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The BBC reported today that, since the introduction of a 5p charge in England, plastic bag use had fallen very significantly. They estimated that 640 million bags had been issues in the last six months compared to 7.64 billion over the previous year.  Alan Sloman tweeted

“I wonder how the sales of plastic bags for pedal bins are doing? Wouldn’t mind betting no environmental saving.”

which is a very good point. If the carrier bag ban has merely resulted in displacement then, while it may be beneficial in reducing litter, it may not mean a significant saving in plastic use.  As a geek engineer, I always find such statements a challenge so I thought I would do some rough calculations and see what turned up (I haven’t done these in advance of writing this so at this stage I don’t know what the answer will be).

First, some data. I weighed a 30l bag for a pedal bin (20g) and a single use bag (15g). As the single use bag had holes in it, measuring its capacity by filling it with water is impractical but it looks as if it’s about 15l so, rather smaller than a custom bin bag. The annual reduction in the number of bags using the BBBC’s figures is 6.36 billion.

Because of the holes, you actually need to double up single-use bags for kitchen pedal bins. Otherwise, liquid drips through and makes a mess.

Now we know that not all bags are used in pedal bins but let’s assume 50% of them are. If these are doubled to avoid liquid leakage, then this means that the total capacity of the single use bags used as pedal bin liners is

25% * 6.36 billion * 15 litres = 23.85 billion litres

so, to match this with 30l bags, we need 795 million bags, which would weigh 15.9 million kg

However, if 6.36 billion fewer bags are used, this means that the total weight of these bags is 95.4 million kg so, even if my estimates are a good bit out there is still a pretty significant saving in plastic use. Against this, of course, there is the plastic used for ‘bag for life’ bags sold by the supermarkets but to work this into calculations, you need to know the average lifetime of such bags (which I don’t)

All in all then, there is likely to be a significant environmental saving from charging for plastic bags although this is likely to be a good bit less than it might appear. But for me, not having bags blowing around the countryside is a big win, whatever the environmental saving.

After the recent EU referendum, in which I voted to remain a member of the European Union, I tweeted:

Scotland and Brexit. A democratic deficit too far. Time for independence. #UKhaditsday

This led to several replies and the obvious question about economic issues associated with Scottish independence. I don’t think that 140 character tweets are a good way to conduct a nuanced discussion about complex issues so I’m writing this post to articulate my views on this.

Firstly, the issue of a democratic deficit. Since, the 1980s, there have been several UK governments elected where the vast majority of Scots voted for a different political party. This enraged some people but I accepted that in a democracy, the majority view should prevail. However, in such circumstances, governments are elected to govern for all citizens not just those who voted for them. It is arguable to what extent this actually happens but there is no doubt whatsoever that governments accept this responsibility and sometimes modify their policies accordingly.

Single issue referendums are fundamentally a bad way to make decisions because they do not allow for this. The majority votes one way and their view prevails irrespective of the opinions of the minority. There is no going back and those whose views were in a minority are simply unrepresented.

So, I chose my words carefully in saying that the result of the EU referendum was a democratic deficit too far. All 32 regions in Scotland voted to remain in the EU with 62% of voters preferring to remain in the EU. By contrast, 53% of voters in England wanted to leave the EU. There is no room for compromise and flexibility here – we did not vote to leave the EU and I can see no reason why we should be forced to leave this institution against our will.

We are not a region of England but voluntarily participated in a Union with England in 1707. Scotland has undoubtedly benefited from union with England but has not been subsumed into it. We have maintained our own legal system, education system, healthcare system and sense of nationhood. Just as either partner in a marriage can file for divorce, so too can either country in the Union.

Obviously, if we remain part of the UK, the majority decision must be respected so I see no alternative to leaving the UK and establishing an independent Scotland that is a member of the EU. Although I voted ‘no’ in the last referendum I will vote to leave the UK in the next one and speak up for Scottish independence.

I voted ‘no’ in the Scottish referendum for 3 principal reasons:

1. I was concerned that an independent Scotland would be excluded from the EU for several years.
2. The economic case made by the SNP was utterly dishonest and did not accept the reality that there would be significant short to medium term economic difficulties if Scotland became independent.
3. Having lived and worked in England for almost 20 years, I felt British and recognised that our similarities were more important than our differences.

