We are probably all quite used to the detail that we can see on Google maps these days, particularly in the street view. But check out this interactive, high-definition photograph of Tromsø in Norway. The level of detail that it has captured is astounding!
On the zoomed-out map you cannot even see the circus tent, but zoomed in you can clearly see the elephants (and a giant, pink dancing elephant).
This is range of mountains directly across from the camera, at maximum zoom. You can clearly see detail of rocks.
Ships, houses and sunbathing
You can clearly see someone relaxing in the sun on a balcony on this side of the river.
This looks like a ski jump without the snow. It’s on the far side of the photograph, certainly too far away to see on the fully-zoomed-out photo.
Check it out!
The photo is quite amazing, capturing an ordinary day in Tromsø. I have probably spent hours over the last couple of years exploring it, looking for the extraordinary amongst the ordinary: Two folks paragliding. A helicopter. Cyclists crossing the road. Two figures in black suits walking through the cemetery. Elephants.
A few months ago I blogged about a new Google Chrome extension called Momentum that replaces the default Chrome ‘new tab’ page with a beautiful image that changes daily (they have since extended it with a premium version that imports todos from other applications such as Todoist).
Yesterday I received an email from David Gordillo from Noosfeer who have released a similar extension with the less snappy title of New Tab = A Movie to Watch + Watch List, which I shall refer to as NTAMTWWL.
In David’s words,
It is a Chrome extension that delights its users with movie pictures each time they open a New Tab. The more you interact with the extension, the more the recommendations will adapt to your taste.
You have also a Watch List, in which you can collect the movies you want to watch later.
The website, for the company behind it, Noosfeer, however, calls it “a content reader and aggregator.”
Unlike Momentum, which gives you the same image for 24 hours, in NTAMTWWL the image and movie recommendation changes every time you open a new tab: The Martian (2015), 25th hour (2002), We Are Your Friends (2015), Whiplash (2014).
While you can click on the little plus at the bottom of the new tab page to bookmark that movie, to watch the trailer later, I can imagine that you might easily forget or close a tab before you’ve saved that movie to your list. As I have done a few times since trialling the extension.
For full functionality you need to register an account with Noosfeer—the usual suspects are available including using your Google or Facebook account.
This is where it integrates with Noosfeer’s content aggregation functionality.
The extension invites you to enter topics that you are interested in, such as technology, movies, etc. Noosfeer then provides links to articles based on your topics. They claim to tailor the articles to your likes as it learns more about you.
The bookmarks link at the foot of the new tab page takes you to a list of suggested articles based on the topics you have identified, plus movies you have bookmarked, and articles that you have elected to read offline.
The extension page advises that you can synchronise with your Pocket account, but I can’t figure out how—it’s not very straight forward.
Update: It turns out that you need to sign-up for Noosfeer by logging in to your Pocket account. I was expecting that I could create an account (using Facebook) and then from within my Noosfeer account connect to my Pocket account. Simple instructions on the login page may have made this clearer.
Changes too often
My immediate response when looking at the new tab page was that it was attractive. Within just a few minutes I had already found a few films that I never knew about that look really interesting.
If you want to discover new films then this looks like a really ideal and unobtrusive way to do it.
However, even having used the extension for less than an hour I find the continuous change of image distracting. I imagine that if I continued its use it would affect my productivity: always demanding that I pay attention to this new movie to watch… or what about this one? Or this one here? That’s why I like Momentum: I have the delight of seeing a new image each day, but then it becomes part of the background of my day—it continues to inspire but it doesn’t distract.
I would be happy with a new film every hour or two, even one a day.
No 24 hours time format
One criticism I have: I would like to display the time in 24 hours format. While that may be possible, I couldn’t find how to change it. My Windows default is 24 hours format, so it’s not taking its lead from my system.
The settings appear minimal and whisk you off to the Noosfeer website to do nothing more than select topics.
Having used it for just an hour I have discovered a few films that I will certainly look out for. But the continuously changing background I found more distracting than endearing. I just know the way that I work best, and I need more continuity and fewer distractions, but your mileage may vary.
To be honest, personally, I can’t imagine using this extension, as I use Feedly and Pocket almost daily for following the content and blogs that I am interested in. I don’t have room for any more.
But here is perhaps the main issue for me. I expected to be reviewing a plugin that showed different movies on my new tab page, but I’ve ended up writing about a content aggregator.
Overall, I do wonder if this extension is trying to do too much. I felt like I’d installed it under a false pretence. I was surprised after installing it. I was expecting new tabs with movie recommendations. I didn’t expect a content aggregator behind it—I felt a little duped, if I’m honest.
