Is ‘test’ fracking by the Ocean Guardian to blame for the Forth Road Bridge closure?

You very likely haven’t heard of it but if you live in Kinghorn or Burntisland – or you’ve looked out the window of your train as journey toward Edinburgh – you will have seen the Ocean Guardian.  It’s an oil rig.


Talking to a neighbour a couple of weeks ago, he assured me that the rig was simply getting a refit from Briggs in Burntisland and so I checked (and you can too by going to the Marine Traffic website).  The Ocean Guardian is listed as ‘active’ which is to say, drilling.  Sorry neighbour but the rig is currently rooting around the Burntisland Anticline fault looking for coal gas which is allowed because ‘test’ drilling isn’t the same as actual drilling.  Apparently.

If you look at the screenshot (below), you’ll see that the fault-line detected by The British Geological Survey runs very close to the major fault-line that runs all the way down to Rosyth and quite obviously through the sandstone layer that connects the Fife coast… including the bit around north Queensferry.

Screenshot from 2015-12-07 14:37:13

You can see the map in its correct context on page 36 of the 105-page report, ‘The Carboniferous shales of the Midland Valley of Scotland: geology and resource estimation‘.   You can get your copy from the The British Geological Survey here.

I’m no geologist but I did – briefly – study civil engineering at Heriot-Watt University and one of the more interesting projects was studying how the Forth Road Bridge (and by extension, all suspension bridges) was put together, a project which culminated in scrambling along the gantry under the bridge to study its footings.

The Forth Road bridge has been checked every day of its life for wear-and-tear.  The only way that substantial cracks appear so suddenly (and so close to the footings on shore) is if the bridge comes under sudden stress and given the amount of ground surveys done in advance of building the new Queensferry Crossing, it would be very peculiar if that construction project was to blame.

While it cannot be denied that the Forth Road Bridge is old and has suffered from a lot of corrosion, all suspension bridges – whether fabricated from rope or steel – work on the same engineering principle: two fixed points on opposite banks of a river secure the load using cable under tension.  Modern bridges are designed to adapt to changes in ambient temperature and wind sheer stress but what they really struggle to cope with is sudden changes in ground movement, you know, earthquakes and such like.

So, two questions:

Will the Scottish government order a geological survey of the footings around the bridges, at the very least to rule out test fracking as a cause?

Will this be enough to ensure that a moratorium becomes an outright ban after the elections in May or were Scottish government ministers cursing as loudly as INEOS, iGas and GDF Suez?

Yes, some repair work has been delayed or simply put off but nonetheless, I look forward to being proven wrong.


Why so many Scots are voting ‘Yes’

One interesting phenomena I’ve observed in the last couple of days is the number of people in the media worrying about share prices and the slight fall in stock values for companies such as Standard Life. This worry has now reached some friends on Twitter who, to put it politely, are sufficiently comfortable that the amount of tax they pay is as much a lifestyle option as the colour of their carpets. Middle class problems, eh?

Poor people in Scotland worry about where the next meal is coming from or whether they’ll have to rely on the support of a food bank next week because they weren’t give sufficient hours on their zero-hours contract job to make ends meet. They worry about where they’re going to find the extra money to pay a so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’.

A three per cent drop in market value is what happens when you use your annual statement to shareholders as a political tool, warning of the risks of a ‘Yes’ vote. The markets are now correcting for the risk that some directors said earlier in the year their companies were exposed to. This is what happens in stock markets. People make projections based on your assessments of risk. If you say that X is risky and Y is not, when X is about to happen, investors get frightened.

In 2008, very few economists or ‘market experts’ predicted the collapse caused by trade in bundles of sub-prime mortgages and now we’re supposed to trust their expert analysis of the risks of a ‘Yes’ vote?

I have news for you: we don’t care. We really, really don’t care. We’re tired of glass ceilings and we’re tired of picking up your bill for unsupervised banks and for the ideologically-driven drivel of ‘austerity’ which is really nothing more than mechanism by which privatisation of public services is sneaked in the back door in advance of TTIP.

As you’ve hurtled from one meeting to another in London, whether in the back of a taxi or a limo, you’ve probably not had time to notice the poor people on the streets. Well guess what? They’re just like us here in Scotland. I’m not the only one to still be looking for a good job in the downturn. I don’t own shares, equity or even contribute to a private pension. Those things require a well-paid job.

I’m one of the 99%. You know, one of the so-called ‘little people’ but guess what? I have a vote. My little person’s little vote probably doesn’t account for much but it is mine.

I’ve watched you in your limousines and your taxis, I’ve seen the way you talk about us on news and current affairs programs and the way that you write about us in your right-wing newspapers. We want to work but we can’t because of choices you made. Congratulations! You got rich selling our stuff, our natural monopolies – energy utility companies, train companies, postal services and now the NHS – on the cheap and made yourself a nice fat profit. I’m happy for you. Really.

