December ’16 news

December news in February, hmm . . . anyway, here goes:

There were some minor surprises in politics. The Icelandic Pirate Party was asked to try and form a new government (but would later fail to become part of it). Donald Trump sort of broke decades lasting pretence that the US doesn’t recognise Taiwan (more publicity stunts would follow). The European Court of Justice ruled against the Snooper’s Charter (giving the UK government another bad reason respect the referendum result and leave the EU). And the SNP disclosed that despite the comtinuing devolution of powers from London to Edinburgh, the Scotland Office’s budget rose over the last five years by 20% (although a much more interesting question was how much would Derek Mackay have to compromise to have his first budget voted through Holyrood).

A sadder surprise was the death of George Michael at the age of 53 (making me look up what was it he sang at all, the biggest surprise being Freedom! 90). On the other hand, air an làimh eile, bha deagh naidheachd ann gun do chomharraich Tormod MacGilleathain an t-ochdadamh cho-là-breith aige (’s dòcha gum bu chòir dhomh The Leper’s Bell a cheannach mar faidhle Khindle is a leughadh a-rithist).

More good news were the opening of a new Edinburgh railway station and the reopening of Kelvingrove Museum’s Life Gallery (pity I may never see it again).

The sporting surprise, for me at least, was how close to each other the teams at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership were: Partick Thistle, last (ie 12th) three matches before the end of the month, got by just two wins to the 6th place and after a Hogmanay draw ended the year as 7th. Another sports-related news was Andy Murray’s knighthood; but to be honest, I admired more Lynn Faulds for rejecting her MBE – or rather, for her reasons to do so.

 

August ’16 news

Not a bad month for transport: the ScotRail strikes over guards were finally called off to allow further negotiations; Queen Street station tunnel reopened and so did Glasgow Subway; and the Tay Road Bridge was 50 years old. The exception was the oil rig, travelling from Norway to Turkey, which was blown ashore on a western Lewis beach instead, losing thousands of gallons of diesel and later temporarily moved to a bay on the other side of the island.

Of course, there were the Olympics in Rio, but I’m not into this kind of showbiz, so I’ve only seen Ross Murdoch qualify to semifinals and my namesake create a new British record before ending 5th – yet later with not one but two silver medals from relays (the first with 2 other Scots, or 3 if you count in Renwick). But somehow I admired no less Ieuan Lloyd, whether bottle-fliping or dabbing – and even more than all these Nick Skelton. Winning an equestrian gold aged 58 … can you beat it? (Of course, I couldn’t help noticing that Team GB ended second in the medal table, with 16 Scots getting such a disc or two.)

In other news, bha briseadh-dùil ann mu dheidhinn fo-thiotalan air BBC Alba, on a tha Urras a’ BhBC dhen bheachd nach urrain dhaibh leigeil le luchd-amhairc an roghainn a dhèanamh; Michael Russel was appointed the Scottish government’s Brexit negotiator, although the UK government later indicated they’d only pay lip service to negotiating with Holyrood; Poles overtook Indians as the largest migrant group both in the UK and in Scotland (which slightly surprised me, I thought they’d already done so); and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation named (on p 10) both ‘my’ Keppochhill and Tommy’s Wyndford among the 5% consistently most deprived areas in Scotland since 2004 (which didn’t; but it is interesting that the allegedly most and least deprived areas in Scotland are only about 7 miles distant).

 

March ’16 news

Several things ended in March: For the first time, a professional 9-dan go player was defeated by software. Shortly after the Budget (whose main point, according to media, was the sugar tax), Iain Duncan Smith resigned as the DWP secretary: apparently even he had finally got fed up with the way Mr Osborne mishandles the revenue. The Holyrood Parliament was dissolved before the election: it was the last session for some MSPs, including Alex Salmond, who gave his (possibly) last speech there. On the same day the Longannet Power Station, the last coal-fired one in Scotland, was switched off for good.

And then there were the deaths: George Martin, without whom the Beatles in all probability wouldn’t have been as trailblazing as they were, and Ray Tomlinson, generally seen as the inventor of one of the most important features the internet’s ever had: the email.

But Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba can be seen both as an end and a beginning, and the closure of the Glasgow Queen Street railway station’s upper level for a renovation of the adjacent tunnel is definitely more about the future than about the past. As were the approving of the Scotland Bill (which would later in Westminster become the Scotland Act ) and the Land Reform Bill by the Scottish Parliament before its dissolution.

