Category Archives: Articles

Wordless Wednesday #30: Architectural Inspirations #4 – Tree Houses

 

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August 2, 2017 · 10:00 AM

Shetland

I don’t know about you, but when we go on holidays, we usually head to cooler climes.  We were recently (technically) in Scotland for a fortnight’s holiday, this time on the Shetland Isles:  For those of you who don’t know where that’s at, hop on to Google Earth, and have a vicarious look around.  Shetland is a subarctic archipelago in the Atlantic; you’re never more than 3 miles away from the sea because, though the total landmass is about 1,470 square kilometres, there are over 2,700 kilometres of coastline.

We stayed at the Lerwick Hotel, making day-trips out from there.  In the 2 weeks we were there we managed to see nearly every nook and cranny by rental car.  Many of the “towns” are no more than a collection of a house or two; Lerwick is really the only proper town on Shetland.  We covered everything from Sumburgh Head in the south to Hermanness on the northern tip of Unst, the northerly-most inhabited island of the UK.

We usually had perfect weather for being out and about; the wind was mild, and only one day of what’s known as a “flying gale”… that’s when the wind actively tries to either rip the car door out of your hands or slam it shut as you’re trying to get in or out of the car; flying gales drive ships ashore.  I point that out because great weather is not to be taken for granted on rocks in the middle of the Atlantic that have no naturally-occurring trees, i.e. windbreaks, and everything that happens is scheduled with the contingency of weather permitting.  While we were there, it was “Simmer Dim” = NO night; you could easily read a book outside, no matter the time of day or night.

Some of the Highlights:

Our hotel window:  We could see Breiwick Bay, the traffic of large ships coming and going from the harbour (even this large three-masted sail ship), and the wildlife of Shetland:  Otters, both grey and common seals, dive-bombing gannets, arctic terns flitting over the water like butterflies, and a variety of gulls that kept us entertained.

Mousa Isle:  We took a “dusk” (midnight) boat trip and hiked ½ a mile across the moors to the Mousa Broch, the most intact broch in the world.  In the walls of this ancient tower are around 500 pairs of Storm Petrels – swallow-like sea birds who sound like purring kittens with hiccups as they call for their mates, to be found by them in the crowded darkness.  Darkness is relative in the summer; they need to wait until it’s darkest before returning from their time at sea, as they are targets for larger bird’s menus.

Norwick Beach:  On northern Unst, this beach is a visual smorgasbord for any geologist, because it’s where an ocean floor was thrust upward to collide with the continent millions of years ago.  The stone formations jutting out in the middle of the beach are two distinct colours, dark and light, side by side.  That beach is just an example of the stunning geological history and beauty of the islands.  They’ve even got an app, “Geopark Shetland”.

Wildlife:  Shetland has the highest density of otters of anywhere in Europe, with around 1,000; Shetland ponies (everywhere!); puffins – the darlings of the sea, and one of our favourite birds; gannets, terns, guillemots, razorbills, oyster catchers, great black-backed gulls, great skuas, herring gulls, black-hooded gulls, kittiwakes, and dozens of other seabirds; cliff-dwelling rabbits (puffins are even known to share their burrows with them); Shetland sheep – they’ve got very soft wool, and tend to be brownish with black spots; some of them were adorable, with spotted eyes like pandas.

History:  With over 6,000 archaeological sites and dozens of great museums, there was never a dull moment!  Clickhimin Broch was a short walk away from our hotel; Mousa Broch was an amazing experience – to sit inside it, as people did 2,000 years ago… you could still see the slats in the walls where wooden beams would have supported upper floors.  We spent a lot of time at the Shetland Museum in Lerwick; well laid out, it was informative and inviting, with a great restaurant.

I could go on and on – and perhaps I’ll write an article or two more about some aspect of the Isles in the future, but for now, here are a few photos.

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On Repetition

History does not always repeat itself. Sometimes it just yells, ‘Can’t you remember anything I told you?’ and lets fly with a club.

