river that connects with River Luineag to River Druie, then continues down towards Aviemore and River Spey.

We crossed this bridge and continued to walk a while further, and did find other wild campers along the river. Here’s the biggest problem when wild camping in such a dense forest: finding good ground. Those other campers we came across were actually across on the other side of the river, and on our side was no good ground to be found. We back-tracked down the river, across the bridge, and decided to set up camp here. I’ll write a separate about wild camping another time, but the basic rules are simple:

  • Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, it’s now legal to wild camp in Scotland. 
  • Don’t disturb nature, don’t chop down tress, make a mess, etc.
  • Don’t leave rubbish, and leave the area as it was when you arrived.
  • If you need to do your business, stay away from rivers and lochs (lakes) and other open waters.
  • I also believe that it’s frowned upon to wild camp within a couple miles of an actual camp site, on a path, or right next to a road, i.e. actually go wild camping. As mentioned though, camp sites are nice and we got tips on wild camping from one.

There’s one thing I wish we had brought with us: midge repellant. As we were setting up our tent, we could feel the million littles midges attacking us, and it really made our night a lot worse than it could have been. My dream of sitting out by the river and reading a book was crushed! However, as it was approaching night-time anyway, we just stayed inside the tent, had our dinner, and went to sleep.

Here’s another tip: just because it’s warm during the day does not mean it’s warm during the night! Scotland gets cold, and as soon as the sun is gone, temperatures drop quickly. We were lucky in that we had plenty of layers (we even brought a blanket as well as our sleeping bags), but I could feel the cold in the middle of the night, even through all my layers. 

What made up for the cold and midges though was the amazing morning. What better way to wake up than to be woken up by the sound of birds and a running river? It was an amazing experience, and one I cannot wait to have again.

After packing up our tent, we walked back through the Rothiemurchus Estate, got in our car and headed east to Loch Morlich. We enjoyed a midge-free breakfast overlooking the loch and Cairn Gorm mountains in the background, which were still snow-covered at their peaks. 

How peaceful.

Arriving at MUC People playing balls (?) at the Hofgarten At the top of the Frauenkirche overlooking Marienplatz! Pinakothek der Moderne One of many U-Bahn (unerground) station entrances Bavarian brass band at Hofbräuhaus One of many trams wizzing about Munich The grand parterre at Schloss Nymphenburg City-centre surfers at Eisbach in the Egnlischer Garten Englischer Garten

Munich, Germany [February 2014]

I love Munich—it’s an amazing city. A place full of great architecture, culture, amazing food, museums, parks, touristy things, and of course delicious beer! Shereen (shereenstrachan) and I spontaneously decided to fly out there for a weekend get-away in mid February, and it was a GREAT weekend.

I’ve been to Munich myself a few times (and was actually born there many years ago!), but it was Shereen’s first time. With just four days in Munich, I knew we couldn’t get through everything, so I planned some of the city’s must-see spots for Shereen to see. Below is a list of some of my favourites of Munich.

Museums This city has a lot of museums, and although we did not go to every single one, we got through a good selection that covered science, art, and history. Our favourites included Das Deutsche Museum (science and technology, and even includes a section on oil & gas in Aberdeen!), Pinakothek der Moderne (Art Gallery of the Modern—modern art, includes some great furniture design by Eames and classic electronics from Braun and historic Apple computers), and finally Museum Brandhorst (which has a collection of Andy Warhol pieces, including one of his famous Marilyn screenprints). Top tip: do your research online to make sure the museums you’re interested in, as well as specific exhibitions, are currently open. Most museums also reduce their entrance fees on Sundays, many being completely free or just €1, so it’s worth dedicating a Sunday to Museums. The Deutsche Museum is really not to be missed, but to dedicate about 3-4 hours to it and bring plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated as it can be very warm inside.

Bierkeller - Although neither Shereen nor I drink much alcohol, we did enjoy the great beers Munich has to offer. Everyone will tell you to visit the Hofbräuhaus, but few will let you know about its quieter alternative, the Hofbräukeller. See, the problem with Hofbräuhaus is that it’s just too busy and touristy. It’s worth wandering through (and if you do, you must go after 18:00 as the traditional bavarian brass band starts playing), but to fully enjoy ein Helles (my favourite type of beer), it’s really worth heading over to Hofbräukeller in Heidhausen. It’s much quieter, and the service is far better. The food is also fantastic, and make sure you go hungry as their portions are big. 

