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Who Do You Think You Are?

13 February, 2017 (19:56) | Family Tree | By: Ian Burdon


A fine figure of a genetic mix

I had a DNA test done. It was a spur of the moment thing, out of curiosity more than anything else, and I’ve got the results back. I used a new company called Living DNA and the process was simple: buy the kit, take a couple of mouth swabs, post them off, and wait.

Do you want to know the genetic make up of the fine figure of a chap pictured to the right? No harm in that.

My autosomal DNA is 100% Great Britain and Ireland in the last 5 or 6 generations. I already knew that, but it’s nice to have that extra piece of the story. That’s what LivingDNA call the “standard” results and I believe the “cautious” and “complete” results, which are more detailed, are due soon, though I don’t know when.

The test indicates 78.8% of my DNA is from 4 of 21 GB and Ireland regions:

  • NW England (22.6%)
  • Northumbria (20.6%)
  • Central England (19.6%)
  • Cumbria (16%)

Trace levels are from SE England, S Wales, Sth Yorkshire, Aberdeenshire, and SW Scotland/N Ireland. You can find the regional definitions on the site. Note the labels are fairly broad–Northumberland stretches from Durham to Southern Fife; Cumbria includes Dumfries and Galloway. My friend Cath Ingham will note that South Yorkshire includes West Yorkshire. Perhaps, then, I’m genetically disposed to Timothy Taylor’s beers? That would explain a great deal, frankly.

More generally, that mix looks about right given what I know of my family history back to 1745. I’m not sure where that Aberdeenshire (Aberdeenshire, Angus, Fife, Moray) comes from, though, so maybe there is something there to have a look at.

My Y-DNA puts me in Haplogroup R-L21, subclade R-DF13. As far as I can tell this makes my Burdon side about as British as British could be, and I can now tell all sorts of fairy stories about the Celtic Twilight (as long as there’s no Enya. Please: no Enya. Really.)

My mtDNA is somewhat more exotic (thanks Mam): Haplogroup V. Apparently this is uncommon in the UK and may, or may not, have origins in Spain around the end of the last ice age. My mam was pleased to know this means she shares a genetic heritage with the Sami people of Lapland and folks from the Basque country.

Where does this get me? To be honest, aside from that trace of Aberdeenshire, probably not very far. One way or another we are all out of Africa, though we took different routes to get here. There is a certain interest in knowing how those routes led to me, but not much more. I see a lot of activity online by people (mostly men, actually; why is it always men?) trying to hone their genetic heritage to prove a link to some Clan or other, which seems to me to detract from the greater message: we are more similar than we are different.

On my Dad’s side, we were only ever one 18th or 19th century mining accident away from non-existence. My Dad told me once that, of those with whom he did his basic Naval training on National Service towards the end of WW2, half stayed in Europe, but half were posted to the Pacific and most of them died when their ship was torpedoed. My sisters and I, and our children, are here because of the accident of having a name at the beginning of the alphabet. And no doubt my ancestors managed to survive the Black Death, famine, drought, wars and skirmishes and goodness knows what other horrors going back into pre-history. That’s more interesting to me, more viscerally real, than my genetics.

The exception, I suppose, is in the context of the British political scene: I’m from everywhere.

My genes don’t make me special, they just prove I’m human. And if you want to know what that means, I recommend a read of Adam Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived


Facebook Update

25 January, 2017 (18:32) | Facebook | By: Ian Burdon

I’m now well into my third month without Facebook, and I have no inclination to go back. My account remains deactivated rather than deleted because I still have uses for Messenger, but the main site has no attraction.

I have noticed a lot of links in Tweets to people’s FB postings; sometimes I can see them sometimes I can’t. C’est la vie; posts are ephemeral, life is too short.

Incidentally, for anyone who has done those Facebook personality type tests, this is worth a read, and the 10-minute talk below is worth a watch. Of course, there is no doubt a huge marketing reason for the company to play up their influence and gain more customers, but still worth a look.

Medium format

24 January, 2017 (20:23) | snap! | By: Ian Burdon

We’re going to Skye and Harris later in the year for a couple of weeks. I haven’t been to Skye for a long time and have never been to Harris and Lewis. I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Amy: Seagull 4B1; 1997?

Amy: Seagull 4B1; 1997?

