Yonge-Dundas pedestrian scramble

Great video from Toronto's Sam Javanrouh - he is the incredibly talented photographer behind Daily Dose of Imagery - probably the best daily photo site on the web!

Scramble from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

The Obama speech 2 wordle versions

recently observed (4)

...in a car park in central Belfast. 2 women in a red bull mini pay for parking with 2 cases of red bull.

...my hairdresser insisting (twice) that I start to use straighteners...apparently "lots of men use them" and it is "no threat to manliness!" (FYI - I smiled, but will not be taking her advice.)

...(in France) middle age woman (topless) taking a picture of her husband and teenage sons - don't tell me that's not weird.

...genuine tears from always paddle - even though she knows Zoe Bartlett returns safely (we've seen them all before), it's still edge of the seat TV (West Wing, series 5)

...out running and spotted a single black stiletto by the side of the road. My crime fiction soaked mind starts plotting scenarios.

two fingers

Since he left office you rarely hear much from/about our erstwhile First Minster Ian Paisley. An exhibition of photos gives the BBC an excuse to reproduce this gem of a picture taken by Niall Carson.

The Monday Review: The Tiger That Isn't

I have never had a good relationship with numbers. I think it all goes back to primary school when Mr Ross, instead of shouting: "Stop day-dreaming, " or "Concentrate, Noble," kept me on 5 a-day as the rest of the class moved gloriously forward to 7 a-day. I think I got the impression that numbers did not like me. I tell you this, not to ask for help as I try to understand my numerically challenged childhood, but rather to point out that despite my issues with numbers I have recently read and enjoyed a book about...numbers! The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers by the delightfully named Michael Blastand and Andrew Dinot is a spin off from a BBC Radio 4 show called More or Less and it's clever and readable in the way that so many BBC Radio 4 shows are clever and a pleasure to listen to.

At the heart of this book is an attempt to bridge the yawning gap between our ability to process numbers and the big public numbers that dominate politics, news and life in general.

Numbers rule

If you doubt the power of numbers try this. Next time you are having a conversation with someone drop in a fictional statistic. For example you're a big fan of organic veg so you say to your less organic conversation partner: "studies show that organic veg are 70% better for you than non-organic." Most people will hesitate and back off a little, perhaps they'll come back with a cautiously defensive, "which studies?" But the point is made when you note the impact of your fictional statistic. Numbers rule, even numbers of questionable origins. Governments know this, politicians know this and we know this to be true, but we forget in a world that is awash with numbers.

The Tiger That Isn't pulls back the curtain on these all powerful numbers and teaches you how to understand them for what they are.

Precision not Cynicism

One of the things I really liked about this book was the way it avoids becoming utterly cynical about the use and abuse of numbers. There is no shortage of cynical reportage of politics in the UK and it was quite refreshing to read a book that while amassing an ocean of evidence of heinous number crime remains positive about both the importance of numbers and their value in public life. As the authors point out:

"There are lies and damn lies in statistics for sure, but scorning numbers is no answer. For that is to give up the game on every political, economic or social argument you follow, every cause you love or hate."

Politicians and governments like numbers that seem to like them and newspapers and media outlets like the numbers that cause the most important number (sales) to rise. So we shouldn't be surprised that the good numbers that politicians trumpet at every available opportunity should be crunched just a little and the scary numbers we read and hear should be treated with caution. Here's a great example:

In 1997 the Labour government promised £300 million over 5 years to create a million new childcare places. Sounds good. But wait: £300 million divided by 1 million is £300, divided by 5 years and you have £60 per year, per place, divided by 52 weeks and you have £1.15 per week, per place. Childcare anyone? Seems obvious, but when this figure was reported no one covering the story crunched the numbers in the simple way suggested by Blastland and Dilnot. We heard "create a million new childcare places" and thought it meant create in the normal sense, doing the crunching reveals that create, for the future government, meant something decidedly different. The Tiger That Isn't applies this sort of simple logic to a range of number scenarios we face in everyday life - the authors, like most of their readers are amazed that the people who get paid to deal with these numbers don't always apply the same sort of logic!

Read your paper tomorrow or listen to a news bulletin and you'll encounter a stream of reports with numbers at their heart. The Tiger That Isn't alerts you to dodgy comparisons and cunning correlations, reminds you that counting is harder than it seems and that averages flatten out the texture of life, making it easy to handle, but less illuminating in the process.

