Friday, November 30, 2012

Celebrate Scottish Inventiveness for St Andrew's Day

As St Andrew's Day dawns in Scotland I am proud to launch the complimentary line of apparel, household and gift items to accompany the Scotland the Bright Calendar. Please check them out via the link on the side-bar just across from here.

If anyone reading this thinks that Cafepress is just tee shirts and mugs then think again. In addition to the traditional items we now have all kinds of bags, shower curtains, duvet covers, cushions, cocktail plates, coasters and even yoga mats. The process of sizing images and creating items is still ongoing - as of today there are no badges, magnets, cards or yoga mats, to name but a few. There is, however, a rather fine set of curtains containing a collage which has over 40 major inventions with the inventors all set against a background of 12 different tartans.

I have also been doing my homework concerning the Saltire. At first I was puzzled by the different shades of blue I was encountering but Google soon came to my rescue and this is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

The Scottish heraldic term for an X-shaped cross is a 'saltire', from the old French word saultoir or salteur (itself derived from the Latin saltatorium), a word for both a type of stile constructed from two cross pieces and a type of cross-shaped stirrup-cord. In heraldic language, it may be blazoned azure, a saltire argent. The tincture of the Saltire can appear as either silver (argent) or white, however the term azure does not refer to a particular shade of blue.

Throughout the history of fabric production natural dyes have been used to apply a form of colour, with dyes from plants, including indigo from Woad, having dozens of compounds whose proportions may vary according to soil type and climate; therefore giving rise to variations in shade. In the case of the Saltire, variations in shades of blue have resulted in the background of the flag ranging from sky blue to navy blue. When incorporated as part of the Union Flag during the 17th century, the dark blue applied to Union Flags destined for maritime use was possibly selected on the basis of the durability of darker dyes, with this dark blue shade eventually becoming standard on Union Flags both at sea and on land. Some flag manufacturers selected the same navy blue colour for the Saltire itself, leading to a variety of shades of blue being depicted on the flag of Scotland.

These variations in shade eventually led to calls to standardise the colour of Scotland's national flag, and in 2003 a committee of the Scottish Parliament met to examine a petition that the Scottish Executive adopt the Pantone 300 colour as a standard. (Note that this blue is of a lighter shade than the Pantone 280 of the Union Flag). Having taken advice from a number of sources, including the office of the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the committee recommended that the optimum shade of blue for the Saltire be Pantone 300. Recent versions of the Saltire have therefore largely converged on this official recommendation. (Pantone 300 is #0065BD as hexadecimal web colours)

The flag proportions are not fixed although the Lord Lyon King of Arms states that 5:4 is suitable. (Flag manufacturers themselves adopt a variety of ratios, including 1:2 or 2:3. The ratio of the width of the bars of the saltire in relation to the width of the field is specified in heraldry in relation to shield width rather than flag width. However, this ratio, though not rigid, is specified as one-third to one-fifth of the width of the field.

Last, not least I have also been navigating my way around the various design options that provides and have added links from the side-bar to my other web-pages where visitors can make purchases.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Taking up The Cause...

The title lacks the oompf that I would have liked but after staring at the screen for 5 minutes and then, out of desperation, Googling other blogs on the subject I have drawn a blank in terms of finding the right words.

To describe what? Well, for the first time in my life I think that I am actually becoming a political activist. For the 25+ years of my adult life that I spent in the UK I always thought of myself as being issue-driven rather than partisan and more often than not didn't even vote in elections much less get actively involved in the campaigning. Then, in the 16 years or so that I have lived here in the US, I have had the legitimate excuse that as a non-citizen I have no right (or obligation) to vote in elections here and no real interest in exercising my right to vote in British ones.

So, what has changed? Well, quite unexpectedly I have found myself becoming caught up in the campaign for Scottish independence.

First of all I should point out that I do have some Scottish heritage. I was born in Carlisle, just a few short miles south of Gretna Green and the border with Scotland. My father was Scottish and although his parents had both passed away long before I was born we did have fairly close ties with his sister, aunts, uncles and cousins and I can always recall having a sense of pride in my Scottish roots.

One of my regrets is that I did not spend more time visiting Scotland during my adult years in the UK but the temptation was always to go somewhere with guaranteed sunshine for vacation and that meant places like Spain, Greece, Italy and then more adventurous destinations such as Florida, California, Hawaii and the islands of the Caribbean. I did make a few trips north of the border during the years immediately before and after my move over here and actually married my 3rd wife in a historic little church in Ruthwell, just outside Dumfries.

