The traditional East Asian seasons work really well in Scotland

Just to escape from all the Brexit madness, I read a couple of Wikipedia articles about the traditional East Asian calendars that divide the year into 24 solar terms instead of 12 months.

The solar terms are defined in terms of celestial longitude, and the same is true for the four seasons:

  • Spring (315°–44°): 4th February–4th May
  • Summer (45°–134°): 5th May–6th August
  • Autumn (135°–224°): 7th August–6th November
  • Winter (225°–314°): 7th November–3rd February

(The dates are approximations – they can vary by a day. And I haven’t really sussed why the four seasons aren’t exactly the same length.)

The funny thing is that these seasons seem to work much better than the traditional ones in Scotland. Phyllis and I have often said to each other that spring seems to start around our birthdays (4th and 8th of February), and my mum’s birthday (5th of May) is often the first warm day with green leaves on trees. Also, this year – without having read the Wikipedia article – I posted this on Facebook on the 7th of August: “Here in Scotland, hairst is in the air the day. Haste ye back, summer!”

It’ll be interesting to see whether winter starts on the 7th of November this year!

Tesla’s model doesn’t work

Testing the Tesla autopilot (self driving mode)
Testing the Tesla autopilot (self driving mode).
It’s been revealed that the first person ever has been killed in a crash by a self-driving car:

The 7 May accident occurred in Williston, Florida, after the driver, Joshua Brown, 40, of Ohio put his Model S into Tesla’s autopilot mode, which is able to control the car during highway driving.

Against a bright spring sky, the car’s sensors system failed to distinguish a large white 18-wheel truck and trailer crossing the highway, Tesla said. The car attempted to drive full speed under the trailer, “with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S”, Tesla said in a blog post.

In spite of this, I still believe self-driving cars will take over. However, it does highlight one fallacy, namely the idea that a human driver can be expected to supervise a near-perfect self-driving car.

Just think about it: If your car has been driving perfectly for a whole year, would you find it easy to keep your eyes glued to road and your hands to the steering wheel, just in case the car’s computer has a nervous breakdown? Wouldn’t you start playing with your smartphone, eat a sandwich or even doze off for ten minutes?

What this accident shows is that Google’s model (where the car is fully autonomous and the passengers don’t have access to a steering wheel) is correct, and Tesla’s is doomed. If a car is driving on its own, nobody should pretend that a human is ultimately in charge.

No normal person will ever own a self-driving car

Google prototype self-driving car
Google prototype self-driving car.
A few things I’ve read recently have convinced me that the average punter will never own a self-driving car.

The main reason for this is that they’re going to be significantly more expensive than an old-fashioned car, mainly because of all the sensors. As pointed out recently in the New York Times, “[a]dding self-driving technology — at least as it stands now — into regular passenger cars could make them absurdly expensive for anyone without the cash of a Silicon Valley mogul. Until recently, the laser sensor used on the Google car project cost $75,000 [£50,000].” Even though that price is clearly going to come down, it’ll always be more expensive to produce a self-driving car than an old-fashioned one.

The additional costs mean that they need to be used much more than normal cars in order to recoup the cost. HGV lorries might (as mentioned in the article linked to above) adopt the technology first, because it means a lorry can then be on the road 24/7 with only one driver, which mean that the additional cost will be recouped quickly.

Normal, old-fashioned cars are just not used enough to make it worthwhile to make them so expensive. According to the RAC, the “average car is parked at home for 80% of the time, parked elsewhere for 16% of the time and is only on the move for 4% of the time.”

Because of this, a self-driving car only really makes economic sense if it’s being used as a taxi, so it’s no surprise that Uber are very interested in this area — they already have put self-driving cars on the road in Pittsburgh.

Even if some crazy individual were to buy a self-driving car, it would be a bit silly to park it when they’re not using it rather than letting it make some money on its own working for Uber or similar. Only multi-millionaires will buy a self-driving car and then leave it in the driveway.

So we aren’t going to replace our old car with a self-driving model. Instead, we’ll simply start using self-driving taxis more and more until we don’t see the point in owning a car any more. It probably won’t be long before young people can’t see any point in getting a driving licence, but I imagine companies like Uber might need to introduce subscription services covering all you transportation needs for a fixed monthly fee in order to tempt current drivers to give up their car.

The move to self-driving cars is of course going to be bad news for the majority of car manufacturers. If normal people don’t buy cars, there is absolutely no reason to have so many brands and models to choose from. It’ll probably be more like the situation in the aviation industry, where companies buy hundreds of planes and then decide how they want them to look.

Det ville have været min mormors 100-års-fødselsdag i dag

Idith's birthday
Idith's birthday.
Min mormor ville være blevet 100 år i dag.

Idith, som jeg altid kaldte hende (som ældste barnebarn ville jeg bestemt ikke kalde hende mormor, når alle andre kaldte hende Edith eller Mor), samlede altid familien om sig på sin fødselsdag, så hvis hun stadig havde været i live, ville hun helt sikkert have insisteret på at samle hele familien om sig, og hun ville have trakteret os med jordbærkager og kokosmakroner (sikkert også med andre ting, men de to slags kager var obligatoriske).