But I’ve no idea where belongs the news that Ben Nevis is somewhat higher than we used to think.

 

Davis Cup 2015 won by the UK

After nigh fourscore years, the Davis Cup hath returned to Great Britain, the decisive duel having been fittingly won by a Scotsman on the eve of the holy day of Saint Andrew.
BBC: Andy Murray wins the Davis Cup for Great Britain
When I switched on my laptop that day, the BBC News Scotland homepage still featured an article titled Live: Davis Cup final: Murray v Goffin; before I got through the World & UK homepages, a ‘breaking news’ banner appeared, reading Great Britain win the Davis Cup for the first time in 79 years after Andy Murray beats Belgium’s David Goffin. So in fact I enjoyed most the previous day’s moment when somebody laconically described the Murray brothers’ doubles victory by “Belgium 1 – 3 Dunblane”.

 

Partick Thistle’s new mascot

The football club whose stadium I first lived next door to, then lived overlooking from my windows, has unveiled a new mascot, named Kingsley, presumably as a portmanteau of Kingsford Capital (a US firm investing £200,000 in the club) and David Shrigley, the mascot’s designer.
BBC: Partick Thistle unveil ‘terrifying’ new mascot Kingsley
PTFC: Kingsford Capital Management to be Jags’ new title sponsor
It’s so unsightly I’m lost for words.

 

First week in exile

Fortunately, when you move country there is too much to do at the beginning for you to have the time to be too depressed.

On Wednesday Rob was proven right: the agency was taking on new employees more or less indiscriminately and immediately. I re-registered with my old health insurance company; sent the Scottish banknotes to Tommy; rebegan doing French Duolingo lessons; even played a (winning) online go game.

On Thursday I got an ‘extract’ from my doctor’s documentation for the employer-to-be’s one, noticing my dentist (who used to sit next door) had retired in 2013. At Rob’s bar I met Peeweet, then surprisingly also my roommate, after which I rebegan Swedish Duolingo lessons – and finding out Norwegian Bokmål was already in beta started that one.

On Friday I had the ‘initial check-up’ (luckily the doc didn’t notice my footdrop), had a supper with Rob during my first visit to his new house on Woodless Street; later in his bar rebegan processing my old photos, starting with St Andrews 2010 – partly, I have to admit, because the WiFi connection in the far room was worse than pathetic.

I had been afraid the weekend would drag on, but after rebeginning my physical exercises on Saturday I had a lot to do on the laptop, including writing a letter to British Telecom to terminate the Internet contract for my former Scottish abode. The unpleasant thing was that my roommate started watching a film each night before going to sleep. Naturally I can’t fall asleep before these end. Ah well, I won’t be there for long.

On Sunday I finally had a shower (the hostel is so cheap the cubicles don’t even have curtains, and my roommate had advised me to shower in the morning, as later on I might not get hot water); before leaving for the bar I rearranged my possessions, my roommate having eventually emptied one of the two bedside tables in the room.

And on Monday the agency called to say they’d arranged an induction for me for Wednesday.

It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, not by a long shot. Nevertheless, exiled, lonely and depressed I was. I sent to Tommy several emails with a PS reading “I miss you”.

 

Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014

Even with my indifference towards this branch of show business, I couldn’t help noticing an event taking place for over a week in my city. Not that I saw any competition, except for a few bikers who had the right of way before I could cross West George St and St Vincent St on my way to work on the very last day. (There were hardly any cheering fans, but those waiting to get to the other pavement mostly did refrain from the usual local jaywalking without being grumpy about it.)

But the city was indisputably even more crowded that usual (luckily, by now Edinburgh has taken over again with its summer festivals – hopefully for many years to come). And exceptionally, I often clicked on a news headline despite knowing it was sports-related. So I noticed Ross Murdoch, successful in fighting his opponents in 200m breatstroke, and later slightly less successful (but all the more human for it) in fighting his tears on the winners’ podium.

I noticed the Scottish bowlers winning men’s singles, pairs and fours. (However, the appearance of the guys involved gave me the impression that with my BMI 16, this is not a sport for me when I retire.) And of course I followed the medal table up to the final 19 golds, making Scotland fourth only to England, Australia and Canada.

All in all, it was fun. I enjoyed it – and I’m glad it ended as quickly as it did.
 

Postscript 14/8/15: only a year later I came by accident across this nice loop.

