Saturday, February 28, 2015


On Thursday evening, my husband called me over and asked what colours this dress was.

A photo of a dress that could be a blue and black dress in bright light or a white and gold dress in deep shadow.

I thought it was obviously blue and black and said as much. He said he saw it as white and gold and then showed me the conversation on Tumblr about it. Apparently a lot of people see it as blue and black and a lot of people see it as white and gold. We were lucky enough to be able to rule out room lighting, monitor quality, and a bunch of other things, by virtue of us being in different  'camps' while looking at it together.

We were confused, so we googled for an image editor (pixlr, because apparently there are no e's on the internet). We took samples, one from the bit that looked blue to me and white to him, and another from the bit that looked black to me and gold to him. What we found made the whole thing make sense to me. The blue / white bits were a very light shade of blue, the black / gold bits were a very dark shade of gold. So the blue bits were so light he saw white, and the gold bits were so dark I saw black.

This white-balance illusion hit so hard because it felt like someone had been playing through the Monty Hall scenario and opened their chosen door, only to find there was unexpectedly disagreement over whether the thing they'd revealed was a goat or a car.I thought this was very interesting and posted about it on Facebook. Around about the same time, many, many other people saw this and wanted to share it. When you come across this, you're going to want to get as many opinions on it as possible, which is a great way to makes a thing go viral, which it promptly did. Just under my post on Facebook, someone else was talking about it. For a while there seemed to be almost nothing else on Twitter. There were Buzzfeed and Wired articles. It was on Reddit. There were interviews with the people that originally posted it, and with colour scientists. There was an XKCD comic.

I wasn't surprised that it got shared around so much. I was slightly surprised that for some people, it seemed to change colour, as it never did for me. But I was very surprised how vehemently some people were arguing that people who disagreed with them were wrong. I've seen people stating that there's obviously something wrong with the monitors of people seeing it the other way. I've seen people call the people stupid, or colour blind*, or 'deficient in some way' because their perception differed. So many people were saying that the dress was 'clearly', or 'obviously' the way they saw it. Many people wondered if every single person claiming they saw it the other way was lying, in some sort of gigantic internet troll conspiracy.

There were #TeamWhiteAndGold and #TeamBlueAndBlack hashtags on Twitter. Personally, I'm on #TeamCantWeAllJustGetAlong**. Now, I like a good argument as much as the next person, but I don't see the point in arguing with someone if there's no chance either of you will change your mind. Because, the dress is blue and black***, the only argument left to have is what colour people see it as, and expecting to change what the other person sees by force of argument is madness.

Another thing I've heard a lot of is people say is 'it's just a really badly taken photo, get over it'. But it's not about whether or not the photo accurately represents the dress (it kinda does, but only to some people). It's about how it divides people, reasonably neatly**** into two groups. It's an opportunity to realise that we all suffer from the typical mind fallacy. We all trust our own perceptions too much, and we don't trust what other people tell us about theirs enough. Most of the time, what two people perceive is close enough that we don't see the cracks, but this is a rare opportunity to do so. It's fascinating, but it's not really about the dress.

* Not that I think it's anything offensive about being colour blind, but someone isn't necessarily colour blind because they don't see a colour exactly the same way you do!
** Though this would be a terrible hashtag really. Most of your tweet is gone on it.
*** No, really, I'm not just saying that because that's the way I see it. The person who took the photo said that in person there is no doubt. Also, there are photos of the dress for sale. (You should read the reviews).
****I've met a few 'blue and gold' people, as well as a few other varients.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The story of my wedding dress

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for nearly two years. I decided to dust off, finish it, and share it. Enjoy.

One of the first things I organised before getting married was my dress. In fact, I had my dress organised before we'd picked a venue. At least, I thought I had.

I didn't like the idea of having a wedding dress hanging around after the wedding. It takes up space and gets in the way, it costs money to get cleaned, and it's not like I'll have any use for it. I wouldn't even get the traditional 'make your child or children's Christening clothes out of it', since, if I do have any more children, I won't be getting them Christened, just like I didn't with my first. So I decided to hire one.

Online I found Bride's First Choice. According to their website they are 'Ireland’s first modern mobile bridal salon targeting on bringing the most comfortable, unique and stress free bridal experience.'. That sounded good, not only did I get to hire my dress, but I don't even have to go to their premises. They even do bridesmaids dresses. It sounded perfect.

So, we organised for Tanya to come to my sister's house in Maynooth, where I lived at the time, with a car full of dresses. We agreed that we would cover Tanya's petrol expenses up from Limerick. My two bridesmaids, my mother, my mother in law, and I, had a lot of fun trying on dresses and talking about colours and the like. I commented that what I really wanted was the top of this dress, and the bottom of another dress she had.

I was pleasantly surprised when she said she could do that. I didn't think she did bespoke dresses at all, but she assured me that it would be no problem, even for hirin. It would be a little more expensive than hiring an existing dress, but still far less than the usual cost of a wedding dress.