This morning I presided at the 08:00 Eucharist at All Saints’, St Andrews for the first time in about a year. This was my homily.
If ever we’ve needed the story of the Good Samaritan, it’s now.
Just then a lawyer, a religion scholar, stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
Jesus answered, “Well, what is written in God’s law? How do you interpret it?”
The lawyer replied, “That you love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. That you love God with your passion, your prayer, your muscle, intelligence—and that you love your neighbour as well as you love yourself.”
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “So, do that and you’ll live.”
But wanting to justify himself, looking for a loophole perhaps, the lawyer then asked Jesus, “And just how would you define ‘neighbour’?” 
And Jesus tells us this familiar parable about the Good Samaritan.
The day today: UK edition
If ever we’ve needed the story of the Good Samaritan, it’s now.
The events of the last few weeks have been astonishing, in the aftermath of the referendum to decide whether the UK should leave the European Union or not.
There has been so much fear and uncertainty.
Billions of pounds have been wiped off the value of companies on the stock exchange.
The value of the pound itself has dropped.
Reports of violence and intimidation and suspicion of immigrants have increased, with some far-right groups seeing the vote to leave the EU as legitimation of their actions.
So many of my friends have posted on Facebook and Twitter and other social media how uncertain they feel about the future. Even how ashamed they feel of being British in the light of the EU result.
In a world opening up and becoming smaller due to the internet, and social media, and TV—we are closing up and looking inwards.
Fear and suspicion.
And it’s not just in this country. In the US, Donald Trump has secured the Republican candidate vote on a ticket of fear and suspicion of immigrants, and muslims, and Mexicans.
“They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists,” he said of Mexican immigrants. (BBC News)
“We’re going to build [a] wall, and we’re going to stop it. It’s going to end,”
And this past week, the shooting of a black man Philando Castile by a policeman in Minnesota, and the retaliation shooting of 5 police officers in Dallas, Texas.
More fear and suspicion.
I spotted a video of friend of mine the other day on Facebook. I used to sing with Tim in the National Youth Choir. He’s now a professor of American history at the University of Warwick, and was being interviewed on Sky News about these recent shootings.
And he said that if you look at the history of race relations in the US, you would expect them to be at an all-time low but actually they have been increasing gradually over a long period of time.
But there is a long way to go yet.
We’re all God’s people
It was into a similar situation of fear and suspicion that Jesus spoke when he told his Jewish friends the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Israel was overrun by the Roman empire. Ethnic groups lived side by side uncomfortably: Israel, Judea, Palestine—they still do.
Samaritans were seen by Jews as foreigners, immigrants, even enemies.
Fear and suspicion.
Jesus’s response was also, predictable, uncomfortable.
Jesus’s response was not, “Oh yeah, don’t worry: your neighbours are just the folks you like, the people who agree with you, you think like you, speak like you, look like you.”
No! It is this person, the Samaritan, that Jesus picks out as our neighbour. Not the priest (sorry about that!). Not the Levite (who served in the temple). But the outsider: the Samaritan.
The person about whom there would be most fear and most suspicion.
I do like that Scots phrase: “we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns”—we’re all the same under the skin, we are all God’s people.
I’ll finish with this, which was posted on Facebook yesterday, by Natasha Howell, a black woman from Andover, Massachusetts.
And I will try not to cry as I read it!
“So this morning, I went into a convenience store to get a [snack]. As I walked through the door, I noticed that there were two white police officers (one about my age, the other several years older) talking to the [shop assistant] — an older, white woman behind the counter — about the shootings that have gone on in the past few days.
“They looked at me and fell silent.
“I went about my business to get what I was looking for.
“As I turned back up the [aisle] to go pay, the older officer was standing at the top of the [aisle] watching me.
“As I got closer he asked me how I was doing.
“I replied, ‘Okay. And you?’
“He looked at me with a strange look and asked me, “’How are you really doing?’
“I looked at him and I said, ‘I’m tired!’
“He said, ‘Me too’. Then he said, ‘I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now, is it?’
“I said, ‘No, it’s not’.
“Then he hugged me and I cried.
“I had never seen that man before in my life. I have no idea why he was moved to talk to me. What I do know is that he and I shared a moment this morning that was absolutely beautiful.
Tomorrow morning marks the formal beginning of divorce proceedings.