Here's one final quote that I found interesting:

"Millions, billions...if they all sound like the same thing, a big blurred thing on the evening news, it is perhaps because they lack a sense of relative size that works on a human scale. So one useful trick is to imagine those numbers instead as seconds. A million seconds is about 11.5 days. A billion seconds is nearly 32 years."

Read this book if...

...you liked books like The Undercover Economist or Freakonomics

...you are a news or political junkie

...you've ever read or heard a number announced with loudly or in 30pt font but just didn't sound right

Across the river to Big Ben

Big Ben
Originally uploaded by stuart.noble
From March earlier this year. I was on a trip for work and had taken our compact digital camera with me. I love this view and like the movement in the water and the way you can just make out the fluttering of the flag on top of Victoria Tower.

Click image for large version in flickr

See more recent shots on my flickr

In praise of postcards

We sent a bunch of postcards from France and I've been able to track their safe arrival by the texts and e-mails from people who got them. It struck me that everyone has been so grateful to receive a simple postcard. I guess it's the little things.

I know the feeling. Postcards are great! Here's why

1. we get so little meaningful mail - even my bank e-mails me.

2. It's just great to find out that a friend or family member was thinking about you when they were away from it all.

3. Postcards are wonderfully individual. Letters are great and all, but it's only your artistic friends who will do anything interesting with a envelope. Postcards on the other hand come with interesting or funny pictures, delightful stamps and an overseas postmark and best of all handwriting!

4. That little white box of writing space. You're restricted so you've got to think carefully about what to say, postcards encourage brief but meaningful communication.

5. Postcards remind us think of travel, adventure and holidays. You can pin a postcard on your fridge or stick it up in your office and dream about the beach!

**NB. If we did not send you a postcard from France don't be offended, we:

a) didn't have your address,
b) had a limited stamp budget,
c) don't know you,
d) did in fact send you a postcard which was lost by the French postal service.

Trumpets are for blowing!

stu - created at faceyourmanga
Forgive me if I quickly blow the noble trumpet just a little. My good friend edunny has been kind enough to feature some of my latest photos on a web journal called Culture Voice.

They are now available for all to see in a rather snazzy slide show. Just 5 photos with a bit of text - check them out by clicking here! This is the first time that anyone other than me has posted my pictures so I'm very happy!

As evidenced by recent blog and flickr activity I have been taking a lot of photos recently and really enjoying it. Yesterday I signed up for a digital imaging night class at Belfast Metropolitan college so expect more of the same.

photo: Dad's hands

dad's hands 2
Originally uploaded by stuart.noble
This was taken on the Luas (tram) in Dublin. I just happened to look down and noticed the way my Dad had crossed his hands and thought it might make a good picture. I worked on the original just slightly and love the final result.

Click image for large version in flickr

See more recent shots on my flickr

recently observed (3)

...freak weather can cause moral outrage. We are mad at the government and the council, but most of all we cannot quite believe that something as simple as rain can get one over on us.

...The good samaritan sweats! Out for a run and stopped to help some Spanish tourists find their hotel. I was trying so hard to be a welcoming citizen, drawing a map and smiling lots - then I noticed I was sweating into their car.

...a sudden burst of sunshine and blue sky made me feel like I was emerging from a cave.

...clothes dry in about 1 hour on holiday in France. Three days on the drying rack in our inside/outside back-yard and I eventually gave up and took the still damp items to the laundromat.

...feeling like you need to turn the central heating on in august is just wrong.

rain damage 1

rain damage 1
Originally uploaded by stuart.noble
People outside of Northern Ireland are probably very tired of hearing about our rainfall so apologies for a rain related shot! I was out for a run this evening and saw this rather sad looking umbrella discarded on a bridge. The picture didn't quite come out how I wanted, but here's version 1.

The Monday Review: Peace like a River

What is a holiday read? A page-turning thriller? A stirring romance? Or perhaps something that fits nicely with the sunshine and warm sand between the toes? Peace like a River by Leif Enger is none of these things, but it is one of the best books I have read in a long time.