Now I’m here to collect on what you’ve previously charged to account. No good debt goes unpaid and all that.

While you’re worrying about a slight drop in share price, I see neighbours who depend on public services. While you worry about long-term economic prospects and talk about fiscal blah, I’ve seen people hurry embarrassed from a food bank, people who have jobs that simply don’t pay well enough for them to guarantee three meals a day for their children.

Well, my little vote plus their little vote plus their friend’s little vote outnumber your rich man’s ‘No’ vote. So go play, trade your shares and your stock options but remember this: everything has a price. The price for your illicit, unethical gain is about to run its term and now it’s time to pay.

We’ve learned how to live without, to make do and mend, to survive but you haven’t. You’ve simply acquired lots of stuff. Let’s hope it’s enough to see you through. This neo-liberal party is at an end. It’s time to unload the jack-hammers, the sledge hammers and the crowbars, this house of corruption and ill-gotten gain is coming down because we Scots can do more than Occupy London, we can do a Matthew 21:12 and smash some glass ceilings.

That’s why I and so many other Scots are voting YES.

Letterpress heaven

So we got bored of trying to get great quality prints from different digital printers… Whether we sent digital files to professional third-party printers or tried using eight-colour printers at home, the results all felt so soulless, all our designs being left with that peculiarly plastic feel that leaves you one step removed from the print in your hands.

Though we thought we’d never get lucky, Rose managed to find someone willing to sell their Adana Letterpress for a sub-lottery-win sum and things have never been quite the same.  Our model is an Eighty-Five, first produced in 1953 (though I’m willing to be corrected because who cares? We finally got one).

The first few attempts were beyond frustrating but once you get used to working with the correct ink (made by Caslon) and learn that only by going s-l-o-w-l-y and c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y, you will actually work more quickly, you’ll be left wondering why anyone ever made the move to print text digitally.  Really.  The exasperation and ink-stained everything will be worth it because with patience, you get to produce results like this:

Our first range of greetings cards, printed using the letterpress, make use of an the Cheltenham typeface which is absolutely superb.  It’s strange but with the smell of the ink, the clank of the press and the tactile qualities of printing everything by hand rather than sending a digital file to be printed by inkjet or laser, we’ve both become even more rigid about what is acceptable in a typeface and what is not.  A peculiar side-effect of this is that the steps we take in designing a simple card have been changed so that we will only proceed to the later stages of how the finished design will look once we’ve experimented as broadly as possible with a particular fount.  It’s printing as play.

Thank you Donald Aspinall and Frederick Ayers.

WordPress vs Tumblr

If you’ve spent any amount of time online looking at blogs, you may well have thought about setting up a blog if you haven’t already tried it (though with the increasing use of social networks online, blogs are perhaps seeing a decline at least in the number of updates – too much effort?).

Social networks such as Facebook are great for keeping up-to-speed with friend’s lives when they’re doing interesting stuff but is prone to random changes to the terms of service and having to de-tag photos, delete the ‘drunk texts’ of friends who should know better and random nastiness from people who wouldn’t say that to your face in the street… it can be a bit of a nightmare.

Twitter is useful in quickly forwarding a useful link to an interesting web article but limited to 140-odd characters, it struggles to cope with longer, readable links.  Hence, the increasing use of and other URL shortening services.  A question remains, however: how do you know that shortlink is safe and doesn’t lead you to a page littered with drive-by downloads?  Further, how can you reasonably debate something like the independence referendum when the facts are so much more complex than the soundbites that even the BBC struggles to conceal its anti-Scottishness?

So, I continue blogging.  It’s a great tool for composing everything from a short paragraph that says ‘Hey, what do you think of this thing that I made?‘ to posting an album of photographs that you want to share more widely than your circle of friends on Facebook to giving the full credit to someone else’s considered point-of-view with pertinent extracts to invite more readers in.  It should be noted that if you’re already on Twitter then you can still post to your Twitter followers using the short-link tools available on halfway decent blogging platform.  With a Twitter account, why not go the next step and begin a blog?

My wife, Rose, is a fantastic artist and creates beautiful botanical illustrations but in the hectic pace of also holding down a full-time job, she finds there is no time to promote her work.  She’s seen my blog and wants to know how to set up something similar, so I started a little investigation.

Twitter is text-based and who knows what new rules Facebook is going to cook-up next that will disallow or disable features on Rose’s profile, these ‘social’ media were never really contenders.

Blogger?  I used to use that service but since Google handed over the identities of activists to the Chinese authorities, I switched.  Though Google has now more-or-less stopped doing business in China, I haven’t gone back.