Now, let's fast-forward to 2012. In order to make some income I am trying to come up with ideas and designs to increase my sales on Cafe Press. I decide to exploit two ideas; the first is a completely new store - FineArtDesigns - initially aimed at exploiting what I expected would be an upsurge in interest in Pre-Raphaelite art as a result of the Tate Exhibition in London and the second was to do something I had long wanted to do - a calendar and/or posters showcasing Scottish inventions and inventors.

This last idea is something I have thought of doing, in some form, for several years. It stems from an awareness (with pride) that Scotland has spawned far more than it's fair share of major inventions over the last 3 or 4 centuries. For reasons that are really not obvious this tiny country, not much bigger than South Carolina, with a population that has never been much over 5 million has given birth to a long list of inventions in medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, engineering, science, electronics, communications and many more. Most were invented by Scots in Scotland, some by Scots working abroad (including England) and some by non-Scots working in Scottish institutions. What I have long thought of doing is to somehow pull together some of the most famous, most important ones and display them artistically with pictures of the inventions and/or the inventors.

I freely admit that my motive was not entirely selfless. I know that I am not alone in feeling a sense of pride in my Scottish heritage and I do believe that there is a market, among Scottish people and others with Scottish ancestory, for posters, calendars or other items which reflect Scottish achievements. However, although I had thought it through conceptually, this was not slam dunk in terms of actually creating the art and so it didn't get done. Until recently, that is, in fact until the wee hours of this morning.

What came about was a gradual realisation that there was something going on in Scotland right now which could greatly affect the saleability of artwork along these lines. The something is the movement towards nationalism. For anyone who stumbles across this blog who does not know what is happening in Scotland it has just been decided that in the autumn of 2014 there will be a referendum to decide whether Scotland will become independent or remain part of the United Kingdom. I will not go into the issue in detail here, that can wait for another day, but suffice it to say that even now, 2 years from the vote being taken, the debate is lively and set to beome even livelier. For my part, although I have no right to participate in the vote itself, I do have an interest and perhaps for the first time in my life am feeling myself being pulled into a political contest.

In the course of designing my calendar, which showcases over 40 major Scottish inventions, I hit upon a slogan which I hope may catch on; it is based on just one of those inventions - the incandescent light bulb - by James Bowman Lindsay in 1835. My slogan is "Vote Bright, vote Yes" a variation might be "Do the Bright Thing and vote Yes" I believe it translates into Scottish gaelic as "Dean toinisgeil" but I need to check that. Here is a link to the calendar

This is probably my longest blog post ever and so I will call a halt for now but it will be the first of what I hope will be many.

Friday, November 09, 2012

As a good friend of mine used to say "Only in America" This afternoon I was doing some searching online and noticed a huge spike in activity on Twitter around the name 'Petraeus' - a name I'm only vaguely familiar with. In fact it sounded very much like the name of one or more of the Roman generals I had been reading about yesterday when doing research into Queen Boadicea. In any event it transpires that General Petraeus was, until earlier today, the head of the CIA; that is to say the Central Intelligence Agency and not the, some would say more useful, Culinary Institute of America.

It really is quite amazing to watch just how quickly a story like this can spread on Twitter. Wildfire doesn't even begin to describe it. One minute there are just a few 'Tweets' and then all of a sudden the keyword, in this case Petraeus, goes into the top 10 and then we have lift-off.

Within not many minutes it became clear the Petraeus had resigned as CIA director because the he had been caught, seemingly by the FBI, having an extra-marital affair with the young ex-soldier (lady) who was 'embedded' with him when he was heading up US forces in Afghanistan and has since written his biography called (wait for it..) "All In" which is being published (and will surely sell out now) next week.

It seems that everyone, from newscasters to talk show hosts to journalists and bloggers, was all over this one. Puns abounded, comparisons and contrasts with Clinton and his affair were piled on top of simple observations such as just how come the Nation's Chief Secret-Keeper couldn't keep a secret.

It does appear that General Petraeus had difficulty distinguishing between 'Overt' and 'Covert' and there seems to have been an issue concerning access to confidential emails given to his mistress/biographer. However, one cannot help but conclude that the improved relations between agencies such as the CIA and FBI which America was striving for after 9/11 may not be as good as had been hoped.

There are also, as usual, some conspiracy theories largely around the fact that Petraeus was apparently due to give testimony next week concerning an incident involving the CIA - a duty which will now fall on the Acting Director.

On a totally different subject anyone reading this might find some items on CafePress amusing. They are based around 'Famous Last Words' - not actual sayings but what some famous historical figures might have said. My favourite (so far) is the one attributed to Marat though I also like the Edgar Allan Poe one. Here is a link.