Team Scotland parade uniform

When I saw the parade uniform of the Commonwealth Games’ hosting team, I couldn’t help thinking that if there was one country in the world of which it did not remind me, it was Scotland. I’d honestly sooner suspect some island in Polynesia. For once, the vox populi apparently agreed with my sour grin, if for various other reasons. Some people (at the moment 23,605 of them) even went as far as to sign a petition to have them scrapped.
 

[Note: The final count was 27,935.]

 

Go-playing workmates

A conversation overheard at the beginning of an Edinburgh job a fortnight ago made me suspect, somewhat incredulously, that some of my workmates can play 囲碁, even meet somewhere for the purpose. A conversation overheard when we were returning confirmed this beyond doubt.

I would definitely expect a chess club in Glasgow, but not a go club; yet apparently there is one. The chances of my working with some of its members (originally from Lithuania on top of that) must have been infinitesimal, but it happened.

I spent a few pleasant hours during the following few days imagining joining myself, even buying me a go set and teaching Tommy the rules. Eventually of course a realistic appraisal made me realise that my social phobia would never allow me to try and impose myself on this bunch of young guys. But I did enjoy the daydreaming.

 

Obree vs Uganda

After the Ugandan president signed the (albeit watered down) bill to make life even more horrendous for Ugandan gays and lesbians, Graeme Obree launched a petition against inviting “that Ugandan politicians who backed the anti-gay bill” to this year’s Commonwealth Games.

At the moment it has 2,800+ signatures. I signed it too, although, to be quite honest, I don’t believe that even with 28,000 it would have any effect on the invitations, and even with 280,000 on the plight of Ugandan LGBT.

Financial measures like that taken by the World Bank and the Netherlands might be more to the point, if they were not comparatively isolated: there is a difference between not inviting a thug to a party and between not giving him the alms he is used to.

 

Sochi

Apparently the Olympic Games have ended, because I no longer see related news headlines. I was never much interested in this kind of show business. This year, with their taking place in Russia after Putin’s analogy of Thatcher’s Section 28, I couldn’t even be bothered to look up afterwards how successful the UK team was.

 

Andy Murray won Wimbledon

I’m not much interested in this kind of show business, but noticing Murray was playing the final I opened this page and by accident had a look there later when the score was Murray 6-4 7-5 3-4 Djokovic. I decided to wait till the end of the set, and so I can say I watched the victory. Interested or not, I admit it did excite me a bit.

By coincidence, the next morning I had a job in Dunblane. It seemed very quiet, as if after a night of celebrations only those who had to be at work were awake. I could quite understand that . . .

 

Hydro and Robert Snodgrass

Friday, 7 June was a day of strange coincidences. Going to our first job we passed the Hydro: I had only read about it a few days earlier in connection with their problems with keeping the deadline, never seen it with the naked eye; the very next day news about a blaze would come. And during the break in our second job I saw Scotland’s goal against Croatia in the World Cup qualification: I’m totally uninterested in football, so it wasn’t until the following day that I learned it had turned out to be the only goal of the match, and how astonishing the victory was.

 

Ayr / Kilmarnock

Paul had to head back to the office for another printer so I had an hour to walk Ayr, where I had never been before. Glimpses: Saturday morning crowds. (What I’ve just learned is called) Wallace Tower. Impressive railway station building. Arran Mall. Across a footbridge and back across the New Bridge. Only some time after that I realized I was so near the sea I could go as far as that. (Sea still fascinates me; I’m from a landlocked country.) Sandy – and windy – beach. And back by St John’s Tower.

Towards the sea from Ayr New Bridge

St John’s Tower, Ayr

Later in Kilmarnock Stephen challenged me for a game of pool. I lost 0-3, but didn’t play half as bad as I thought I would, given I hadn’t held a cue in my hands for a decade or so.

 

Iasgairean aig Amar Chnoc Ghiuthais

Chan robh mi ag iasgach riamh. Bha mo bheachd mu dheidhinn iasgach gur e cur-seachad aonaranach anns a tha daoine an sàs air an dùthaich bhon earrach gu foghar nuair a tha an t-sìde math. Nuair a thàinig mi a Ghlaschu, chur e iongnadh orm iasgair air choireigin fhaicinn an-dràsta ‘s a-rithist aig Amar Chnoc Ghiuthais – mìle gu leth bho Cheàrnag Sheòrais – rè a’ gheamhraidh. As t-samhradh, b’ e an t-uiread ag iasgach ann a bha a’ cur iongnadh orm – uaireannan ‘s mathaid fichead duine aig còig àiteachan timcheall an amair aig an aon àm, agus a’ chuairt-thomhas aige nas lugha na leth-mhìle. Bha feadhainn ag iasgach eadhon nuair a bha an t-uisge ann. Agus Diluain sa chaidh, chuir fear iongnadh orm oir chunnaic mi mar a ghlac e iasg mu dheireadh thall!

