End Of The Year Roundup

Happy Hogmanay!

Another year gone! This has been another year with lots of great positives; a great holiday to Kendal, a great holiday to Arran, a great Scottish road trip (although “cold” doesn’t even begin to describe it!), a fun time learning about beekeeping, a great holiday in Thrieve, a lovely wedding in Glasgow, completing the “Thing A Day” challenge in February (which vastly improved my Photoshop skills!), watching every single Bond film (in order), designing a couple of websites, a cool trip to London, seeing Neil Gaiman perform with the original radio cast of Hitchikers Guide and many many many trips to the zoo… all in all a good year.

Music – My Favourite Tracks From 2012

  • Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Immigrant Song & What If We Could?: The book was brutal but brilliant, the film was even more brutal and had some unbelievable filming, and the soundtrack? My favourite thing to listen to whilst working for the whole year… it’s poinient, harsh, loud, dark and expansive in a way that you’ll only understand if you’ve seen all of the snowscapes in the film.
  • Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital: An awesome tune from an awesome EP that I first heard at an awesome gig… I can’t wait for the next album to land.
  • Chvrches – The Mother We Share: It’s hard to pick a favourite track from this band… something of a feat considering they’ve only got four tracks! I can’t wait to hear more material from these guys – even though this isn’t my normal style of music I just can’t get enough of it!
  • Muse – Madness: Best tune by Muse. Fact. Slow, blissed out grooves and stunning guitar solo. I still can’t believe their Jools Holland performance wasn’t mimed it was so close to the album version.
  • Pomplamoose – Don’t Stop Lovin Me: Amusing and silly and a bit catchy. 🙂
  • Katy bar the door – The Tide: When will the album get here?! Good luck to these guys – it sounds like it’s been a tough year for them management wise.
  • We Are Augustines – Book Of James: Support act for Frightened Rabbit who almost stole the show – these guys know how to rock!
  • Wheeland Brothers – Sand In My Sheets: I discovered this band by searching for “Ukulele” on Bandcamp but I found something way more that – this band do surfer, skater, ska, chillout music better than anyone else I’ve heard – such a party band!
  • The Lumineers – Ho Hey: Love it. Have I been listening to too much folk? Can you ever listen to too much folk?
  • fun. – We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monáe): Although maybe technically a 2011 track I first heard them this year and I guess they are yet another band that shows a great pop/rock combo can be, pun intended, fun!
  • Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks: Happy, rocky, upbeat, folky fun.
  • The Black Keys – Gold on the Ceiling: Such dirty guitars!
  • Amanda Palmer – Want It Back (NSFW video warning!): So much to love about this album – great work!
  • The Speks: Many car journeys have been spent listening to this album (including one when Martha wasn’t even in the car!)

Films – My Favourite Films Of 2012

  • Super 8
  • Attack The Block
  • Prometheus
  • Haywire
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Columbiana
  • Big Easy Express
  • Drive
  • Whip it
  • Zombieland
  • Avengers Assemble
  • Skyfall
  • Safe House
  • The Bourne Legacy

Films – My Worst Film Of 2012

  • Gentlemen Broncos

Books – My Favourite Reads Of 2012

  • Stieg Larsson – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  • Stieg Larsson – The Girl Who Played With Fire
  • Stieg Larsson – The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest
  • Sam Kean – The Disappearing Spoon
  • John Lloyd & John Mitchinson – The QI Book Of The Dead
  • Terry Pratchett – Snuff
  • Stephen Fry – The Fry Chronicles
  • Bear Grylls – Mud, Sweat & Tears
  • Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers
  • Nathan Poell – Post-Apocalypse Dead Letter Office
  • Scarlett Thomas – PopCo

Activities

I posted in January about my resolutions for the year… here’s how I did:

2011 Resolutions:

  1. Ditch the bus – success
  2. Use salt rockcrystal deoderent – success
  3. Stop using shampoo – success
  4. Cut out unnecessary commitments – success
2012 Resolutions:
  1. Take a photo every day – success – check out my album on Facebook
  2. Give 200 things to charity – success
  3. Make more of an effort to catch up with friends – success – many enjoyable hours have been spent with friends this year
  4. See more gigs – specifically I said “not just Frightened Rabbit (although maybe just once!)” – I failed to see more than just one gig, but Frightened Rabbit were fab so what can I say – success!
  5. Have an adventurous holiday – success!