The key change since the referendum, of course, that a majority of English and Welsh voters preferred to leave the EU.  I believe that is important and beneficial to be part of a wider community and feel betrayed by Cameron who commented that the only way for Scotland to be sure of staying in the EU was to vote ‘no’. The referendum has also changed the way I feel about Britain. I found the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Leave campaign to be quite unpleasant. It did not seem to me to encompass what I have always thought of as ‘British values’ and I really feel that I have little in common with the isolationist views of some (perhaps a majority) of Brexit voters.

I am now convinced that there is more chance of Scotland prospering and establishing a fair society within the EU rather than within the UK. Of course, the economic issues raised in the Scottish referendum have not gone away. Issues such as the income/expenditure gap and the choice of currency have to be faced rather than glossed over.

We can no longer rely on oil taxation to bridge a gap and I see this as positive – it forces politicians to be honest about economic issues. The deficit between tax income and expenditure in Scotland currently runs at roughly twice that in the UK (on a per head basis) and this will clearly have to be reduced, in time, by tax increases and public expenditure reduction. This will have to be a careful, long-term process although it may be helped by the cyclic increase in oil prices which will occur over the next few years. But any oil taxation should be seen as a bonus and we should not bank on this to solve our problems.

I believe that the deficit will also inevitably increase in England and Wales due to Brexit, although the government policies there will probably favour cuts more than tax increases. It is probable that tax increases in Scotland will be higher but, as a paid up member of the middle classes who will be affected by this, I think this is a price worth paying.

Personally, I am relaxed about the currency issue. It makes sense initially to either use the pound even without central bank influence or establish a ‘pound Scots’, that tracks the UK pound . It may well be that a condition of Scotland’s membership of the EU is, in the longer term, the adoption of the euro (formally, the eurozone rules would not allow Scotland to join until the deficit is reduced though that didn’t seem to apply to Greece). For sure, the euro has been a disaster for southern European economies but much less so for economies in Northern Europe. It is nonsense to suggest that membership of the euro necessarily leads to lower growth (Ireland’s growth in 2015 was 6%) or that Scotland will be required to bail out much larger countries such as Spain or Italy. I suspect that the eurozone will actually muddle through its problems and in 10-15 years the euro will be a much stronger currency than the pound.

I believe that short-term economic pain that independence will require is worthwhile for long-term gain. An independent Scotland, with a higher proportion of graduates than elsewhere in the UK, will be in a better position than England to attract incoming investment from large international companies. An English-speaking country within the EU, with easy access to London, and a highly educated workforce is a far more attractive proposition than a country that has chosen to turn its back on Europe. Threats of large companies, such as Standard Life, to move to England because of lack of EU membership have obviously disappeared.

We will be in a position to attract and welcome entrepreneurial young people from England and elsewhere in Europe who recognise the value of international collaborations. I hope many English and Welsh people who share our views on the EU will chose to move here. In a digital connected world, our distance from major European cities is much less important than it used it to. In 10 years time, we will reap the benefits of independence within the European community.

There may well be hiccups on the way to independence. The EU may decide that Scotland should not be considered a special case in an application for membership so a referendum will be delayed until we have a clearer path to membership. They may argue that Scotland cannot join the euro because of the deficit although they ignored this rule for several countries such as Greece.

Predictions are always challenging, especially those about the future but I predict that Scotland will prosper as a member of the EU. The Brexit vote has revealed such deep divisions between the nations of the UK that I cannot see how the UK can remain united. I am confident that Scotland will become independent in the near to mid-term future.

Sadly, I think that the English and Welsh economies will decline significantly  because of their decision to leave the EU. I would like to be wrong on this – an independent Scotland will benefit from a strong English economy and vice versa. But even if I have got this completely wrong and the English economy prospers more than ours, I would still prefer to live in a country that was part of the EU.

Because this isn’t just about money. It is about embracing the future where we are outward looking participants in an institution that is more than the sum of its parts; an institution that is working to address the problems of climate change that can only be tackled collectively and that believes that regulations to protect the environment are important; an institution whose regulations are widely criticised but many of which are designed to protect individuals from businesses motivated only by profits; an institution that recognises that we cannot simply turn our backs on refugees, fleeing for their lives,  or people seeking to escape desperate poverty and persecution.

The problems that humanity faces in the future are enormous and can only be solved through joint action. The EU is far from perfect but, in general, I believe it is a force for good. This is not the time to walk away.

