ajara (asked by leedy and hfnuala): This region (known as აჭარა in the local language) is part of Georgia (ex-Soviet rather than US state). It used to have a strongly autonomous government under the leadership of Aslan Abashidze; he got kicked out a few years back, and I was fairly closely involved in monitoring the situation at the time. Various spellings are used, since the Georgian letter ჭ is usually transliterated "ch", but I am sticking to "Ajara" rather than the alternatives.
ansible (asked by bastardsnow): Here I really mean not the device for instant faster-than-light communication to be found in the novels of Ursula Le Guin and Orson Scott Card, but the monthly newsletter of what's going on in science fiction produced by David Langford, archived here, which itself has won six Hugo awards and has helped Langford win another 20 for best Fan Writer.
careers advice (asked by hfnuala): As some on my friends list will know, I do like from time to time to offer my input into how to shape career plans. This is partly because I feel my career path has been unconventional which maybe gives me a different perspective. Partly also that I never got any good careers advice myself, apart from the day I bought What Color is your Parachute? and realised that it is in fact OK to have wild dreams about your career, you just have to work out how to get there (and also OK to look for a job where you can do more of the work you like and less of the work you don't).
cusu (asked by hfnuala): The Cambridge University Students Union, of which I was Deputy President (Services) in 1989-90, the yeah after I graduated (though I stuck around Cambridge for another year after to do my M Phil). Not in fact a great year of my life, as I have written here, but I learnt a lot from doing it. And I stay in touch with what's going on to the limited extent of seeing who has been elected to my old post (now "Services Officer") every year and sending them a commiserating email.
father ted (asked by bastardsnow): This was a hilarious sitcom produced between 1995 and 1998, telling the story of three very strange Irish priests on an island and their equally eccentric housekeeper. I don't know how well the humour would travel; I have occasionally baffled American friends by making them sit down and watch it.
gerald ford (asked by mscongeniality): Ford was the first president whose term I remember in full (I was not yet two years old when Nixon was elected). It's a scary thought that the kids who were born the year he lost the election to Jimmy Carter have now turned thirty. I am instinctively leftish of the political spectrum, but I retain a soft spot for Ford. He clearly was a more pleasant person than the average Republican candidate - it oozes out of this 1976 campaign commercial - but more importantly, his intervention in the Helsinki Accords process in 1975 made a greater contribution to bringing about the end of the Cold War through the peaceful implosion of Communism than any of Reagan's adventurist efforts. Any of us living in a peaceful Europe today - especially in Eastern Europe - owe him a huge debt.
mediaeval or medieval history (asked by nmg): I'm a purist for spelling and prefer "mediæval" but you can't have everything. I described my interest in the period in an earlier round of interviews here, but would add that I found my mediæval work almost the most intellectually stimuating thing I have ever done: trying to decode the thoughts and mind-sets of 800 years ago. I would like to get to the stage professionally where I could spend a week a month doing lucrative consultancy, two weeks reading science fiction and the rest of the time on continuing my medieval research. Give me ten or fifteen years.
prime numbers (asked by leedy): I just find them fascinating. I have almost certainly lived through more than half the years in my lifetime which are prime numbers (seven of them - 1973 1979 1987 1993 1997 1999 and 2003; the next seven would take me to 2063, and the one after is 2069). I like taking random large numbers and seeing how quickly I can break them down to their prime factors - say with people's phone numbers - I remember discovering with glee that three of my four best friends at school all had phone numbers that were divisible by 23 (the fourth didn't have a phone). Yes, I am weird that way.
rasfw (asked by bastardsnow): In the old days before blogging and livejournal, a lot of people on the 'net communicated through a system known as usenet. It's still out there, though I should think most people think of it as "Google Groups" these days. The key area of usenet for exchanging sf-related thoughts was (and still is, as far as usenet goes) rec.arts.sf.written; I appear to have contributed of the order of 200 posts to it over the years, which makes me a small blip on a large radar screen.
single transferable vote (asked by leedy, who has probably used it): this is the Best Electoral System in the World. Voters get to rank the candidates in order of increasing dislike, and then votes are transferred until the right number of candidates have been chosen. Used for elections in discerning jusrisdictions like the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Malta, and Australia. (In Northern Ireland it is used for local government, Assembly and European Parliament elections, because they Have To Be Fair; but not for Westminster elections.)