At 10:00 in Dundee, Jane and I will meet with two mediators (one also a solicitor) from Relationships Scotland to begin ‘All Issues Mediation’. The end result will be a document, a Mediation Summary, that sets out (I presume in legal-ese) the terms of our proposed agreements resulting from the mediation which we then take to our own solicitors and ask them to process it, to make it legal.
This evening I had to fill in a 10 page document ahead of tomorrow’s meeting that lays out my full financial situation as of the formal date of our separation: Saturday 14 November 2015. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might be, although I am still a little confused about pensions and insurance/assurance, and all that other serious grown-up stuff.
The last six months have given me some perspective on the whole thing, especially my last four months living in hall as the warden. While I miss my children desperately, I do otherwise feel happier than I have felt in a long, long time. I feel more like my old self, but a little wiser and more experienced old self. And that is a good place to be to go into these pre-divorce proceedings.
I don’t feel angry with Jane, I don’t even feel sad now. I know that we tried our best—I certainly know that I tried my very best to make things work. We just couldn’t make it work—we simply couldn’t communicate on the same wavelength. We were like two magnets pushing against one another. Or like when coloured lights come together they produce white: together we lost our identities, our uniqueness, our vibrancy. There is no point in me holding on, or resenting, or feeling hurt. That’s not the road to healing or wholeness.
I have said from the start that I want our divorce to be carried out in a kind and caring way, with grace and respect. I want to model to the boys the kind of behaviour that demonstrates that even though our marriage relationship came to an end it can be ended in a way that allows us both to walk away with dignity.
I will try to blog what I can about the process in the hope that it helps others going through a similar situation.
Today is exactly ten years since I started working at the University of St Andrews. I joined the web team within Business Improvements as assistant information architect/web manager. There were two of us in the team. I always said at the time that I liked my job title because with the forward-slash it looked like a URL.
Ten years on I am now the web architect within the digital communications team (part of Corporate Communications) we have a team of 10, and I work mostly in Agile project management and business analysis. Ten years on, I still love my job, and I love my team. I’m still being challenged, I am still learning how to do my job better, and I still growing.
Obviously, I’m now even more involved in the life of the University having taken up the post as warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. I will reflect on that in more detail in another post shortly, suffice to say here that I’ve agreed to stay on beyond my probationary period.
But today I’m celebrating ten years here… well, fourteen if you include my four undergraduate years from 1989 to 1993. I wonder where I will be in ten years from now.
This past weekend I’ve been in London with some old friends (some going back nearly 28 years!) to sing with the NYCGB alumni choir at the Royal Albert Hall.
This was the first official outing of the alumni choir — obviously made up of former members of the various National Youth Choirs of Great Britain. Around 110 people turned up, including one alumnus and his son who is now also an alumnus!
We were made to feel so welcome and were included immediately as part of the family. It felt like coming home!
In all there were around 800 people singing, from boys’ and girls’ choirs, Cambiata Voices (boys whose voices are changing), training choir, main choir, chamber choir, fellowship octet and, of course, us.
Alone, we sang Five Negro Spirituals from ‘A Child of Our Time’ by Michael Tippett (1905–1998) with solos provided by fellow alumnae Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano), Rachael Lloyd (mezzo-soprano), Paul Hopwood (tenor) and Roland Wood (baritone).
Having had about half a proper rehearsal of this five part piece I think we did not too bad, to be honest.
With the rest of the choir we sang two songs. The first was If I Ruled the World by Bricusse / Ornadel / Cullum, arranged Sam Coates. It’s the Sir Harry Secombe song arranged for choirs in a jazz style. Nice! What was really nice is that Sir Harry’s grandson was singing as he is also in NYCGB.
The final song of the evening was the gorgeous Lay a Garland by Robert Lucas de Pearsall (1795–1856).
And that was that. I bowed and left the stage, grinning from ear to ear. There is nothing in this world like singing with NYCGB. The sound is unique. The discipline is… well, okay, let’s not talk about our discipline. And the banter is heart-warming and side-splitting.
As many know, this year hasn’t been easy for me, but as I sat on the back row during the first half (and enjoyed my little snooze!) I realised that I was surrounded by friends whom I love and trust, and amongst whom I feel loved and supported. I phoned my mum this evening and thanked her for encouraging me to audition and supporting me through my time in NYC even though my dad had lost his job and money was really tight.
So, I want to say a massive thank you to NYCGB for including us as part of the family once again. And an equally enormous thank you to all the alumni who turned up and sang—seemingly they were turning alumni away on Thursday as we’d simply run out of space to seat everyone!