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Ever since the 1970s, I’ve carried a compact camera (then, a Rollei 35, which I still have) when I’ve been in the hills.  I have always been willing to accept the loss of flexibility and quality compared to a larger, heavier camera because of the low weight and bulk of a compact camera. I like the idea of a camera I can carry in my pocket and where I don’t have to think about how heavy it is.

As I said in my last post, my latest compact is a Canon Powershot G7X, Mark 2., which replaced a water damaged G7X Mark 1.  It arrived yesterday and, naturally, I wanted to have a play with it today.  Firstly, I took my usual bookcase shot using both the Mark 1 and Mark 2 G7Xs. As you would expect, there was no discernible difference between them.

Bookshelves test - Powershot G7X Mark 1

Bookshelves test – Powershot G7X Mark 1


Bookshelves text - Powershot G7X Mark 2

Bookshelves text – Powershot G7X Mark 2


I have always thought that there was a quality compromise with compact cameras compared to SLRS so I decided that I would compare the G7X to my Canon EOS70d SLR. This is a low to mid-range SLR, which doesn’t have a full-size sensor but I have been pleased with the quality of its images.   I used the kit lens that came with the camera, which is an 18-55mm zoom, f3.5 maximum aperture.

The images below came straight from the cameras with no manipulation at all.  Both shot in RAW format with manual exposure (1/1600, f/8, ISO 320).  Sharpness differences won’t show up on a small blog image but when blowing these up in Lightroom, if anything the G7X was sharper. However, this could be an artefact of the in-camera processing as the G7X certainly produced punchier, slightly higher contrast images, which were a wee bit darker.

Dandelions and ploughed field - Canon EOS 70d

Dandelions and ploughed field – Canon EOS 70d


Dandelions and ploughed field, Powershot G7X Mark 2

Dandelions and ploughed field, Powershot G7X Mark 2


It’s a matter of personal preference which of these you prefer – I prefer the EOS image but it is easy to adjust them in Lightroom to be identical.

I then took these images and cropped them in Lightroom to include only the dandelions. This is pretty dramatic cropping but, again, there was no discernible quality difference between the cameras.

Close up of dandelions - EOS 70d

Close up of dandelions – EOS 70d


Close up of dandelions, P/shot G7x M2

Close up of dandelions, P/shot G7x M2

I’ve also linked larger versions of these images so that anyone interested can compare the quality (G7X dandelions, EOS70d dandelions). If anything, the compact image is sharper.

Normally, I use a camera on manual as I like to shoot at a high shutter speed to minimise camera shake. Paradoxically, perhaps, I always keep the camera on auto when I’m out and about simply because you sometimes have only a few seconds to catch an image and if you simply want a record of a place, it’s quicker and easier. So I compared the auto performance of both cameras when I had a river walk alongside the Dee. Again, I didn’t do any post-processing on these images.


River Dee - EOS 70d. Auto exposure

River Dee – EOS 70d. Auto exposure


River Dee - P/Shot GTX M2. Auto exposure

River Dee – P/Shot GTX M2. Auto exposure


River Dee - wide angle. EOS 70d, auto-exposure

River Dee – wide angle. EOS 70d, auto-exposure


River Dee - wide angle. P/shot G7X M2, auto-exposure

River Dee – wide angle. P/shot G7X M2, auto-exposure

I had expected that the differences between these cameras would be quite small but that the SLR would be marginally better. I was surprised that I simply could not separate the images on quality. The compact is simply just as good as the larger and heavier SLR.

Of course, there are good reasons for having and using an SLR. The viewfinder is far superior to the screen on a compact and there is a wide range of lenses available. If you need a very wide angle or a long telephoto, then an SLR is the only choice. But in terms of quality, unless you are printing poster-sized images then I don’t think there’s a real difference. I’m delighted with the quality of the Powershot G7X. It has a wide range zoom lens (24-100mm) which is wide-angle enough for landscapes and long enough for shots of distant hills.

I know hill folks who agonise over a few grams in their gear and spend lots of money on a lighter shelter or rucksack. But they still carry an SLR for ‘better quality’.  Guys – it’s just not worth it any longer.

Last October (2015), I wrote about my experience with my new Canon Powershot G7X compact camera, which I bought to replace my broken Sony RX-100. Primarily, this was a camera to take on walks, so I wanted a compromise between quality, durability, weight and size. I was pretty happy with the quality of photos from this camera and I envisaged keeping it for several years.