Hendes fokus på at fejre sin fødselsdag betød, at man altid kunne være sikker på at se resten af familien mindst én gang om året, og resten af året brugte hun altid megen tid på at fortælle én, hvad de andre lavede, så det havde store konsekvenser for sammenhængskraften i familien, da hun døde i 2000 (to år, før jeg flyttede til Skotland).

Jeg håber, vi måske kan holde en lettere forsinket fødseldagsfest for Idith, når vi er i Danmark i juli i år.

(Min morfar, Otto, var et år yngre end Idith, så ham kan jeg skrive om næste år. Min fars forældre blev født i 1899 og 1900, så jeg var desværre endnu ikke begyndt at blogge, da de ville være fyldt 100.)


This blog is now more than ten years old (you can check the archives if you don’t believe me).

I recently changed its title from The Widmann Blog to Denseman on the Rattis (check The Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie if you don’t get the reference).

I’ve also now moved it, changing its URL from to Given my continuing support for Scottish independence, I thought that was more appropriate.

Rullepølse for expats

My rullepølse.
My rullepølse.
One of the few Danish types of cold meat that lack any close equivalent in Scotland is rullepølse, basically rolled and pressed pork.

Here’s how you can make real Danish rullepølse yourself:

  1. Buy a large piece of pork belly (they regularly stock them in Makro).
  2. Cut off the skin and any ribs that might still be attached to it (you’ll need a very good knife for this). Trim it so that it’s perfectly rectangular and of a uniform thickness. It should now weigh about 1500g. You’ll probably end up with a lot of surplus meat and fat, but you can mince it all and use it for a medisterpølse.
  3. Make a brine by boiling 2000ml water with 200g of sugar, 300g of salt, a couple of bay leaves and 10 pepper corns. Cool it down and put your pork into in. Store this in the fridge for 48 hours.
  4. Take it out and discard the brine. Chop up one onion and a large bunch of parsley. Distribute this on the pork together with ground pepper, some ground allspice and a few sheets of gelatine. Tie it up tightly with some string.
  5. Boil it for two hours. Let it cool down a bit, and then press it overnight in a cold place between two chopping boards (I usec some clamps to apply pressure, but you could also put something heavy on top.
  6. Slice and enjoy!

The megacities are doomed!

Post Apocalypse
Post Apocalypse.
At the moment, the megacities of the World (such as London, New York, Paris and Tokyo) seem to be unstoppable. They sook up more and more economic activity, and it’s getting harder and harder to have a decent career unless you live in one of them. House prices keep increasing inside them, while they might very well be falling elsewhere in their host country.

However, as a long-term investment I wouldn’t touch metropolitan property with a bargepole, because I think these great cities are going to collapse within the next few decades, and here’s why:

Young people don’t get attracted to the huge cities because life there is good – property prices are so high in them that newcomers will have to pay a fortune for a room in a shared flat with an hour-long commute.

The reason young people flock to the cities is because that’s where the jobs are (and especially because you’ll be able to find a new job within your field every three years or so, which means you won’t suddenly find yourself in a employment cul-de-sac).

As soon as somebody as somebody invents a piece of workplace collaboration software that companies are willing to use for their in-house staff, everything will change.

Suddenly you can apply for a job in London, New York or Melbourne while living in Orkney. And when you move on, your next job can be in Paris, San Francisco or Ruhrstadt while you remain in Orkney.

(This is increasingly already the case for small companies and freelancers – I’ve undertaken work for people living in Hamilton (New Zealand), Edmonton (Canada) and Birsay (Orkney) without ever going there. It’s today normally only the admin staff that have to be in the office.)

Once people’s normal place of work is their home (or a neighbourhood office if they prefer to leave home for work), companies don’t need huge offices in expensive locations. They can rent a hotel or a conference venue if they want to arrange a yearly get-together for their staff, or for having meetings with clients, and all they need is a small registered head office.

The companies will save an enormous amount of money by getting rid of their city-centre offices (more than enough to make up for a potential fall in productivity by letting people work from home), as will the staff by being able to live in much cheaper locations.

However, modern cities rely on the synergies of having a lot of people in one place. As soon as some companies and employees move out, the advantage of being in the city will decrease for the ones that remain. Why move to a city if you can get the same job without moving? Why pay for an expensive office if you can employ the same people by paying for a much cheaper piece of software instead?

Once a few people and companies start moving, prices will start falling. That will make the property investors move out, too, which will make prices fall even faster — at the moment, investing in property in central London is an easy way to make a profit if you have enough money to invest — and this will presumably continue until house prices reflect the attractiveness of living in that location – and for large parts of modern cities that’s not a lot. Of course people people will still pay good money to live in a luxurious penthouse flat overlooking the Thames or the Seine, but how attractive is it really to live in a concrete high-rise an hour away from the city centre?

So if I had a lot of money to invest, I wouldn’t touch unattractive residential areas on the outskirts of cities with a bargepole, but I’d try to snap up idyllic houses with good internet connections within a reasonable distance from a railway station and an airport.

I also think governments should be careful not to invest too much money on prestige infrastructure projects in their capitals (Crossrail and HS2 spring to mind in the UK) and instead invest in projects such as fast Internet connections in rural areas (such as what the SNP is promising in their manifesto).