John W. Campbell

History Repeats

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Wordless Wednesday no. 28: Horror Movies

Horror Movies

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July 5, 2017 · 10:00 AM

Style Sheets, and the Recipe of Writing for Recipes

The Nitty Gritty

I have hundreds of recipes pinned to dozens of Pinterest boards, so I come across a wide range of offerings.  Nowadays, the images have to be perfectly lit and photoshopped to make them look appealing; it’s like sugar in pre-packaged foods… we’ve gotten so used to the artificial visual flavour that if a photo were undoctored in some way, it would be glaringly out of place.  But what is often missing is the same attention to detail in the writing.  I’ve seen “tablespoon” misspelt a few ways, or the abbreviations as Tbs., tb, tbs, tbsp, T., etc. So which one is correct?  And do the forms or the etiquette of choices differ between print and online versions?

I pulled out a cross-section of cookbooks in my library and thumbed through them; I took older, newer, American and British, and I scoured online recipe sites like Betty Crocker; here’s what I discovered:

  • When writing a cookbook for a printed version, editors/publishers tend to write out the entire word [tablespoon, teaspoon, cup, pound, ounce, etc.].
  • The two most standard contractions for tablespoon are Tbs. and tbsp.  They can be ended with a period or not; I would tend to do it so that the contraction looks intentional and not a typo!  I grew up learning Tbs. for tablespoon and tsp. for teaspoon.  To each his own.
  • Blogs that are a collection of recipes, or allow contribution from subscribers, will have a hodgepodge of abbreviations and contractions because it’s simply too difficult to keep on top of such issues.  Even professional sites such as Betty Crocker have gotten sloppy about it; for example, they often (but not always) spell out words like tablespoon, and then suddenly revert to a contractions for pounds and ounce within the same recipe.  Consistency should be the golden standard if nothing else is.
  • Recipe instructions are written in the imperitive mood (bake this, stir that, knead this, eat with that, etc.).  You’ll never find 1st, 2nd or 3rd person pronouns within the instructions of a recipe; at most, you’ll find them in the short intro before a recipe begins.
  • In a printed book, NEVER does a recipe instruction include the ramblings about the cat in the kitchen, or what you changed about the recipe, or what you’re doing that’s unrelated to the topic at hand.  If you’re writing a personal blog, that’s a matter of personal preference; I tend to want the recipe itself streamlined to make it easier to read on the fly in the kitchen, but maybe that’s just pragmatic ol’ me.  If there are additional notes or something I’ve changed about a recipe for my own blog, I tend to put that in the introduction and not in the actual recipe, but there’s not a set rule – it depends on where it’s warranted or relevant.

As with any kind of writing, some things are a matter of personal preference; at that point, where there is no one grammar rule to apply, the most important thing is to be consistent throughout the manuscript.

Style Sheets

If you’re thinking of writing a cookbook (or any other manuscript for that matter!), I would recommend keeping what is called a style sheet; this is used in publishing houses where several people will have the manuscript in hand at some point; this sheet prevents someone else from undoing choices – they can look at the style sheet and know that it was an intentional decision, and leave it; otherwise the risk is that one man’s capital is another man’s lower case, and so on.

As an author, the style sheet is my running list of decisions to keep me on track as I  write; it can include sections for punctuation (have I decided to go with British or American English punctuation for things like Mr / Mr.?), unusual capitalisations (for me, one issue was when to capitalise “sir” as a substitute for a proper name – I could always refer to my sheet when in doubt), abbrevitation/contraction choices, etc.  It could also include a record of my choice of fonts, spacing between sections, indentations, and so on.  I have a section for my “cast of characters” – to remember how I’ve spelled a name, or what I’ve named an infrequent cast member. I might include an abbreviated description of a character so that I don’t give them green eyes in chapter one, and blue eyes in chapter ten.  What you can include in your style sheet is endless… foreign terms/spellings, reminders to check validity of hyperlinks, punctuations such as en- and em-dashes, how you’ve written specific gadgets (capitalised or not, hyphened or not, etc.).  Below is a basic style sheet template to get you started.

No matter what you’re working on, hone your craft, and keep writing!