30 Challenges

I won’t have any resolutions for 2013 – instead I’m working through a rather long list of challenges to achieve before I’m 30… here’s the progress so far!:

  1. Learn how to juggle
  2. Run in a 10k road race
  3. Run the 5km Deerstalker
  4. Climb Edinburgh’s 7 hills
  5. Watch extended versions of the Lord of the Rings films
  6. Read The Iliad by Homer
  7. Perform at the Fringe
  8. Go 1 month without chocolate, sweets or cake
  9. Learn greetings in 30 languages
  10. Raise £500 for charity
  11. Write a novel
  12. Solve a Rubix cube
  13. Write 5 short stories
  14. Submit something I’ve written to a writing competition
  15. Sing at a karaoke bar
  16. Visit Edinburgh Castle
  17. Give blood 3 times
  18. Improve my conversational French
  19. Create a video blog
  20. Set up my “One Item Museum” website
  21. Carve something wooden
  22. Make some cheese
  23. Design my Christmas board game idea
  24. Design own Christmas cards
  25. Record 10 ukulele covers
  26. Host a dinner party on top of Arthur’s Seat
  27. Create own flavoured vodka
  28. Spend a random weeknight under canvas
  29. Walk at least 2 days (and hopefully all of) the West Highland Way
  30. Try foods from 30 countries

Lots still to do! 🙂 With these things to look forward to 2013 is going to be a busy and fun year!

Thirty Challenges – Carve Something

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So I carved something! It bares almost no functional resemblance to its namesake the “spoon”, but I learned skills and stuff and I’ll definitely carve something else again soon! Skills learned:

  1. To not cut or friction burn yourself
  2. To inspect the wood before starting to cut
  3. To spend time making a good rough version with an axe
  4. To choose a good bit of wood
  5. To use an actual spoon as a template!

Christmas Craftage – The Octonauts Soundboard

Martha's Octonauts Soundboard
With Martha being mildly obsessed with The Octonauts at the moment I thought I could use some of my web design skills to create her a basic iPad app to play around with. It’s pretty simple – push a button on the screen and it plays a sound effect from The Octonauts. It’s all very unofficial – the BBC definitely didn’t give me permission (hence not linking to it here! – but it’s just for Martha’s personal use so hopefully that’s ok! The sound was ripped using Audacity, the player itself is made using the HTML5 audio tag with a little JavaScript to simplify the interface. All in all it’s pretty basic but hopefully she enjoys playing with it. 🙂

Christmas Cluedo


Sometimes I get these crazy ideas…! As part of my 30 Challenges I thought it would be a cool idea to design my own board game version of Cluedo AND use it as our Christmas cards this year. A playable Christmas card game – imagine that!. Of course it took far far longer than I expected to take – mainly because I have neither Adobe InDesign nor the skills to use it or any of the free alternatives! In the end the cards were designed using GIMP for images and Scribus for layout – both are awesome free/open tools although despite having used GIMP loads of times before I found both to be frustratingly fiddly, especially when dealing with getting things to align to a grid exactly. I’d expected the project to be easy – download someone else’s Cluedo board vector, rename the rooms, add some colour, done! But that wasn’t the case at all – I had to remake the board from scratch for a start, and then none of the other steps were quite as easy as I expected.

But enough moaning… I have to say that I’m really proud of this. It was definitely a labour of love but it was a fun learning experience and it’s proved that given some time (and a fair bit of Googling) I can put together something for print that isn’t embarrassing, is of decent finish and is hopefully fun to play. The layout is fairly simple – board and logo on the outside of the card, message and story on the inside. Then there are 2 inserts: 1 with the rules, 1 with the playing pieces/counters/cards. (Sorry to everyone who gets the card – there’s quite a lot of cutting out to do!). Also in the envelope are the detective notes and 2 dice. The final thing was printed at Edinburgh Printing (who, for the record, I didn’t select based on the imagery on their website – check it out!!!!).