Liz on the summit of Cranalt Crag

Liz on the summit of Cranalt Crag

Today, my new Powershot G7X Mark II arrived. So, what happened?

Over the Christmas holidays, my daughter Jane and I decided to have a walk up Bennachie, a wee hill in Aberdeenshire that’s ideal for a short walk on a winter’s day.  Jane is a believer in hydration and rarely travels anywhere without a bottle of water and, sure enough, along came the water for this walk. Normally, this is kept in a  handbag that cost more than my rucksack and sometimes seems to be nearly as big. But, stupidly, I dissuaded here from carrying this up the hill and we set off with the water in hand.

We walked uneventfully up the hill. The weather was sunny but very cold and windy and we had some fine views from the summit.  It was actually too cold to take many photos but I took the obligatory summit photo. No water was consumed on the ascent.

Jane on Bennachie

Jane on the summit of Bennachie

Jane had, by now, tired of carrying the undrunk water and asked me to put it in my pocket. I had a Paramo smock with a pouch pocket (where I had my camera) so I shoved the bottle in there and thought no more about it. That is, until I decided to take a photo on the way down. In went my hand to the chest pocket and out came a wet camera – the water bottle top wasn’t on properly and water had leaked into the pocket. Of course, it being a waterproof (sort of) jacket, the pockets were (sort of) waterproof. There was nowhere for thee water to go and my camera had been sitting in a pool of water for 20 minutes.

Do not try this at home! I dried off the camera and with some hesitation, turned it on.  It seemed to start up OK but then made a strange warring noise and wouldn’t take a picture.

I got home, dried out the camera more thoroughly and, if anything, things were worse. The camera started, the lens zoomed then retracted with strange zig zag patterns on the screen then everything shut down.  Donald Ducked!

The usual advice with wet electronics is to leave them to dry out slowly in something that absorbs water, such as rice. So, it went into a plastic box with a kilo of basmati rice and I left it for a couple of weeks. I tried it again and things were better but not right so back into the rice it went. By the end of January, things looked a lot better. The camera started OK, most functions seemed to be working and the photos taken looked fine. However, the flash did not work. As I rarely use flash, I wasn’t too worried about this and, in fact, had never tried it. Somewhat hopefully,  I wondered if it had ever worked so,  I sent it back for a repair under guarantee.

I didn’t get away with this. Back came the rather curt report ‘Damaged beyond economic repair by water or humidity’. No big deal I thought – it’s still fine as a hill-walking camera. But it wasn’t fine at all. Everything apart from the flash worked but the battery life (which was never great) had gone down from about 220 shots per charge to less than 50 per charge. This is OK for a day out but useless for a multi-day backpack. I hummed and hawed about what to do and my wife got fed up with me talking about it. ‘Just get a new one’ she said with some exasperation. Permission granted,  I saw a new model of the camera was imminent so when it was released this month, I bit the bullet and bought a replacement.

So – lessons learned. As a parent, carrying stuff for your children is normal when they are small; when they grow up – be brutal and tell them to carry it themselves; and never put a water bottle in the same pocket as anything else. Rice works as a way of drying out electronics and it’s always worth a try – but sometimes things are just too bad for recovery. But you can always eat the rice later.

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Clachnaben (the hill of the lopsided nipple) has been a favourite Christmas holiday walk for me although I didn’t get there this year because of the horrendous wet weather in December and January. My outdoor activities this winter have also been curtailed by family illness but a good weather forecast combined with good news from the hospital this week meant that I could get out for a day, rather than the shorter walks that have all that’s been possible.

Until yesterday, I’d never been to Glen Dye although I’ve looked over it lots of times from Clachnaben and Mount Battock.  But I was alerted to proposals for a wind farm development there by Alan Sloman – a redoubtable campaigner against wind farms in rural Scotland (search his blog for ‘wind farm’).  So,  I thought that I should go there to have a look at it before any developments. I planned a circular route – up Clachnaben, west to the Hill of Edendocher, south to Charr bothy in Glen Dye then back to the car park near the Bridge of Dye.

I started out on a fine windless morning and took the track to Clachnaben from the car park. The January floods have clearly caused quite a lot of erosion and, higher up, the track was a ribbon of ice although there was very little lying snow below 600m. From the top, the views were extensive in every direction – I had it to myself.