Copy-Editing - Style Sheet

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Wordless Wednesday no. 27: Live

Live

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June 28, 2017 · 10:00 PM

History Undusted: Atlantic Iron Age Souterrains

DCF 1.0A Souterrain is a type of underground construction mainly associated with the Atlantic Iron Age.  Built near settlements, they were used as storage for food or as a hiding place from raiders.  After being dug out, they were lined with flat stones and staircases down into their depths.  Of those excavated throughout the UK and Ireland, artefacts are rare, indicating that they were merely in use temporarily.  Some are very small, while others resemble passageways; my guess is that it would depend on the size required by the settlement, and how much time they had to prepare it.

Day 8, 1.146 - Souterrain, Loch Eriboll, 21 July 2012I came across a souterrain along Loch Eriboll in 2012, as I was in the area doing research for my novel, The Cardinal.  In these photos, you can see that, if you were walking out there at night or dusk, they could be very treacherous.  My husband crawled down inside to take a picture back out; it was roomy enough for him to stand once inside (in this particular souterrain even the ceiling was lined with large stone slabs), though the narrow stone stairs and proportions, in general, indicated a much shorter population than modern humans.  You can see from the photo of myself how overgrown the bracken and heather is; the entrance was nearly completely hidden; we were looking for it based on a geological map’s markings, but if we hadn’t known it was there, it would have gone completely unnoticed.

I needed a tunnel entrance in the exact location of the souterrain for the novel, so it enriched the story by fitting reality and the fantasy together perfectly!

Day 8, 1.149 - Souterrain, Loch Eriboll, 21 July 2012

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Wordless Wednesday no. 26: Auto-Selfie

Smoking Car with Selfie Stick

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June 21, 2017 · 10:00 AM

History Undusted: Skara Brae, Orkney

Skara BraeSkara Brae is probably the single most famous Neolithic settlement uncovered in the world.  It gives us the most complete picture of everyday life in that period of time, and has quite a few surprises:  Indoor running water?  Dressers and beds?  Yep.  They had storage rooms, and even toys for the kids.  There are some objects that they can’t figure out, but that just makes it all the more tantalizing.

Originally much farther from the shoreline, over the centuries erosion has eaten away at the land; Skara Brae will itself eventually succumb to the pounding Atlantic waves.

I was there in 1989 for the first time, and again in 2002; the first time I was there, I was with a group of friends, and we were given a private tour by a friend’s uncle who worked there.  It was an amazing way to see this prehistoric site, tourist-free and (back then) largely untainted by tourism.  In 2002 it was a different matter altogether:  A tourist shop had sprung up, and we had to time our viewing between bus-loads of day-tourists from “doon sooth” (down south = Scotland).  Also on that second visit, the Atlantic winds were so strong that we were literally leaning into the wind at a 45° angle; if it had had a sudden lull, we would have been flung into the sunken dwellings; it was an adventure.

Skara Brae stone objectsIf you get a chance to go, do so; take at least a fortnight on Mainland Orkney.  It’s known as the Archaeologist’s treasure trove, and for good reason – just about any stone you turn over has some kind of historical significance, and there are many sites to take in:  Maeshowe, Ness of Brodgar and the Ring of Brodgar, and chambered cairns to name a few, and even more modern sites such as Churchill Barrier, and sunken World War 2 vessels (some portions are visible in low tide).

The stretch of water between Scotland and Orkney, the Pentland Firth, is known as “The Sailor’s Nightmare”; there are several currents that flow and mix into this bottleneck, not only making for treacherous sailing, but it can also make even the hardiest sailor lose his lunch.  Word to the wise:  When heading out of Thurso with the ferry to the Mainland (the largest island in the Orkney group), a) don’t eat yet (it usually leaves around lunch time, and believe me, you won’t keep it long…), and b) as soon as you get on the ferry, head to the dining room and get a window-side table; this is because they will not only fill up fast, but once you’re out of the relatively calm / wind-sheltered bay into the open strait, you’ll be glad for a ring-side view from a wind-sheltered, spray-sheltered spot; keeping your eye on the horizon helps the brain deal with the swells, and keeps seasickness at bay…

Originally posted on History Undusted,

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