bookmark_borderLad mig præsentere Marcel Buchanan

Marcel, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
For et år siden brokkede Charlotte sig over at skulle tre uger til Frankrig med sin far (deres forhold var mildest talt ikke harmonisk), og resultatet blev, at han slog hånden af hende og nægtede nogensinde at se hende igen, hvilket glædede hende usigeligt.

En måneds tid senere sagde Marcel så, at han ikke ønskede at være hos sin far helt så ofte heller, hvorefter André også slog hånden af ham. Dette var noget af et chok for Marcel, især da det meste af familien i Frankrig tog Andrés parti.

Léon holdt også op med at se André på samme tidspunkt, og vores familie har været meget gladere og roligere lige siden.

Marcel blev 16 for en måned siden, og han blev dermed i stand til at ændre sit navn uden begge forældres underskrift. Han hedder derfor nu Marcel Buchanan og ikke længere Marcel Gautier. Charlotte vil også ændre sit efternavn til Buchanan, så snart hun kan, hvorimod Léon siger, han heller vil hedde Buchanan-Widmann, da han taler dansk (Léon og Anna har konkluderet, at “Buchanan” betyder, man taler skotsk engelsk, og “Widmann”, at man taler dansk).

(Der er naturligvis nogle særdeles gode grunde til, at Marcel og Charlotte ikke ville se deres far ret meget, men det er næppe et passende emne for en blog, som kan læses af alle.)

bookmark_borderConverting photos into embroidery

I recently discovered that VistaPrint have started selling embroidered polo shirts.

However, their embroidery program is rather fussy with regards to the images it can deal with, so you can’t just upload a normal photo. As they write, there must be “no small lettering or tiny detail” and “no photographic imagery or gradients”.

So what do you do if you want to get a photo embroidered? Here’s what I did to the photo below:

Marcel before and after embroidery.
Marcel before and after embroidery.

I first opened up a photo in the Gimp, cut out Marcel’s head and placed it on a white background. The result is the photo on the left.

I then opened up this photo in Inkscape and selected Path->Trace Bitmap. I then selected Colours and specified a low number of colours. Some of the resulting colours were rather similar, so I changed them to something very different. Finally I exported it as a bitmap.

This bitmap was now acceptable to VistaPrint, so I could change the colours back to something more reasonable, and their embroidery preview is shown on the right. In many cases, their program will still complain, so you might need to simplify the paths in Inkscape, reduce or number of colours, or use a simpler photo to start with.

So long as you start with a reasonable photo, you should be able to create a beautiful embroidered polo shirt in this way. Have fun!

bookmark_borderIndividual retirement ages

Young & Old, Let's Get it On!
Young & Old, Let’s Get it On!, a photo by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker on Flickr.

I read the following about rising life expectancy in a Danish newspaper (in Danish, translation follows):

»De [ældre] vil være stærkere både mentalt og fysisk. De vil kunne rejse jorden rundt også flere år efter, de har rundet 90 år, og benytte sig flittigt af samfundets tilbud. Vi ser det allerede mere og mere i dag, men det er en tendens, der vil blive forstærket«, siger Peter K.A. Jensen.


Systemet er bygget op, så pensionsalderen nogenlunde flugter med udviklingen i middellevealderen, hvilket medfører, at pensionen altid starter cirka 19 år tidligere end middellevetiden.

Det betyder, at danskerne ifølge prognosen vil have en pensionsalder på omkring 80 år, når middellevealderen runder de 100 år ved år 2090.

“The [elderly] will be stronger both mentally and physically. They will be able to travel around the world even several years after they have reached 90 and will make frequent use of what society offers. We already see it more and more today, but it is a trend that will be reinforced,” said Peter K. A. Jensen.


The system is designed so that the retirement age is roughly aligned with the increase in life expectancy, which means that the retirement age will always start about 19 ??years earlier than average life expectancy.

This means that Danes are forecast to have a retirement age of about 80 years when life expectancy reaches 100 years in the year 2090.

Although this quote is from a Danish newspaper, we see similar ideas in most countries these days.

However, two of my aunts died at the age of 50, my mum’s dad at 66, my father-in-law at 69, and nobody has ever reached 90 in my family. Also, the ones that don’t drop dead often start to suffer debilitating diseases in their sixties or seventies.

At the same time, some of my friends have family where everybody seems to live to at least ninety, and they are all sprightly until their late eighties.

I’ve therefore started wondering whether the rising life expectancy is due to some families growing older and older (because the diseases that used to kill them have been eradicated), while other families haven’t seen much improvement at all.

It’s also well-known that your life expectancy varies wildly depending on where you live. For instance, in the Calton ward in Glasgow, men can expect to live to the ripe old age of 53.9 (compared to 75.9 for the UK as a whole).

The huge variation in life expectancy makes it dubious whether it’s really such a good idea just to increase the retirement age across the board. If I’m right and the increasing average is due to some individuals living much longer while others still die in the fifties and sixties, the effect will be that some people will get wonderfully long retirements while other have to work till they drop.

Would it not be better to get actuaries to calculate individual retirement ages, based on family history, genetic profile, employment history, etc.? They could for instance work out each individual’s life expectancy and then set the retirement age to 19 years before this. (They could exclude some lifestyle choices from their calculations, so that you don’t get an earlier retirement age by taking up smoking.)

Of course they would get it really wrong at times, but it would give everybody a decent chance of enjoying a reasonable length of retirement.

bookmark_borderHistoric Scotland and large families

Leon and Anna as King and Queen of Scots in Stirling.
Leon and Anna as King and Queen of Scots in Stirling., a photo by viralbus on Flickr.
We often feel modern companies are on a mission to punish large families. Cinemas, budget airlines and many others charge almost as much for kids as for adults, and the result is that a family with five kids have to pay almost seven times as much as a single person, although they are likely to have more or less the same income.

So it was an absolutely pleasure to join Historic Scotland today. The yearly membership fee for a family with an unlimited number of kids (up to 15 years old) is £84.55, which compares very favourably with the £45.60 that an individual would have to pay.

Historic Scotland is really worth joining, by the way. It gives you free access to lots of famous castles such as Stirling, Edinburgh, Linlithgow and Urquhart, plus a long list of other places and events.

We decided to go to Stirling Castle first, and if you haven’t been, it’s definitely worth seeing. It’s huge, and there are many things to interest the kids, too.