 

Graeme Obree came out

At the age of 45 and over 1½ decades after taking twice the world hour record for bicycles, Graeme Obree discovered to the Scottish Sun he was gay and his suicide attempts had been linked to his sexual orientation, having grown up in a quite homophobic environment.
PinkNews: Cycling champion Graeme Obree says he’s gay
This is somewhat scary. I mean, uninterested as I am in top-rate sport, I probably only noticed he existed as somebody gave a newspaper clipping back then, in which the author maintained it was only natural that somebody breaking records on a home-made bike, rather than one from the most famous (and expensive) manufacturers must needs get frequently disqualified, so as not to have an adverse effect on said companies’ profits. I forgot all about him since. Last week I incidentally came across the clipping – before I started reading I couldn’t even remember who this Obree was. And then, a day or two later, he appears in PinkNews, coming out as gay.

Sometimes I really wonder whether there’s somebody carrying out psychological testing on me.

 

Tay salmon fishing season began

River Tay salmon fishing season was formally opened last week with last year’s restrictions aimed at conserving stocks meaning every salmon caught before June should be returned and afterwards anglers should limit themselves to one male salmon a day.
BBC: Salmon fishing season begins on River Tay
There are many pastimes I have never tried; I have no idea whether I would or wouldn’t like a few of them, angling within the number. Now I’m further confused. The idea of going fishing and hoping one would never catch anything, like Terpsic Mims in Terry Pratchett’s Mort, seems less strange to me than hoping to catch something only to throw it back into water.

 

A few funny chess problems

My grandfather taught me the rules of chess when I was seven years old and since eight to eighteen years of age I attended, with interceptions, a children’s chess club. I was never much good at it though. Partly, as I only realized much later, because I was more interested in all the fun associated with it than in the game itself.

For example, my favourite variant wasn’t ‘the real thing’ but tandem chess (which for some reason we called Dutch chess). I enjoyed the tournaments and summer camps I took part in more because of the feeling of belonging to some fraternity than because of what was actually happening on the chessboards. I was less interested in the scholar’s mate which often happens among beginners than in the fool’s mate which is very unlikely – but the shortest possible one. (Although in fact, two and a half year’s ago I could hardly believe my eyes when playing against a guy who after 1. f4 Nc6 2. c4 e5 3. g3 exf4 actually did play 4. gxf4 and waited until I hesitantly finished with 4. … Qh4ǂ.) And I was yet more proud of being able to show off my knowledge of the shortest way from the initial position to stalemate, which can be done in ten moves (needless to stay, both sides must co-operate).

Similarly, I was always more interested in bizarre chess problems than those ‘White checkmates in two moves’ which could actually help me improve my playing capabilities. Some of these included, like the stalemate thing, both sides co-operating, and even doing something which normally isn’t done:

1) White: Kh5, Black: Ke8. White to undo his move, Black to undo his move, Black to play differently, White to checkmate.

Others were simply tricks made for fun:

2) White: Kg1, Rh1, Bb5, Bd8, Black: Kf8, Rg8, pg7. White checkmates in half a move [sic].
3) White: Kc6, Rf2, Bd3, Bh2, Nf3, Nh6, pd4, pg5, Black: Kf4, Rg3. White checkmates without a move. Checkmate in zero moves, so to say.

Still, some of my favourite problems were fun without defying or twisting the rules. Like this one, in which seemingly White can only capture Black rook, which means stalemate. Wrong. He can win.

4) White: Kb3, Rh3, pb2, pc2, pd2, pe2, pf3, pb6, pc7, Black: Ka8, Rf3, pb7. White to win.

I’ll end up this blog with a real gem: despite stalemate danger, once again White wins. There’s no monkey business, and yet…

5) White: Ke5, Bh7, pc5, pe6, pg5, pg6, Black: Kh8, pc7, pe7, pg7, pf5. White to win.
 

Solutions:

0) Stalemate in 10 moves: 1. e3 a5 2. Qh5 Ra6 3. Qxa5 h5 4. h4 Rah6 5. Qxc7 f6 6. Qxd7+ Kf7 7. Qxb7 Qd3 8. Qxb8 Qh7 9. Qxc8 Kg6 10. Qe6 ½-½

1) White undoes capturing black rook (Kg6xh5), Black undoes capturing White queen (Rh8xh5), Black castles kingside, White checkmates by Qh7ǂ.