Way back when I first started thinking about blogging to promote my own art, I looked at various platforms such as TypePad, Drupal and Moveable Type but back in 2004 (or thereabouts), there was a remarkable amount of coding required to get started.  Though I was reasonably confident of being able to do this (oddly, I coded my own website a couple of years before I took to blogging), I felt that there would be too much work involved to make the ‘skins’ look anything but clunky.  Though these platforms have dramatically improved their user interface since then – as this page claims – and made it much easier for non-programmers to get a blog started, I have become a creature of habit…

While programmers admire a website that runs on very skinny, standards-compliant code, they are not the majority of web-users.  Most people online want to look at a website that has smooth transitions and nice, rounded corners.  Websites should work much like the cream sofa you just bought that when you were a teenager you promised you’d never have in your house because then you really will have turned into your parents… but as you’re sitting there in plump comfort after a day of graft of the office, you have to admit your parents had it about right.  Websites should be comfy, regardless of what device you’re viewing them on.

So, WordPress or Tumblr?

Take a look at my Tumblog to compare with what you can see here.

As WordPress has grown and become more feature-rich, I’ve found it takes longer to get from the log-in to where I can post stuff.  I don’t want QuickPress.  If I wanted to QuickPress an item, I’d put it straight on Twitter.  From my phone.  The fully-functional ‘more than meets the eye’ dashboard has however managed to retain an intuitive, no rulebook needed feel and if you do make a mistake, it won’t delete your blog because any errors are easy to fix.

With a smartphone and not always near a computer, I’ve been trying out Tumblr.  The dashboard is one page.  The settings which you won’t need to tinker with once you’re up-and-running, are on a different page.  Want to read someone else’s blog or just see what’s trending? Click the tab ‘Explore’ and be amazed.  Being able to quickly incorporate other author’s stuff means that there is a huge amount available to look that you would never have seen through a simple Google search.  (What I would not recommend for any blog platform, is trying to use the respective app on your phone – be patient and just persevere with the browser if you really have to post something from your phone).

There are perhaps more ‘skins’ on Tumblr on than are available for WordPress users who aren’t paying for the all-singing, all-dancing variety of blog.  With Tumblr, you can very easily reblog another users post and as with social sites (and WordPress), you can ‘Like’ a page.

In essence, if you don’t need a feature-rich blog and just want to post interesting items like images that won’t fit into a Tweet, use Tumblr.  If you want the float-like-a-butterfly, sting-like-a-bunch-of-nettles functionality of an annotated photo-album of your life’s work – and who doesn’t? – then go WordPress.  This is especially true if you may want to ‘go Pro’ in the future .ie. set-up a self-hosted weblog that is easily transferable and for which you are paying for the after-burner.

Here’s another big plus – for both platforms: you can feature content from one blog platform on the other.  Take a look at this page to see how.

(For those already blogging, there is a big plus in WordPress’ favour: being able to move your blog.  I found it so easy to transfer my old blog from Blogger that I asked around other bloggers: it seems that moving to other rival platforms was actually a bit of a faff.  It didn’t take me five minutes to move from Blogger to WordPress and there was no coding needed.)

It seems strange to say but as we’re so used to paying for premium apps on smartphones that it is worth pointing out that the big deal for both platforms – Tumblr and WordPress – is that they are both completely free to join.  Both service providers update the necessary software regularly – you won’t see that bit happen and won’t notice any downtime.

As you’ve just been told it costs nothing, what are you waiting for?

Novelist ditches publisher…?

In another sign of the train trend that’s been a long time coming, a published author ditches their mainstream publisher and goes back to self-publishing: Polly Courtney, we applaud you.

Having worked as a buyer who tired of publishers offering books with inappropriate book jackets and slap-happy, grammatically-incoherent pre-publicity, it’s only a wonder that more authors don’t do this.


If you haven’t seen this video yet:

…well, did you spot it?  The cop at the beginning of the sequence played by the actor, Alfred Molina, is wearing training shoes.  The unconscious man at the end of the sequence is wearing boots just like the other policemen in the clip.

Is this a sequence from the in-production Batman film?


Deborah Orr has written a fantastic article in The Guardian today that covers both this bit of news and this foobah, links them together and essentially says: ‘Duh.’

To quote the sublimely brilliant and succinct last paragraph:

“Basically, the reform calls for the ordinary money of ordinary people, who earn it, to be looked after with more caution and respect than the extraordinary money of people looking for speculative returns that will provide unearned income. After the hammering that ordinary people have been asked to take, in consequence of the financial crash, it is perverse and repulsive that this pair [the Prime Minister and the Chancellor] can even imagine that they have a mandate to shield the banks from a restructuring prompted by their own cavalier and foolhardy negligence. It’s an appalling affront to democracy, property-owning or not.”