View from a roof

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(dome of Old College Building at Edinburgh University on Southbridge)

The roof terrace of the modern section of the National Museum of Scotland is one of Edinburgh’s best ‘secret’ spots to take in views across the roofs of the city’s Old Town. I say secret, it isn’t really a secret, it is free and open to the public like the rest of the museum, but I mean secret as in so many people – visitors and natives – simply don’t seem to know it is there and the remarkable panorama across the city it offers. Highly recommended for a visit.

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(above: looking down on historic Greyfriars Kirk, below: top of Edinburgh’s splendid Central Library)

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(view right across the Old Town to the clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street, visible even over the tall buildings of the Old Town), below: fluttering flags on the roofs of the City Chambers and other buildings, bottom: dome of the Bank of Scotland HQ on the Mound)

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Prehistoric computing

I’ve been meaning to get into the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh since it re-opened in the middle of the summer – it was closed for several years for a huge revamp and I’m glad to have it open to everyone again.  I avoided going in during the height of the tourist season, but last week on a day off I was at my dentist, which is only a few minutes walk from the museum, so I thought why not walk down and spend the afternoon getting familiar with an old friend again? As well as the sorts of things you might expect in a large, Victorian museum – Egyptian mummies, T-Rex skeleton etc – the NMS has a nice line in engineering, science and technology history, part of which includes some now historic ‘hi-tech’ (well, it was at the time), from circuit boards from the massive 50s and 60s computers that filled rooms to this, one of the first of what we’d recognise as a modern home computer, the Commodore PET, from the late 70s.

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First computer I ever saw was one of these, my dad’s friend was an amateur meteorologist and had all sort of tech in his home, including a HAM radio and a printer that gave him direct feeds from a weather satellite (pretty nifty for late 70s). When he added this PET to his collection he had dad bring me round knowing I would find it interesting. Few years later I’d have my own home computer, a Texas Instruments 99/4a and I’ve had a computer of some sort since then (scary to think I have had a computer of some sort for 30 years now). A few years into high school I was given day release with some friends to go into a college in Glasgow one day a week to attend a computer training course, around 83 or maybe 84 – we were gobsmacked to see their computer labs was full of these PETs, because by then these were prehistoric, we expected BBC Model Bs! And their course was for people who had never used a computer, while we had all pretty much taught ourselves how to programme in BASIC several years before and so found what we thought would be an exciting ‘grown up’ course rather dull, but hey, got us a day out of school and into town… Anyway, I posted a shot of this Commodore behind glass in the NMS and shared it on the BoingBoing Flickr pool, noticed a few days later the views on it went crazy – 2, 500 views in about a day, which means a single pic was doing over twice my daily average for my whole Flickr… Turned out Xeni had reposted it on the main BoingBoing blog (one of my fave spots of online reading for many years, also shared the story of my doocing years back). Nice. Seems a lot of people had memories of this, ah, geek nostalgia…

That evil day

Sad to say but today marks the third anniversary of my wonderful mum being so suddenly ripped away from us, just like that. How can it be three years already? How can you have been gone three year, mum? I’ve been doing my best to try not to dwell on it all day, not helped by losing my lovely wee Dizzy cat earlier just this week and my gorgeous big Pandora puss a few weeks back – my furry girls have been a very important part in keeping me going and keeping my morale up since this vile day burned itself into my life and twisted the way I view the world ever after and losing them just makes it that bit harder to deal with it. If indeed you ever really do deal with this kind of thing, I don’t think most of us do, we get buried into the complexities of everyday life so it lies at the back of our minds rather than dominating it as it did when fresh, but we never really deal with, never really accept it.