Set in rural Minnesota and the North Dakota Badlands of the early 1960s, Peace like a River tells the story of the Land family’s quest for redemption and restoration after the life they know is shattered by violence. The family’s world is turned upside down when eldest son Davy is arrested for a double manslaughter, only to break out of jail and flee into the unforgiving badlands of North Dakota. His father Jeremiah, sister Swede and younger brother Reuben set out in search of an outlaw, son and brother and the life they once knew. Their journey is the story and in the quest for Davy the family is transformed forever.

The story of the Land family is beautifully narrated by Reuben, an asthmatic boy who struggles for every breath and whose very life is a miracle. Enger writes with an incredible eye for detail whether he’s describing a family meal or snow ploughs cutting a path through deep drifts. But he doesn’t kill with details and the story moves along at the pace you would expect of a narrative that centres on the hunt for a fugitive. But along with the richness of the setting, the voices of his characters are so authentic and compelling. Swede in particular is a delight!

I loved this book and feel that it sets a high standard for the non-fiction that I’ll read in the months ahead. Emotionally intelligent, thought provoking and funny, it’s a great story as well as a piece of literature that makes you think larger thoughts about life.

While many authors explore spiritual themes in their work, Enger takes this to a whole new level. Good and evil, the consequences of human actions, the difficulty of forgiveness and the complexity of redemption are deep in the heart of this novel. Enger’s exploration of redemption can teach people of faith a great deal, reminding us that the Christian gospel is not a glossing over of real life or a ‘spiritual’ skating over of the consequences of human actions, but instead a vision of redemption that doesn’t shrink from the messy stuff of life.

Published in 2001 this is obviously not a new book and it was probably somewhat unfairly overshadowed by the big sensation of 2001 which was Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. But I’m delighted to discover that my timing is great; Enger published his second novel early this year, So Brave, Young and Handsome is definitely on my list.

Holidays and a revamped blog

So we're back after a truly wonderful week in France. Stunning weather, great food and lots of time relaxing on the beach. What more could you ask for? If you're interested check out the Cote D'Azur set on my flickr.

Since coming home I've been working on the promised revamp of the blog and after a very late night of watching the marathon and playing with html I'm delighted to present the new look. I'm also going to change my approach to content.

Starting tomorrow I'll be posting a book review every Monday, a weekly photo on Fridays and recent observations approximately twice a week - enjoy!

on holiday

xetera is taking a little break. Will be back with a redesigned blog and all new content in about 10 days. Stay happy.

recently observed (2)

(2) 06.08.08

...a bedraggled flag - surely the opposite of its intended purpose.

...a woman with a tight blond perm and lots of make-up power-walking in the park. You go girl!

...a map showing just how close our holiday apt is to the beach! (very close)

...footballers pre-season training. So where did June and July go?

...two girls wearing matching rain jackets riding mountain bikes. I was running. They were definitely racing me. They won.


It was May of 1996 and I was studying for my A-levels in Holywood library. During a break I was wandering around looking at books and generally killing time when I stumbled across a book by Tony Buzan called Master your Memory. Obviously that is the sort of title that will have an almost magnetic effect on a first class waster in the midst of the memory melt of A-levels. Already imagining an effortless triumph in my exams and in the mood for procrastination I spent a while reading the book and tried to learn some of Tony's techniques to maximise my brain power. I'm pretty sure it didn't really help with the A-levels, but weirdly I can still remember one of the illustrations he used to teach you how to memorize a shopping list. Now I know it's not exactly where I would start using my newly found brain power, but hey you've got to start somewhere.

Tony Buzan: He never forgets the shopping

Anyway, central to el Tone's brain power system is the mind map. The examples in his book looked amazing...like this one:
Sadly I was always a bit disappointed with my own mind maps and kind of gave up on mind mapping - sorry Tony. But I recently rediscovered the joys of a good mind map when I started using an amazing online mind mapping site called mindmeister. It makes the creation of mind maps really easy and allows you to add all sorts of additional content and even create collaborative mind maps. I've created about six recently for both work and personal stuff. Thankfully I'm no longer cramming for exams so I'm basically using mindmeister to think and also plan out a couple of projects I'm working on. Try it out - but be warned, it's slightly addictive!

recently observed (1)

(1) 04.08.08

...someone else doing a fartlek training session in Vicky Park at exactly the same time as me

...elderly tourists embracing outside Stormont

...eastern europeans have Northern Ireland's seamstress market totally cornered

...not all Dentists are the same

...a recently opened estate agent round the corner – the height of optimism or perhaps he knows something we don’t