Englischer Garten - With an area of 3.7km2, the Englischer Garten (English Garden) is huge! There’s so much to do here, and it’s really best enjoyed on a bike. We didn’t hire bikes, so unfortunately I have no recommendation for a bike hire, but I do know that getting bikes is totally possible. Definitely check out the surfers at the start of the garden, just past a bridge near Haus der Kunst (House of Art—another great art museum actually and the Golden Bar round the back is great). It’s amazing to see people surf a standing wave all year long, regardless of the weather conditions or time of day. (I was once in Munich where temperatures hit well below freezing point and they were still surfing there!) The huge beer garden at the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) is great to visit, though on the expensive side if you’re getting food. It’s not uncommon for people to bring a picnic to their tables, and as long as you buy yourself a beer, things should be ok. Do hang about for the brass band, as they’re also really great and add to the atmosphere. Just a short walk from the Chinesischer Turm is The Monopterus. Although nothing major, it’s a great place to climb at dusk and enjoy the views. One place I’ve always wanted to visit in the Englischer Garten is the Japanisches Teehaus (Japanese Tee House); it’s a gorgeous Japanese building that even has regular tea ceremonies.

Marienplatz, etc - You can’t visit Munich without visiting Marienplatz, it’s a must. Make sure you see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel at 11:00am; it’s an amusing show that makes visiting Marienplatz worth it. While you’re in the area, I highly recommend visiting the Frauenkirche and climbing up its hundreds of stairs in the south tower. The top of the tower offers amazing views of Munich and even the Alps, but do be careful if you suffer from a fear of heights! And since you’re in the area, go visit The Viktualienmarkt (The Victuals Market - Munich’s best farmers market). It offers an amazing selection of fresh produce, tasty German breads, and even has yet another beer garden.

Schloss Nymphenburg - The Nymphenburg Palace is yet another amazing retreat. It’s close enough to the city centre so that you could even bike to it (we did it in just under an hour) and it offers a peaceful park in which you could walk around for hours. Although I’m not usually a fan of gift shops, the one located at the palace offers a great selection of souvenirs and their post-card offerings are really great (we actually got some to keep for ourselves as mini posters, as they’re incredibly good quality). There’s also an interactive video playing in an area of the gift shop that explains the history of the palace, which is worth viewing.

Alternative Restaurants - Although I absolutely love all the beer cellars, I can’t argue that Munich has some great other restaurants. Amongst the dozens of pizzerias (dozens? probably hundreds) is a little place called Grano on Sebastiansplatz / Nieserstraße (just around the corner from the Jewisch Museum). It’s a no-fuss, little, quaint place, and it feels like you’re time-travelling into the 70’s. They do a few daily specials, and it’s always cheapest to go at lunch time. To get a good Schnitzel, go to Leib und Seele (Body and Soul) on a Tuesday for their schnitzel parade. It’s located in north Lehel on Oettingenstraße. Their menu is typical bavarian, though the atmosphere is a bit more relaxed and less hectic than the average beer cellar. Just up the road a bit further is another great place called Paradiso. It’s located at Lerchenfeldstraße, just beside the Paradisstr. tram station. Their food (mostly a Mediterranean mix of Italian and Greek) is reasonably priced, and their location right next to the Englischer Garten makes it a great place to relax after a stroll in the park. If you’re in the mood for some good turkish food, make your way go Ali Baba on Schillerstraße, which is just around the corner from the central train station. Their Döner Kebabs are amazing, but what I love most about Ali Baba is their delicious Turkish çay (tea).

Getting Around - Shereen and I were lucky enough to have a couple bikes available for us to use, so once we got to the city, that was our main mode of transport. Munich is great for cycling; their cycle paths are well marked and respected by most car drivers, and as Munich itself is relatively flat, it’s an easy ride around. However, the public transport system around Munich is fantastic. Partner cards allow for day/3-day/week tickets for a great saving compared to buying dozens of individual tickets and they can be bought at most news agents and main stations. A partner card is for 2 to 5 people, so if there’s several people travelling it cane be a great saving (e.g. a single day ticket is €6 vs. the partner day ticket is €11.20, so potentially €2.24 each!). These tickets are great as they allow totally unlimited travel within Munich on trams, buses, and even trains (but do be careful not to cross zones, as those require more expensive XXL / entire network tickets). On top of all the city transport options, you can travel through the whole of Bavaria using a Bayern Ticket. It costs just €22 and allows for a whole day travel to anywhere in Bavaria, and no trip to Munich is complete without a day-trip to someplace great such as Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Mittenwald, or Oberammergau. Bayern tickets also benefit from economies of scale as each addition person (up to 5 people total) costs just €4, so for two people, that’s €26!

I think I’ve rambled on enough about Munich… I know there’s a million more things I’d like to share, and maybe one day I’ll write my own travel guide!

Starting and Stopping Habits

Habits—both good and bad ones—aren’t the easiest to start and stop. Breaking a bad habit feels impossible, and starting a new one (such as going to the gym…) isn’t an easy task either.