Looking south from Clachnaben towards Glen Dye and the area of the proposed wind farm

Looking south-west from Clachnaben towards Glen Dye and the area of the proposed wind farm

It’s an easy walk west from Clachnaben and I reckoned on getting to Charr bothy for lunch. Although there was very little snow on the tops, there were extensive drifts on the track that descends in Glen Dye, which looked great and made ‘interesting’ walking.  The estate was burning heather – a practice that is supposed to encourage the growth of heather shoots on which grouse feed. Thus, raising more birds for twats in tweeds to shoot later in the year. A report from Leeds University demonstrated that heather burning is really quite bad for the environment and, in my view, it’s time it was banned.


Snow shapes in the track to Glen Dye

Snow shapes in the track to Glen Dye


Charr bothy

Charr bothy. The towers are on the hillside opposite and the hill track would because the main service road to the wind farm.


Muirburning. This is the main area for the proposed wind farm.

Muirburning. This is the main area for the proposed wind farm.

The  planned wind farm is very close to Charr bothy – imagine, in the pictures here, 150m towers all over the landscape. The bothy itself is very well-kept although it must be a cold place in winter as there’s no stove. The weather had clearly not seen the forecast which promised wall-to-wall sunshine all day and the morning’s blue skies gave way to cloud with only an occasional blink of sun. After coffee and sandwiches, I headed back down Glen Dye to the car, taking in the views up and down the glen.


Lower Glen Dye

Lower Glen Dye


Looking towards upper Glen Dye and the site of the wind farm

Looking towards upper Glen Dye and the site of the wind farm


Feteresso forest and Mid Hill wind farm. One justification for the Glen Dye wind farm is that there are already wind farms in the area.

Fetteresso forest and Mid Hill wind farm. One justification for the Glen Dye wind farm is that there are already wind farms in the area.


Glen Dye is not a ‘natural landscape’. It is managed for grouse shooting and there are various bulldozed access tracks into the hills.  It’s not an area of outstanding natural beauty like Glencoe, Lochnagar or Torrridon.  It is a typical Mounth landscape – heather moors and rounded hills.  There are already wind farm developments close by. So – does it matter if the new wind farm is built? I think it does.

The Scottish Government has set out ‘designated scenic area’ where wind farm development is very unlikely to be approved. Their view of landscape, however, seems to be that this is something to be looked at from a car during an annual holiday or weekend break – not something that should be part of our everyday life. With the notable exception of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, most of these areas are remote from centres of population and are mountain areas. Realistically, access to these areas, especially in winter, requires special skills and equipment, which excludes a large chunk of the population.

Evidence suggests that being self-powered (walking or biking) in the country improves both our physical and mental health. We certainly need to tackle the health problems of a large proportion of the Scottish population and government should be doing every possible to encourage participation in outdoor activities. That’s why places like Glen Dye are important. It’s easily accessible from Aberdeen and not much further from Dundee. The bulldozed tracks which outdoor folks like me)dislike, make this landscape less intimidating to ordinary folks so they can easily access the landscape, for most of the year,  without special equipment. It’s a gentle introduction to hill areas and, for sure, some who venture there for the first time will be hooked and go on to bigger things.

Landscape should be for everyone – not viewed from behind a windscreen. Actively engaging with the landscape – feeling the wind and rain, spotting wildlife (I met a couple who were entranced by their first sighting of the common black grouse), relaxing after a long walk is an enriching experience. We need to preserve all sorts of landscape – not just the outstanding bits – and ensure and encourage access to it. I’d far rather subsidise landowners to improve public access than to subsidise inefficient and ugly industrial structures that irrevocably destroy the sense of remoteness in the wilder areas of Scotland.

Clachnaben from Glen Dye

Clachnaben from Glen Dye

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Since the completion of David Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ of the UK’s terms for EU membership, the news has been dominated by the forthcoming referendum on EU membership where we can vote for ‘in’ or ‘out’ on June 23rd. So far, this has remarkable similarities to the Scottish referendum in September 2014, where the Brexit campaign is comparable to the campaign for Scottish independence.

