We landed in 65mph winds. The landing was pretty great, considering. It wasn’t the smoothest landing I’ve ever experienced, but I’ve been bounced around on landings when there was no wind so fair play to the pilot for getting us down safely.

The journey to Iceland was mostly OK. Only some of the people were annoying. Usually I find everyone irritating when I travel (it’s me, not them) so the fact that it was only a few people this time was good news. Some woman was sitting in my seat when we boarded the plane - she said she didn't know if D was the window or aisle and she couldn't tell from the sign. I reckon she was chancing her arm, but it is possible she was to stupid to understand the Perfectly Plain Sign. Maybe. I’m not convinced. Still, such nuggetry was rare.

The weather on arrival was interesting. As soon as we left the airport building and turned a corner, the wind hit us straight in the face (with accompanying rain). Very blustery!

As we sat on the bus that was shaking in the violent winds, I spotted someone arriving at the airport wearing a plastic poncho. The poncho had utterly failed to protect him from the elements, being whipped up around his torso, and instead was catching rain to drop on his now-sodden clothes. An anti-poncho, doing exactly the opposite of what it was intended to do.

Mental note: don't buy a poncho for use in Iceland.

Rain
Brr…

We checked into Hotel Holt, gathered ourselves, and then headed out to see Reykjavik and get some lunch. The first nice place we saw turned out to be Iceland's oldest coffee shop.
I love the fact that the entirety of their web site is just one picture.

I like the approach to food here. Their idea of breakfast is:

  • Take something carb-heavy, like French toast.
  • Use two slices of that to make a sandwich.
  • What to use as a filling? How about a pancake, so there are even more carbs?
  • Excellent. Now add bacon, ham and cheese.
  • Finish it all off with some maple syrup.

Carbs with carbs, with added maple syrup.

Carbs
All The Carbs

The rain today should ease off so that tomorrow’s clear. It’ll be awkward going everywhere in our waterproof trousers if it doesn’t. Still, at least we have waterproof gear and didn’t have to buy a poncho.

Puffin
SWMBO spotted a puffin!

Our Giant’s Causeway is famed for its regular hexagonal columnar basalt, so when we saw this on the street we wondered if there was a connection:

Causeway
No giants, no causeway.

Apparently not. It was ‘just some artist doing something’, we were told. No connection, just a random lookalike. Nice, if a little odd to see on a pavement.

The shore was very windy indeed. Around the Haarpa, something had channelled the wind and focused it so that it made walking unpleasant even though we were warm and dry.

Blustery
Bracing weather!

Here we were, at the shore, in exceptional wind and rain. And along came a couple of tourists. In ponchos.

The ponchos were not helping them. (Also, their jeans were an odd choice of wet-weather gear.) I failed to photo the beauty of the poncho blown so much it had reversed itself into a rain-capturing funnel but I did snigger.

It was at this point I figured this must be the Icelandic sense of humour at work. Ponchos are just plain awful for the Icelandic wind and rain we were experiencing, and Icelanders surely, surely know this. They must be chortling away to themselves every time they sell a tourist a poncho!

Or maybe ponchos are a sign: “Here’s a tourist with poor judgement”

More likely a tourist not in a poncho is a sign of Significant Smugness Deserving Of Punishment. I’ll shut up about ponchos now.

We looked in some of the shops in the town centre. I have failed to find a nice hat. I'm on the lookout because the cheap hat I have is annoying, doesn't sit right, and holds water like a sponge. Most hats here are similar. I'm also on the lookout for a nice hoodie. Haven't seen one of them yet either. I'm not very good at this shopping thing.

SWMBO did buy me a Northern Lights buff beanie. It's nice.

We were told before coming here that food was expensive and drink - particularly wine - even more so. “That’s fine,” thought I. “We’ll just not drink when we’re there.” Still, there was a free app called ‘AppyHour’ that looks at your location in Iceland and tells you which bar near you has a happy hour on and what the happy hour offers. I grabbed it anyway even though I wasn’t planning on using it.

Well, after walking in the wind and rain, we figured we’d check it out. It directed us to Apotek, a place SWMBO out on our map as a possible breakfast destination.

Happy Hour meant most drinks were half price.

However, most drinks were still hold-on-to-your seat expensive. SWMBO had having a £9 glass of sauvignon blanc. And that's half price! I needed a drink after that, so I settled on a simple Icelandic beer.

Some ladies beside us ordered shots of Brennivin. I’d no idea what that was, just that it was clear, like vodka. SWMBO saw one of the ladies try to drink it, but she had to hold her nose. Holding her nose, naturally enough, interfered with her ability to drink the shot so it took several attempts and she still had a coughing fit afterwards.

Street
Reykjavik at night

Tonight's northern lights tour is cancelled. Given the weather I can understand why. So instead of trekking around in the cold tonight we're going to have dinner in The Fishmarket. I had a wibble at the prices (it’s very expensive) but I figured hey, we’re only young once, even if that was a while ago. We wandered down there after Apotek and booked in person, and turned up for our table at 9pm.

We had the tasting menu. These are usually pricier than the regular menu, which made it eye wateringly expensive by my standards. And after another considerable wibble on my part we had the paired wines too. I really had a hard time with that

The tasting menu was great. There were 9 courses, each small course - sometimes only a morsel each - was strictly prepared and delivered. The accompanying wines were tasty too, and good accompaniments even if they didn’t reach the perfection Ox achieved. (Seriously, Ox had the best wine pairing I’ve ever tasted anywhere.) Oh, and one of the accompaniments was a beer, which I enjoyed. SWMBO isn’t really a beer drinker so I saved her from that experience.