The story itself is fairly dumb but it isn’t about murder because that’s not really in the festive spirit!

With the nights drawing in like a huddle of penguins caught in a blizzard it’s time to put another log onto the fire and sit down for a little board game. You might recognise this one – it’s awfully similar to Cluedo!

It’s Christmas eve and a local small-time thief has escaped from the police. Dressed up as Santa he has broken into Festive Heights mansion to steal the Christmas presents. The residents of Festive Heights are all at home but since the six friends are all relaxing in different rooms Bumble Black the thief cuts the power so that he can move around more easily. Amid the confusion someone knocks the thief out – but no one knows who, with what or even in which room! Just as everyone scrabbles to light candles Black comes to and runs outside… right into the handcuffs of the waiting police (who had followed his snowy footprints to the mansion). As things are beginning to settle down in the house real Santa arrives and parks his reindeer outside; Santa needs help working out who knocked out fake Santa, in which room and with what weapon so that he can give them a special reward!

Good luck!

The suspects are:

  • Carol Cranberry – RED
  • Mary Mistletoe – GREEN
  • Twinkle Star – YELLOW
  • Scott Snowflake – WHITE
  • Frank Frost – BLUE
  • Charles Chestnut – BROWN

And the weapons are:

  • Candy cane
  • Christmas tree
  • Stocking full of toys
  • Snow globe
  • Sack of cards
  • Frozen turkey

Check a preview of the finished article:


A note about copyright… I don’t own the rights to Cludeo (obviously!) – this was just a little project for some family and friends and, as such, isn’t for sale. If anyone ever wants me to design them a board game then I’d be very happy to do so!

Kurt’s 50 Favourites: The Vaselines – Pink EP

The Vaselines are another Scottish band! You might already know some of their work because it was covered by Nirvana, although the originals are even more lo-fi. The “EP” (also called “Dying For It”) makes up tracks 4 – 7 of the “Enter The Vaselines” album and there’s some lovely tracks here. Definitely worth a listen and it’s an album that’s making me want to get sorted and record music, no matter how lo-fi it sounds.

Website Design – Borders Exploration Group


A few years ago I joined the committee for Borders Exploration Group and took on the role of webmaster. The old site did a good job but wasn’t ideally laid out – a lot of old information was left hanging around on the site and lots of current information was hard to find. The “new” site isn’t an example of my best work now but it is a good example of my best work from five years ago. The site would have benefited from a CMS (and would still – a project for the near future!) but the vast amount of old information and the difficult structure of the site meant everything needed to be rewritten from scratch and a CMS like WordPress wasn’t able to be used on the hosting of the time so the whole site was hand coded. The site benefits from the excellent imagery that various expeditions have taken over the years and hopefully the simple layout reflects this.

Website Design – 51773!

51773

My own webstite has seen a few evolutions over the years – the current evolution is based on the Metro theme from the Windows 7 Phone… right down to the clock in the top right! It was a fun design to play around with, especicially to make big touchable buttons – hopefully it makes all of my main contact details easy to access!
Fun fact: 51773 is my surname “Ellis” spelled out in calculater writing.

What happens when you hover over 51773?

Kurt’s 50 Favourites: Pixies – Surfer Rosa

Surfer Rosa is an astounding album by the Pixies. Where Is My Mind? is, for me, the standout track (especially since I’ve been playing it on and off since my days in the band Taper!) but I also think that if the album was realised today it would still be a hit (and would probably be a bit controversial too). The weird thing is that I’d never payed attention to the Nirvana influence but it’s really noticable! All in all a top album.

Christmas Craftage – Hello Kitty Snow Globe

Since it’s the first of December I thought that I could post yesterday’s craft project – Martha and I made a Hello Kitty snow globe! Here’s how:

Ingredients:

  • 1 old jar
  • Some plasticine to stick your model in
  • A Hello Kitty (or equivalent) Lego man
  • Some glitter (don’t use the Poundland stuff – it floats!)

I’m not sure this needs instructions – stick your character into the plasticine in the lid, fill the jar with water and glitter, attach upturned lid to jar… and enjoy!

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