1915 (asked by nmg and hfnuala):
This icon originated in this post, part of my efforts to get informed about the Lake Doiran campaign and the Battle of Kosturino in December 1915, in which my grandfather participated. The map is a sketch from Ward Price's book on the campaign, showing what is now the south-eastern corner of the Republic of Macedonia, a country I know fairly well though I have spent only a day and a night in that part of it (a seminar in Štip, many years ago, followed by an overnight and another seminar in Strumica). I hope to get down there the weekend after next to complete my researches.
alphabets (asked by leedy):
As explained at some length a while back to sammywol, I am entirely fascinated by alphabets. (See also the many entries with the alphabets tag on this journal.) I generated the icon so as to have a proper one for future alphabet-related posts. The text is my name in (from top to bottom) Bulgarian, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Thai and Chinese, with Japanese down the right hand side. of course the orthographic eccentricities of the way I actually spell my name in the Latin alphabet (that silent 'h' in 'Nicholas', the 'y' instead of 'i' in 'Whyte') do not survive the process.
buzz (asked by hfnuala):
This was practically the first icon I designed for myself, one of the many photographs taken of Buzz Aldrin on the moon by Neil Armstrong. I use it here for all posts and comments on sf and fantasy matters which are not actual book reviews (for which I use a separate icon). Rather to my surprise I found a few months ago that someone had started using it as their default icon - not just a case of great minds thinking alike, but the two icons were identical as far as my graphics software could tell, and I knew I had made this one!
dancing cyberman (asked by bastardsnow):
This icon was made for me by the wonderful, Hugo-winning bohemiancoast; it originates from the gag reel from last year's Doctor Who stories. The cybermen are among Doctor Who's most famous adversaries (probably in third place after the Daleks and the Master); they have famously had all of their emotions surgically removed, to become creatures of pure logic. The sight of people in robotic costumes running around an English park is funny, but in the context that these are supposed to be joyless creatures it is even funnier. I use this icon for happy posts, and congratulating other people when they make happy posts. (One of ony two animated icons among my userpics.)
Lib Dem (asked by bastardsnow):
The often mocked Bird of Liberty logo is the symbol of the Liberal Democrats, the third party in British politics. I've been a member of the party since it was founded in 1988, and was elected on a Lib Dem platform to Cambridge University Students Union (see above); I was also a candidate for Cambridge City Council in 1990 on the Lib Dems ticket, and am still a member of the Brussels branch. I was more prominent, of course, in the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, which is a sister party of the Lib Dems; I was their central director of election/party organiser for three years, and was again a candidate in North Belfast in 1996. I tend to use my Northern Ireland icon for posts on NI politics, but am occasionally moved to comment on the Lib Dems (especially during last year's leadership election) and so have this icon in reserve.
orac (asked by leedy):
Orac was one of the group known as Blake's Seven in the British science fiction series of the same name which ran from January 1978 to December 1981, a bleak view of the future which seems eerily reminiscent now of the rise of Margaret Thatcher to power. (Though there were not always seven of Blake's Seven, and Blake was barely seen in the third and fourth seasons.) In general Orac was a deeply annoying know-it-all computer, so his occasional variations from that were very amusing. I use the icon to illustrate posts about computers and IT generally, and I'm getting into the habit of using it also for memes. Am planing to re-watch Blake's Seven in the near future.
plovdiv (asked by leedy)
Another Balkan map, this one done as a one-off for a particular entry on the history of Eastern Rumelia, which was carved off the Ottoman empire in 1878 and became part of Bulgaria in 1885 (the ensuing war with Serbia being the setting for George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man". The icon is taken from this map. I just love the fact that western policy-makers were gravely discussing the fate of Philippopolis when the locals just called it Plovdiv (Пловдив). I will probably never do another post about the Eatern Rumelia question, unless some miracle of fate actually brings me there, but I do occasionally use this icon to illustrate posts or comments about peculiar and confusing situations.
smile (asked by bastardsnow):
This is actually a picture of the great Victorian Irish astronomer, Sir Robert Stawell Ball (1840-1913), the subject of one of my M Phil essays in 1991. He was very well known as a populariser of science, though his actual scientific discoveries were in fact more in the exotic field of the mathematics of screws (now apparently an important concept in robot engineering). This is one of the famous series of caricatures of public figures done for the magazine Vanity Fair by Leslie Ward (known as 'Spy'). I use it for mild amusement; several other happy icons (including the dancing cyberman, above) get more use though.
usa (asked by hfnuala):
Yeah, my fascination with body paint again; I think I found the original image by googling "patriotic body paint", though it doesn't come up when I try the search now. I use it to illustrate posts about contemporary America which are not related to the institution of the presidency in general (for which I use this, taken from Google Earth's view of the White House) or Gerald Ford in particular (for which I use this).
Ooof, that was hard work. Feel free to ask again about more interests or icons, or to ask me to ask you about yours, but it may be a while before I compile another set of answers!