  1. Most significantly, the key rationale for independence and Brexit is self-determination. One of Alex Salmond’s most powerful comments was in a TV debate where he said (something like)  ‘Why would any country not want to be independent and make their own decisions’ and the same could be said of the EU and the UK.  The reason why, of course, is that there is really no such thing as ‘independence’ in a modern interconnected, globalised society and we are all dependent, to some extent, on other countries in the world so we have to work together with them. Sometimes being part of a larger economic unit is the best way to do so. There are benefits to Scotland being part of the UK and benefits to the UK being part of the EU.
  2. The proponents of the status quo largely base their argument on risk (or fear) – there are risks of change and it isn’t worth taking these risks.
  3. Those advocating change make a set of economic arguments that are presented in what might be called the ‘future optimistic’ tense. That is, they have no idea really what will happen but they pick some best-case scenario and assume that is what it will be. We have seen from the scenario of ‘oil rich Scotland’ that the best case doesn’t always happen. However, there is no doubt that Scotland could be economically successful outside the UK and Britain could be economically successful outside the EU. Whether we would be more or less successful is impossible to say and politicians who claim otherwise are liars.
  4. There are big personalities involved (Salmond and Johnson) whose rhetoric and political skill is excellent but who seem to me to be lacking in analytical skills and who present a partial (or perhaps, more unkindly, dishonest) picture of their preferred future.
  5. Both the ‘out’ campaign and the Scottish independence campaign attracted what have been called ‘swivel eyed loons’. The SNP Government had the sense to suppress these extreme views but people like Farage and Galloway seem to be playing a much more prominent part in the Brexit campaign.

The analogy between these referendums is, of course, imperfect. Thankfully, there was very little xenophobia in the Scottish referendum but attracting xenophobes by condemning immigration from elsewhere in the EU seems to be a big part of the Brexit campaign.  And of course, the Government in Scotland were the proposers of independence and other parties opposed this whereas those political supporters of Brexit are mostly part of the governing party.

The argument for self-determination is a potent one and I respect those people who took this position in Scotland and will take this position in the EU referendum. I dislike many of the policies of the current and previous UK Governments and was attracted to the notion of self-determination. I don’t much like some of the policies of the current and previous UK Governments but I was swayed to vote ‘no’ in the Scottish referendum because of the dishonest and incoherent economic arguments put forward by the SNP and the recognition that there really is no such thing as independence.

Similarly, there are things I don’t like about the EU. The adoption of currency union without fiscal union was simply daft; the European Parliament with its migration between Strasbourg and Brussels, its lack of influence and what seem to me to be second-rate MEPs is a joke;  European Commissioners have far too much power and should be democratically accountable; the bureaucracy and inflexibility of the European Commission is ridiculous. To be fair, however, much of this bureaucracy stems from the need to counter fraud – claims by farmers for non-existent sheep and olive groves, local authorities for non-existent jobs that had been created and universities and companies for non-existent scientific projects completed. These areas need to be reformed not the minor and largely symbolic reforms that Cameron has agreed.

Nevertheless, the EU case for me, is less ambiguous and a much easier decision than whether to vote for Scottish independence or not.  I worked with colleagues in Europe and with folks in the European Commission for almost 20 years and discovered that our commonalities are much more significant than our differences (also true, of course, for Scotland and England). Nation states in Europe warred with each other for hundreds of years but this, since the formation of a ‘united’ Europe, is now simply unthinkable. The enormous challenges of the future – climate change, terrorism, national and global inequality, integrating migrants and controlling supra-national companies such as Google – are best addressed within a larger rather than a smaller unit.  Britain cannot tackle these challenges on its own and I see no reason why its’s better to create ad hoc collaborations to do so rather than work within an existing collaboration.

I believe that in spite of its deficiences, the positive reasons to stay in the EU are overwhelming and  I will vote to remain.

Falls of Feugh

We haven’t had much sunshine recently in NE Scotland but at last we had a fine day. Too nice to sit in programming so I went out for a wee dauner with my camera.

The Falls of Feugh (pronounced Fewch), near Banchory, are a well-known beauty spot, where people go to watch leaping salmon,  close to the confluence of the Rivers Feugh and Dee. There was nothing like the amount of water there must have been in the recent floods when the water came over the bridge but they were still pretty impressive.

I tried to capture the movement of the water here with a slow shutter speed.

The Falls. I tried to capture the movement of the rushing water here with a slow shutter speed


Falls of Feugh

Sunburst – River Feugh. The sun comes round so that by late morning it’s shining down the river.


The arch of the road bridge frames the power of the river

The arch of the road bridge frames the power of the river


I was reading a blog post recently which reflected on why we take photographs and some of the problems of digital photography (Alex Roddie: The photos you’ll never look at again). This is something that I’ve been thinking about myself and I’m not sure that I’ve come to any definite conclusion. If and when I do, I’ll blog about it.