Dessert
Dessert was – quite literally – smoking

But the price. I keep coming back to the price because it had such a major impact on me. It wasn’t a question of affordability, but one of value that threw me so completely. I kept picturing what else the same amount of money could buy.

To put it in figures I understand, the tasting menu was 11,900ISK which at today’s exchange rate is about £85 per person. That’s pretty expensive, even when compared with Belfast’s Michelin-starred Ox. The paired wines (and beer) were an additional 10,400ISK, or an additional £75 per person. So that’s £150 on wine, £170 on food and £320 in total. That’s a huge amount of money to me.

One of the wines that was paired with a course was a Willem – a Riesling, I think. Pairing meant we had a small glass of it with that particular course. Back in Northern Ireland I could buy a case of 12 bottles of it for less than the £150 cost of the paired wines with the meal.

And it’s not that the restaurant was overcharging. Things are just ridiculously expensive in Iceland to someone used to Northern Ireland prices. I get it, I really do, that just about everything has to be imported, that energy is cheap but just about everything else costs more. The cost of that meal was just a shock to my system, even though I had tried to steel myself for the high prices before coming.

But still, with a view like this, how could I not think it was worth it?

Happy
Happy SWMBO

Tags: Personal
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The site now has a whole new look. Gone are the orange bars and instead there’s a fresh, modern, text- and image-focused feel.

I’ve removed a lot of the cruft that had been building up, so now there’s just the blog and the encoders – those encoders still seem quite useful and quite used.

I like the photos on the site. I used a template for the structure and CSS but I’ve replaced all the photos with ones I’ve taken. I really like them.

The blog itself is entirely new code. It’s still missing some things, so I have more work to do on it. And there’s more going on with that code so I really should write some more about it some day. But not today.

Tags: Life
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In the first update to the encoders in years, I’ve changed them to be completely client-side only.

Now, what you want to encode and decode is transformed directly in your browser, not sent to my server for processing.

This should be more secure (you don’t need to worry about me snooping on files that are sent, or anyone watching your network traffic) as well as faster (only dependent on your browser speed, not your network connection).

Of course this comes at a cost. Support for some of the APIs I used is patchy across browsers. It uses HTML5, so will probably never work in Internet Explorer. Edge has made some stupid security decisions around base-64 links so downloading encoded/decoded files won’t work in it. Other browsers might be better. I use Chrome and it seems to be OK in that. I really should check Firefox at some point…

If you really like or hate the new approach, let me know on Twitter.

Tags: Development
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‘Fusion of Magic, Tech’
Score: 4/5

Charlie Jane Anders
£5.99

I’m not entirely sure who this book is aimed at. Bits of it – certainly at the beginning – seem to be aimed at the Young Adult market. Later bits seem less so.

Still, whoever it’s aimed at, it’s enjoyable.

It’s a nice, original attempt at merging worlds of magic and technology. Other stories do that too, but not in quite this way. Plus it’s a complete, self-contained story, not part of a series that drags on.

There’s a lot to like here.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Bit Flatter Than Previous’
Score: 4/5

Ben Aaronovitch
£8.99

This book felt a little flatter than the previous book in the series, ‘Rivers of London’. It was a toss-up whether it was 3/5 or 4/5 this time – the settings all felt a little plain compared with the imaginative first novel.

Still, 3/5 would be a good average mark and the book was better than that. Still very readable, very enjoyable, even if it didn’t quite reach the same peak as the last book (which also got 4/5 – there’s a real lack of granularity when there are only five possible marks).

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Highly Enjoyable Short Fiction’
Score: 5/5

I loved this selection of short science fiction stories. It’s the sort of book that reminds me I should read more short fiction.

The selection contains some quite different plots and viewpoints, and some of the stories are quite meaty.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Makes It Sound Possible’
Score: 5/5

This book talks about 3 big ideas that could change society:

  • Universal Basic Income
  • Open Borders
  • A 15-Hour Work Week

It goes into quite some detail, and carefully makes the case for each one. Where it really shines is in the evidence it provides – careful footnotes litter the text.

Is it all really possible though? I hope so but I’m still not certain. Am I being swept up in a careful narrative (the same way the author believes was the cause of Nixon not choosing guaranteed basic income for the US when he was president)? Or is the evidence really as overwhelming as it appears?

Hmm.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘More Of The Same’
Score: 3/5

James S. A. Corey
£6.29

I just couldn't really get into this as much as previous books in the series. Even though there's plenty of interesting stuff going on it just didn't hold my attention as much.

Ah well.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Nice, But Not Self-Contained’
Score: 4/5

Ian McDonald
£7.49

A nice imaginative book that makes me long for the days of science fiction novels instead of the obligatory series. I understand the commercial pressures that make publishers want to promote the ‘easier money’ of series, but that doesn't mean I like it.

So what we have in this book seems to me the start of a Game of Thrones in space – much more so than the purported ‘Game of Thrones in space’ of The Expanse. This has lots of characters, lots of death, and some obvious setting-up of plot points for the next book.

I can't really say if the book would have been better on its own instead of having a sequel (since the sequel isn't out yet) but it did make me wistful for the simplicity of ‘one book == one story’.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Dresden Crossed With Neverwhere’
Score: 4/5

Ben Aaronovitch
£6.29

This was added to my to-read pile by SWMBO and I can see why. We both like the Dresden novels, and SWMBO is a big fan of Neil Gaiman, and this book feels like a blend of both. It’s set in London, but not the London as we see it – much like in Neverwhere, there’s a hidden city with its own mythology and characters. And there’s magic aplenty coupled with criminal investigation, much like the earlier Dresden books.

The charm of the book is the setting and the mythology, but I did enjoy it when the writing style occasionally dropped into police-procedural reporting.

Nice book, and very easy to read. SWMBO has already put the next in the series on my to-read pile.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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