Ben D. Gardner, writing for UCL’s ‘Health Chatter’ blog:

The bottom line is: stay strong. 21 days is a myth; habit formation typically takes longer than that. The best estimate is 66 days, but it’s unwise to attempt to assign a number to this process. The duration of habit formation is likely to differ depending on who you are and what you are trying to do. As long as you continue doing your new healthy behaviour consistently in a given situation, a habit will form. But you will probably have to persevere beyond January 21st.

A simple little tool to help you manage a habit is to use sticky notes. If you’re desk-bound, put 66 small labels along the side of your monitor (each marked 1-66). Simply tear one off each day you managed to get closer to the 66 day mark. Tearing and throwing away the little label helps you get a sense of achievement and hence helps you stick to your goal (whether it’s starting or stopping a habit).

I’ll be working towards stopping a bad habit, so fingers crossed I keep tearing off those labels and managing to stay bad-habit free each of the 66 days! After this, the bad habit should be a thing of the past, or so the theory says…

52 Week Money Challenge

New years resolutions come and go, but I decided that this year I’d actually set a goal and stick to it. Unlike other years, I wanted to set myself a goal that would be relative easy to achieve, and one that would benefit me by year-end. Money saving seemed a great idea, and I found a tip online over at onebusywahm.com

The idea of the 52 week money challenge is simple: once a week you put a set amount of money aside and by the end of the year you will have saved up £1378. The amount to set aside is the same as the week number, i.e. in week 1, set aside £1, in week 2, it’s £2, etc. 

I’ll be twisting the rules slightly since I find that setting aside £51 and £52 around Christmas time is a bit much. The way I’m approaching this challenge is set aside £52 in week 1, £51 in week 2, etc. - i.e. in reverse order.

Natalie over at onebusywahm.com posted a great printable here, so hang it somewhere you’re most likely to see it (e.g. your fridge or office desk). I’ve decided to add them as to-dos to my weekly diary.

Get saving!

Athens, Greece [October 2013]

A small collection of photos from our latest holiday. Shereen and I travelled out to Greece on October 17th of 2013 and stayed in Schinias, a small locale north-east of Athens. 

Aviemore railway station View over Uath Lochans Strathspey Railway Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder Viewpoint at Farleitter Crag Wild camping at Loch Tummel River Tay in Perth Wild camping at Loch Tummel

Road Trip – Scotland [9-11 August 2013]

Shereen and I spontaneously decided to travel through Scotland for the weekend of the 32nd week of 2013. Our trip took us up towards Nairn, where we walked along the seaside and playing in the parks just beside it. We decided not to miss Inverness, and although only spent a short time there, decided to eat dinner at Bella Italia (which we really enjoyed). Our first night took us to Aviemore Youth Hostel, where we spent an uncomfortable night sleeping in a tiny twin bunk room… We should’ve really camped that night!

We started the second day taking the historic Strathspey Steam Railway through the heart of the Scottish Highlands. The two hour journey takes you through the beautiful Cairngorm National Park and allows for a relaxed viewing experience of the scenic countryside.  

We continue to adventure around Aviemore area, watching the dozens of mountain bikers cycling along off-road paths until we got to progressed further and went walking along Uath Lochans, a trio of lochs (or lakes for those outside Scotland!) situated just south of Aviemore. We decided to combine the white and red marked walking paths to make for a walk that took us both around the lochs, then up onto the viewpoint at Farleitter Crag. The supposedly 1.5 hour walk took us over 2 hours, but who wouldn’t stop for a rest at the viewpoint to take in the views of the Inshriach Forest? 

We finished the day setting camp at Loch Tummel, a great long loch just South of Pitlochry. The area was a recommendation from a Pitlochry resident, who said it’s one of the best wild camping areas around. It really was! But as he warned us, it was starting to become ‘busy’. Of course not busy in a festival-camp-site sense, but as the road follows the loch quite closely, there’s only a few dozen sites where you can camp right on the loch. We finally found a spot that already had some other wild campers around, but we felt they were far enough away. Waking up with such a view really is an experience, and Shereen and I both realised that next year will be a camping year!

The third and final day was spent driving back up to Aberdeen, but detouring slightly to go for a walk in Perth. Jannettas Gelateria is a favourite of mine, and so I took Shereen there for her first time. They’re still quite new in Perth, but with four generations worth of experience at their St. Andrews location (they’ve been there since 1908!), there’s no doubt this place will stick around.

Our main soundtrack of the journey was Sword & Sworcery LP - The Ballad of the Space Babies. I bought one of the limited edition audio cassette of great video game’s soundtrack after having played Sword & Sworcery on the iPad and absolutely falling in love with the music. 

I’m really looking forward to going camping and road tripping again in 2014!