But, for sure, one reason we take pictures is to capture memories of significant events in our lives – family events, trips and occasions. Sometimes we go back to these many years later, to share them with other people and to remind ourselves of those times.  We want these photos to be available for a long time but my concern is that our lack of understanding of digital permanence means that our grandchildren won’t have a record of our times.

When my father died we inherited a box of family photos and several boxes of slides. We had a young baby and had just bought a house so we had no time to look at these. They went in a cupboard for several years. But, when our kids were older and asked about the grandparents they never knew, we were able to dig out that box and talk to them about their family.  Although I’ve digitised the photos, we still have the box so when and if we have grandchildren, we’ll be able to talk to them and show them pictures of their parents and grandparents when they were their age.

But now the world has changed.  Everyone now takes lots of digital photos. These may simply be stored on a disk,  ‘thrown’ randomly into storage services such as iCloud, shared on Facebook or Instagram or, for the more organised, uploaded to sites such as Flickr. We have so many photos and so little time that these are rarely annotated with anything but the metadata recorded by the camera. So we know when they were taken, maybe the location but we don’t necessarily know who is in them or why they were taken.

When film was expensive, we were sparing with photographs and even prolific amateur photographers didn’t have thousands of images to manage. I got my first digital camera in 2007 and, until I started a major cull of these, I had over 30, 000 digital images. So my ‘box of photographs’ was unmanageably large. Of course, I did have a bit of organisation and did some photo tagging but this is not necessarily useful to someone else who wants to look through the photos and talk about the images. Pictures that we or our relatives may want to come back to, perhaps in several years time, are for all practical purposes unfindable in a morass of mediocre digital images.

Now imagine if my father had digitised all of his family photos and uploaded them to Flickr. Maybe I might have got his account details but maybe not – it’s not a priority when someone has cancer.  As far as I know, sites like Flickr and Facebook haven’t really addressed the problems of digital inheritance but it is going to become an increasing issue as their user base gets older.

But let’s assume that account access is possible. When we come back to look at the photos maybe ten years later, would the account still be there? Indeed, would the storage service still be there?  Would the account have been suspended because of lack of use?  The lifetime of Internet companies is short and we have no idea really how Internet giants such as Facebook and Yahoo will evolve and change.  Free services owe nothing to their users so there can be no expectations of data being saved or made available if financial problems arise.  The working assumption that we have to make is that any photos on photo sharing services such as Facebook, Instagram or Flickr are unreliable and impermanent and if we really care about photos we need to keep copies on our own media.

Then, of course, we run into the problems of representation and local photo management. My guess is that JPEG is now such an entrenched standard that it will be around for a long time. But the same certainly isn’t true for camera RAW formats so unless you also keep JPEG copies, the chances of being able to read these in 20 of 30 years time are pretty small.  But how long is a long time? I guess the oldest photos I have were taken in the 1930s but some families have pictures that go back to the early years of the 20th century. Will JPEG still be around in 2115? Will we remember to convert the thousands of digital images that we have inherited into the new format before the convertors become obsolete? If we use software such as Lightroom to manage our photos, how long will it exist? Will we think about converting inherited repositories before it’s too late?

So, I’m going through a process of rethinking my photography – reducing digital detritus and making sure that photos can be shared without reliance on external services.

I’m becoming more selective about the photos I take -it is pointless to take several pictures of the same bog on a rainy day when you are walking in the hills. In fact, I’m not sure taking even one picture of a bog on a rainy day is worthwhile. I’m going to be even more ruthless in deleting photos that aren’t worth keeping. For family photos that people might care about, I’m going to create a ‘digital shoebox’ where I’ll make sure that my children have copies on their computers.

And I’m going back to paper –  I’ll spend time creating printed photobooks of things I think we might want to remember or even just printing some photos at home and sticking them in a box. I like the idea of my great grandchildren playing with these, wondering about the people in strange clothes and the places that may have irrevocably changed by then.

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Last weekend, I had my first winter walk – snow on the Borders hills. But yesterday, summer temperatures returned to the north-east of Scotland.  I am lucky that I don’t have to work full-time so, although I had  earmarked this a work day, I decided that it was too good a day to spend it at a computer.

I was a bit late getting started so didn’t have time to go far.  The choice was either Clachnaben or Bennachie. For me, Clachnaben is a Christmas holiday walk (and I was there on the TGOC) so Bennachie it had to be.