Dad was through with my Uncle Evan today, they often make use of their free bus passes to go galavanting around Scotland each week so today they came through to Edinburgh and as it was windy and rainy we went off to go around the National Museum of Scotland – amazingly my uncle had never been to it. As luck would have it we caught the last few days of the Lighthouses exhibition they had on – I had been meaning to go along to it for ages and clean forgot about it with recent events, so it was good to catch it before it ended, fascinating history. Among the exhibits were several huge Fresnel lenses, which have always fascinated me since I was a boy (and indeed lighthouses too, always amazed me how they could build such things in the teeth of huge waves and storms), beautiful engineering in light and glass to pierce the dark night. I think it did dad and I both good to be out and about on this day, helped us a bit and hey, I even got an interesting photo out of it – if you look closely you can even see both me and dad reflected in this gigantic representation of the prism:

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The Flashing Blade

Admiring some beautiful, historic swords in the National Museum of Scotland, brings out the Flashing Blade in me, urge to swashbuckle rises… In truth that urge to swashbuckle is never far from the surface, which is probably one of the reason I fenced throughout school and then years later at college. Although not with these. Gorgeous basket-handled Scottish swords, including a very unusual curved blade. Beautiful work, although I prefer a sword with a less elaborate guard so it leaves the fingers and wrist more free to make light, quick movements, which is a better method of defence for the hand than a large guard, at least that’s how I was trained.

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An enormous Claymore – Claymore from this period are generally massive weapons, but I think this one was perhaps ceremonial

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Shadows cast by the Claymore:

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Looking across Edinburgh

I’ve uploaded a few more photos shot from the roof terrace garden on top of the National Museum of Scotland (see previous post); this one is Arthur’s Seat taken from the roof, with the shadows of clouds passing across the face of Salisbury Crags (best viewed in the large size on the Flickr page):

Arthur's Seat from National Museum of Scotland roof

The room just off the terrace where the lift is has large windows looking out towards Bristo Square and Edinburgh University, with the rotunda of McEwan Hall on the lower left (where my graduation ceremony took place a lifetime ago):

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This leads to the lift room but with the strong sun casting such lovely, clear shadows on the decking I had to take this:

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I also edited a few video segments into a 360 degree panoramic view of the city from this rather wonderful vantage point:

The roofs of Edinburgh

Recently I did something I hadn’t done before – in fact something I didn’t even know you could do: go onto the roof of the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. I’ve been in many times but I had no idea there is a large roof terrace (with native plant garden) that you are free to visit too. I’ve wandered around the museum many times but the signs to the roof aren’t too obvious and most folks in Edinburgh I mentioned it too didn’t realise you could go up there either. Lovely spot offering pretty much 360 degree views over the roofs of the Old Town towards the Mile, over historic Greyfriars Kirk, nearby Edinburgh University, the Pentland Hills beyond the city, Arthur’s Seat, the huge extinct volcano which rears out of the royal park right in the middle of Edinburgh, and, of course, the Castle. Again I find myself wishing I could afford to upgrade to the camera I have my eye on which has much more zoom power, but even so it was still a great and quiet spot to stand and take in the view and shoot a few pics:

Greyfriar's and Castle from Museum roof

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Behind the scenes at the museum

There must have been something on at the Museum of Scotland this evening – it was all floodlit like this on the way home from work and a gaggle of outside broadcast vehicles were parked outside. Incidentally, these snaps were taken around the same time of evening as I finished work as those rosy sunset photos of the Castle I posted a few weeks ago. What a difference a couple of weeks and the return to GMT make; it’s now pretty dark here by 4 in the afternoon and very chilly. You can feel the sharp, cold air tightening your cheeks as you step outside (who needs plastic surgery for a lift? Stand out in the Scottish winter air for ten minutes!); by the time you get home your cheeks are as rosy as a basket of fresh apples.

In the morning the sun is very low in the sky and seems to rise from behind Castle Ridge; very dramatic – the ever-changing play of sun and shadow every morning is like a combination of a Turner landscape and a Colourist painting. Tonight the sky was very clear and a huge full moon hung over the city; even Mars was clearly visible, twinkling a pinkish-red. I thought for a moment I saw a green flare from Mars; it may be an invasion of tripods or it may have been the green man on the pelican crossing on the edge of my peripheral vision. With nice timing I’m just finishing off Fool Moon by Jim Butcher in which Chicago PI/wizard Harry Dresden is investigating, yup, you guessed it, werewolves. “Werewolf? There wolf; there castle.” (name that film!).

You need the fire on now, you need to swap to your chunky boots and try and recall where you put your gloves several months ago, air out your big, heavy coat – yes, it is winter in Scotland. Tonight the full moon reflected in broken ice sheets on puddles and oh, how warm and welcoming every pub looks in the cold, dark night (which is of course why we have so many of them, it’s not just because we’re boozehounds).