As far as I can recall, last time I was on Skye I was using my old Canon SLRs, probably the Canon A1. I know at one point I used a Seagull 4B1 TLR too. I’ve been digital for a while now, but I still have film cameras and they all have film in. Every so often I take one away with me, but it tends to stay in my bag–I keep getting suckered by the ease of digital, the immediate gratification. So for this coming holiday it crossed my mind only to take film cameras, and I may yet do that.

One of those film cameras will, if all goes according to plan, be an old Pentax 645 medium format I’ve just bought off eBay.

Why the 645? because I saw a documentary of Harry Hook in Africa, and was impressed by his use of a 645 and the results he was getting.

Pentax 645

Pentax 645

I’m not so dumb as to think the camera makes the photo, especially because he is a highly experienced and talented professional with access to professional laboratories. But, having done a lot of research, the 645 seems a good place to start to step up to the larger film format, and Hook’s brilliance gives me something to aim for.

The Seagull (which I still have) is a nice enough camera within its own limits (and I have some Rollei 400ASA black and white film in it right now as a test roll), but it’s not flexible enough for what I want.

With a bit of luck you’ll start seeing some results here soon–I have a scanner by my desk that takes medium format negatives, and test efforts were promising, though I have some work to do to make a proper go of it (see the pic of Amy above).

The challenging thing to do, the one to throw me back entirely to film, would be to take only the 645 and a tripod and a bag full of either Ektar or Portra (or similar). I’ll decide on that once I’ve run a couple of test rolls through the camera.

Shameless Self-publicity

11 January, 2017 (14:38) | Books, Writing | By: Ian Burdon

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a story being published at some indeterminate point in the near future. You can read about it at this link. I know it’s getting closer because (a) I’ve had the edits back and (b) I got an email today about publicity when it comes out–essentially my role, amongst other people’s, in making sure potential readers know about the book so that they can buy it.

The email links to this blogpost at Fox Spirit Books. It is very sensible and I understand what it’s getting at. If I have a problem, it’s that if someone persistently promotes their work to/at me on Twitter, I reach for the ‘mute’ button.

So I’m pondering the dividing line between reasonable and unreasonable promotion, and obligations to the other writers and the publisher, given that Twitter is now the only social media platform I use.

We are rooted, we are your children

3 January, 2017 (10:35) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

Union Canal at Ratho

Union Canal at Ratho

We went out for a stroll yesterday, a start to working off the festive chocolate glut. It wasn’t a huge walk, just three miles alongside the Union Canal from Ratho, but it was enjoyable.

It’s a while since I/we’ve been there. Some new houses and a marina on one side of the bridge caught me unawares, but on the eastern side, the one we walked, the only change was a path has been laid to replace to previous muddy track. The narrow boat owners weren’t out on the canal, but canoeists were, powering their way through the murky water.

It wasn’t especially busy, but there were a pleasing number of friendly dogs looking for ear scratches and chin rubs.



Bird life was unexciting, and there was no sign at all of aquatic life until, towards the end of our walk, a handsome pair of goosander put in an appearance.

Unfortunately there was no room at the Bridge Inn for lunch.


For some reason, not long after the bells  at New Year, I found myself pondering mortality and transience. Partly, I think, this came from an awareness that the older one gets, and with each passing regular ‘event’, the shorter life seems; partly also it was because of the death of my uncle over the holiday period; and partly it came from reading Adam Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived.

Perhaps it was thoughts of transience, or perhaps it was just getting round to it at last, but for whatever reason I spent last night working out the basics of Robin Dransfield’s Fair Maids of February, one of those songs I come back to again and again and again.

From the darkness of winter, the first flowers to venture
And now you’re lying beneath the snow

Fair Maids of February are snowdrops.

The song covers, or hints at, a lot of things, and I catch different resonances every time I listen to it or read the words. Robin and his brother Barry, individually or as a duo, have so many good songs.

Winding Down the Year (2)

31 December, 2016 (19:02) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

Happy 2017 to all (?) my readers.


(i) Be kind
(ii) Look for beauty

The rest will be what it will be.

Winding Down the Year (1)

30 December, 2016 (11:21) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

As 2016 crawls off to the knacker’s yard, I’ve had this running around my head:

A Great Disturbance in the Force

28 December, 2016 (15:39) | Rants | By: Ian Burdon

When Princess Diana died in 1997, colleagues and I discussed the reactions to her death. We agreed that she seemed to have married into a shitty life and it was sad she died young in that manner, but we weren’t in floods of tears, we didn’t buy flowers to leave in the park, and it didn’t disturb our emotional lives at all. This wasn’t an exercise in cynicism, it was just that she wasn’t known to us personally and personal grief wasn’t involved.