I took my Paramo jacket and a fleece as it was November, but it was unnecessary. I started off carrying the jacket but by the time I got to the top, I was carrying both of them. I thought back to Lochnagar in July when I was absolutely freezing and wondered what our weather is coming to. Cold summer days have been normal as far back as I can remember but I can’t remember a late November day in Scotland as warm as this.

Bennachie is a fine wee hill, an easy walk that is the exemplar of the phrase that ‘size isn’t everything’. It has the remnants of an Iron Age fort on the top and once you get away from the main top (the Mither Tap), you don’t meet many people. I’ve written about it before so I’ll say no more but just include a few photos.

The rocks are the remnants of an Iron Age hill fort on the summit of Bennachie

The rocks are the remnants of an Iron Age hill fort on the summit of Bennachie

Aberdeenshire from the summit

Looking over Aberdeenshire from the summit of the Mither Tap. Only the long shadows indicate it’s November

Clachnaben and Mount Battock

Clachnaben and Mount Battock

The Mither Tap (on the right). A granite tor on the summit

The Mither Tap (on the right). A granite tor on the summit

On the summit of Oxen Craig

On the summit of Oxen Craig

Sunny weekends in November in Scotland are a bit like hens’ teeth and I thought that I was pretty lucky to have such good weather on my last outing to the hills in Wester Ross. I didn’t expect to have another this month.   Storms Abigail and Barney suggested that the usual November weather pattern had been established. But, last weekend, in between dreich days, we had a bit of snow and sunshine and I had a wee trip out to the Borders Hills.

We had planned to stay in Edinburgh this weekend but the women in the family were making wedding arrangements, with men thankfully unwelcome.  So I took the opportunity of a day out to meet some Corriemulzie pals who were staying at Stanhope bothy, near Broughton in the Borders.

There was fresh snow overnight and the early morning drive from Edinburgh took a bit longer than intended but I arrived just as folks were emerging from the bothy. The plan was for a round of the hills above Stanhope Glen – Taberon Law, Middle Hill, Dollar Law (the highest at 817m), Dun Law and Cramalt Crag.

It was cold! Although the sky was clear, there wasn’t any warmth in the sun and we were wrapped up, even for the walk up the first hill, Taberon Law. Like other Border’s hills, this isn’t dramatic but you can get high quite quickly then stay high for the rest of the day. Ideal, when daylight is short and, if you’re like me, too lazy to get out of bed to set off in the dark.

Figures in the landscape. Between Taberon Law and Middle Hill

Figures in the landscape. Between Taberon Law and Middle Hill

There had been a few cms of snow overnight, which had drifted in places to be quite substantial. Frost crystals made a remarkable fringe to a hill fence.

Frost crystals on the fence

Frost crystals on the fence

We stopped for lunch out of the wind on Thieves Road – an old drove road which I guess got its name from the Border reivers using it in their cattle rustling.  Then, to the top of Dollar Law for a summit group picture in the sunshine.

A summit group picture on Dollar Law

A summit group picture on Dollar Law

Some folks decided to head back then but the rest of us carried on as the afternoon shadows lengthened. As always, we were an incoherent group making our way individually across the plateau.  This is something I really like – everyone makes their own pace with no need to keep up or slow down for others.

John approaching Cranalt Crag

John approaching Cranalt Crag

The last hill of the day (for me at least) was Cranalt Crag, which we got to about 2.40. The sun was starting to go down but there were great all round views. Cheviot was obvious but some wondered about about seeing the Arran hills and (more likely I think) Skiddaw and the Lake District hills in the distance.

Liz on the summit of Cranalt Crag

Liz on the summit of Cranalt Crag. Broad Law (with the mast) is the nearest hill but we speculated that the distant hills to the south-west were in the Lake District.

There was talk of going on to Broad Law but only Scott, intrepid as ever, went on. The rest of us decided that flogging down a heathery, snowy hillside in the dark was something we’d all experienced but never particularly enjoyed and had no great wish to repeat it.

Hill views in the late afternoon

Hill views in the late afternoon

We arrived back just as it got dark, after another great day on the hill. I headed back to Edinburgh, sadly missing a convivial evening in the bothy.

Today, it’s raining again and the snow is disappearing. But lucking out twice with the weather on November hill days has been absolutely fantastic.

All photos taken with my (newish) Canon Powershot G7.  All taken on auto as it was too cold to try and operate the camera without gloves.

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