2) White finishes kingside castling by moving his rook from h1 to f1.

3) White turns the chessboard 180°, so his pawns move in the other direction.

4) To avoid White Rh8ǂ, Black cannot refrain from checking White. Contrarily, White doesn’t want to take the Black rook as that would only achieve a draw through stalemate. Thus, White begins by offering Black two of his pawns:
1. e3 Rxe3+ 2. c3 Rxc3+
then starts running in front of Black in a zigzag fashion:
3. Ka2 Ra3+ 4. Kb1 Ra1+ 5. Kc2 Rc1+ 6. Kd3 Rc3+ 7. Ke2 Re3+ 8. Kf1 Re1+ 9. Kg2 Rg1+ 10. Kf3
This way White forces Black to take a third pawn, thus giving White rook horizontal play, and begins to zigzag back
10. … Rxg3+ 11. Ke2 Re3+ 12. Kd1 Re1+ 13. Kc2 Rc1+ 14. Kb3 Rc3+ 15. Ka2
Black checks once more and White checkmates taking his rook.
15. … Ra3+ 16. Rxa3ǂ

5) White to win: The clue to this situation is that Black’s last move must have been f7-f5. Consequently, White captures en passant:
1. g5xf6 e.p.
Black now has three options, yet all of them losing:
(1) 1. … c6
White takes care to avoid a stalemate after 2. f7. Instead he changes pawns 2. fxg7+ Kxg7 3. Kd4 and as Black cannot leave the f-file because of White’s g7 – g8Q threat, White king casually travels via the a-file to capture Black’s pawn and make a queen out of his one on the c-file.
(2) 1. … exf6+
White merely sidesteps 2. Kd4 safe in the knowledge that in two moves he checkmates whatever Black does: 3. e7 4. e8Qǂ (or, indeed, e8Rǂ)
(3) 1. … gxf6+
This is the trickiest possibility for White, but he moves his king 2. Kd5 and has enough time to either return for capturing of the black f-pawn if it moves to f5 prematurely, eg 2. … Kg7 3. Kc6 f5 4. Kd5 Kf6 5. g7 5. … Kxg7 6. Bxf5 etc, or to take Black’s c-pawn and promote his own sooner than Black can promote his f-pawn, eg 2. … Kg7 3. Kc6 Kh8 4. Kxc7 f5 5. Kd7 f4 6. c6 f3 7. c7 f2 8. c8Q+ 8. … Kg7 9. Qg8+ Kf6 (or Kh6) 10. Qf8+ and White captures the Black pawn on 2nd rank in the next move. The rest is a piece of piss.

 

What price strategy when tactic’s missing?

This makes me so cross. When my friends began teaching me the game of go, they praised me for being fairly quick in the uptake with regard to the beginning part’s strategy. I think they weren’t just flattering me. Nevertheless, this comes to nothing when I lose by being unable to protect a well-defined territory in the end game.

Like yesterday. I thought only the finishing touches were left to be made and was anxious to see who would win when my opponent attacked a group I took for granted. By now I know my play wasn’t a good idea. But I can’t make out whether I could have saved the group if I responded better, or whether it was doomed the moment it was attacked.

This happens disgustingly often. Indeed, I played three games yesterday, with different players: in the first one I lost the whole lower right corner and in the third something similar happened as well.

This is frustrating for two reasons. First, happening at the end of the game this makes one wonder what use is strategy when any territory you build can be easily snatched away from you if your opponent decides they want to. Second, I’ve no one to explain to me whether I’m making some systemic mistake in considering such territories safe, or whether I just repeatedly botch up the defence.

Oh well, what the hell. I won’t back down. The only way to find out is playing more games. As soon as I’ve enough time I’ll be at the PandaNet room again.

 

Jessica Watson claims record voyage

Jessica Watson, 16, claims she has sailed around the world. This would make her the youngest person to do so solo, non-stop and unassisted, thus breaking another Australian’s, (then 18-year-old) Jesse Martin’s record.
BBC: Australia hails Jessica Watson, 16, for sailing record
Make no mistake, what she’s done is amazing. Nonetheless, looking at the route she took:

I suppose we might just as well go a bit further and say that anyone who sailed, for instance, from Bergen to Rio de Janeiro to Reykjavík and around the North Pole back to Bergen, sailed “around the world” as well.