Wind forward nearly 20 years to 2016 and the roll-call of the fallen, most recently Carrie Fisher, whose death was announced yesterday. In the case of Carrie Fisher, of course I regret her death and have empathy and sympathy for those who knew her; but all year, as public figures have died, my Facebook timeline, when I had one, and my Twitter timeline have featured people declaring the depths of their sorrow at individual deaths in ways that veer towards the mawkish, featuring photographs of the deceased with strap lines attesting to the lachrymose desolation of the poster. These are not from friends and family, whose grief is understandable, but from normal punters. Ms. Fisher is the latest to trigger such reactions.

I don’t get it. I don’t understand why people want to make a public display of emotional inadequacy: what do they want, a medal?

Carrie Fisher: RIP

Can You Hear The Music?

26 December, 2016 (23:22) | Sense8 | By: Ian Burdon

Another Christmas gone.

Our Christmas was pretty much like we’ve done for several years now–I make my mince pies on Christmas Eve, then make dinner on Christmas Day, and then flop somewhere and snooze. That’s pretty much how I like it and, so they tell me, it’s how everyone else here likes it too.

The only thing different is this year I didn’t watch the Dr Who Christmas edition when it was broadcast (I was snoozing) and, so far, still haven’t watched it. I’ll get around to it sooner or later.

However I did watch the Sense8 Christmas Special on 23rd December and have watched it again twice since. I’ll probably watch it some more times too. You will gather from my watching it three times already that I enjoyed it, and that it was a joy for me to reconnect with the characters. The special served to move the stories of the characters forward and also to set up some themes for season 2, which appears on Netflix May 5th (Will experiencing some of Angelica’s memories and Jonas’s explanation quietly did that).

If you’ve seen my three previous posts about Sense8 you’ll know that I love this show for many reasons, and I enjoyed the Christmas Special for those same reasons. The core reason is the way the hand-wavy science-y  stuff about being senseate and psycellium and shit does its heavy lifting in the outworking of the core metaphor via the interplay of the characters, rather than being front and centre as techno-babble. This alone makes Sense8 more interesting than 99% of so-called sci-fi on TV (or in the cinema, for that matter). The other core reasons are the commitment to “show don’t tell” and the emotional engagement I have with the characters.

The Christmas show wasn’t perfect: I think it suffered a little from being a stand-alone episode, particularly in some of the early pacing. Also, to these British ears some of the dialogue seemed over-written. But these are niggles rather than substantive criticisms. As ever the show brought big smiles to my face and, once or twice, some pressure behind my eyes (often involving Sun Bak, but also, surprisingly, Bug).

Anyway: this is how senseates celebrate their birthday–no napping on the couch for them.

In The Realms of the Unreal

20 December, 2016 (17:40) | Brexit, Dead Water | By: Ian Burdon

Somewhere around 1979 or 80, I read Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method. I got to it by a roundabout route: his How To Be a Good Empiricist was in a Philosophy of Science tutorial reading list, and I was sufficiently intrigued by that to read more of him.

Against Method is not without its critics, some, though by no means all, of whom understood what Feyerabend was getting at. It’s a while since I last read it and the detail fades, but I do recall the thrust of one of his core suggestions: that Galileo succeeded in the long run not because he had better arguments in the abstract, but because he was better at arguing.

A similar analysis can be made of Martin Luther, often said to have sparked revolution when he nailed his theses to a church door. That’s not really true: his theses were in latin and unintelligible to most of the population. He really got motoring when he pointed out, during a period of significant local economic trouble due to widespread crop failure, that German money was lining Italian pockets.

This has been in my mind for a lot of this year in the context of Brexit and the US election. It will also be important if we ever have to endure another Indy referendum here in Scotland. There was an assumption on the part of the ‘Remain’ side and the non-fascist part of America (and remains an assumption of the “No” side in Scotland), that it is enough to present facts and arguments to convince the ‘other side’ of the logic of your case, at which point they will shake your hand and thank you for correcting their misconceptions. They will not.

Analysis and logic are important, but they are not sufficient; in fact they are easily sidestepped by portraying them as the nit-picking pettifoggery of “experts”. The SNP understand this, as does the loathsome Farage. For those of us who value an open, inclusive society, we need positions and arguments that appeal to people’s emotion and instinct, not just their minds.

And they need to be memorably expressed in no more than 140 characters.