Having discovered she could get dresses made for us, we also decided to get dresses just like these ones for my bridesmaids:

But in green and with a halter neck. We spent some time selecting the perfect shade of green from a book of samples she had. I also asked, speculatively, if she could do a waistcoat in the same colour, since one of my bridal party was my best friend, who happens to be a guy. She said it was no problem and I was delighted.

We paid for her petrol costs once or twice more for fittings and getting measurements. I wondered if I should be concerned because it seemed like maybe she hadn't taken enough measurements. But this is her job, I reasoned, she must know what she's doing.

We were in the process of organising a dress fitting for June 3rd, about two and a half weeks before the wedding, which Tanya assured me was the perfect timeframe for alterations, when the first major flag went up. The bridesmaid's dresses had arrived, in the wrong material. Now, I don't know a lot about different materials, but I could tell from the photos she sent that they were wrong. This looked like a completely different dress than the one we'd ordered.

She assured me that the different colour was just because of the light, the camera, the other dresses around it and whatever, and that it looked right in person. She also assured me that the halter neck we'd requested was there, just not attached, and that the halter neck being separate to the rest of the dress was perfectly fine and normal. But the dresses we ordered were flowy, and silky, and pretty. This thing looked to me like a bad bridesmaid's dress cliche. I told her the fitting (and attendant round trip petrol fee) could wait until the new dresses arrived.

Which is how I ended up not trying on my wedding dress until June 14th, a week and a day before my wedding.

To say that fitting went badly is something of an understatement.

The new bridesmaid's dresses, which were, at least, made of a silky material this time, still had no halternecks. My sister's dress could be made, at a stretch, to be straight at either the front, or the back, but not both.

But, at least it closed on her. My sister in law's dress, which was, apparently made to fit her precise measurements. looked like this:

The 'waistcoat' was laughable. It looked like something made by someone who had never seen a waistcoat, but had had one described to them. You wouldn't put it on a chorus member in the background in stage production. Let alone one of the main party at a wedding.

My dress was not right. It was made of what looked and felt like a cheaper material than the one I'd tried. It wasn't quite the right style, the detailing was all wrong. There was this weird sort of fold in the material at the front. And oh yeah, it didn't fit me.

My Wedding Dress Didn't Fit Me. A Week Before My Wedding!

Tanya tried to convince me that these problems could be fixed. That there was enough material in the seams of my dress and my sister in law's to 'let them out'. Why she thought I would be willing to give someone who had messed up this badly over the course of months a week to fix it, I have no idea.

I got all of the money I'd already put down towards the dress back from her. For some reason I didn't demand the money I'd paid her for petrol back as well, although I had budgeted this in as part of the cost of the dress. I even paid her for her petrol for that day. I wanted to get her out of my life as quickly as possible and that seemed like the easiest way to make that happen.

My mother in law went to the wonderful Bridal Boutique just down the road and explained the situation. When I followed a few minutes later they were fully prepared for damage control. Actually, I was finding the whole thing pretty hilarious, which seemed to make me some sort of hero in their eyes. I tried on a few dresses, but as soon as I came out in this one, my mother in law, sister, and sister in law informed me that this was the dress I was getting married in.


The shop model fitted me almost perfectly and needed only minor alterations. 
I got a large discount, because normally the shop would have the same dress made specifically for the bride, but there wasn't time to do so in this case. 

On the day it fit like a glove, and my groom's face when he first saw it was worth all the hassle.

It lives in my wardrobe now. I'll get around to selling it one of these days.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Goal weight

Thanks to Weight Watchers at Home, I have reached my goal weight.

Along the way I hit a few plateaux. I gained weight over both Christmas and Easter, but lost it again quite easily afterwards.

I was intrigued by where I lost the weight from. Initially the weight came off my belly, which was unsurprising, as that's where I was carrying most of it. But then I started to lose weight off my hips, making me more straight up and down and less curvy than I am used to. But then, after a while, I started losing weight off my waist, most visible at my sides when viewed from the back. I got my curves back!

At some point I also started losing weight off my breasts, which is very strange for me, as before now they've only ever gotten bigger. It was also great news, as it means I no longer need to go to speciality shops for my bras. This was particularly useful as the particular speciality shop I tended to go to shut down around the same time.

Overall I'm very happy with my new shape. It's different to the one I had the last time I was a size ten, as I am much fitter now than I was then.

My body is the size I want it to be, on average. My belly is still bigger than I'd like and a little saggy, my face is maybe a tiny bit pointy, and my ribs stick out from certain angles. It is my body, and I choose to love it, but it is not perfect. I don't believe that anyone's body really can be.

I found the Weight Watchers diet generally easy to stick to. I was almost always tracking on a Monday, rarely tracking on a Sunday, and varied in between. But I got a general feel for what eating the right number of points felt like. So even if I hadn't been tracking well, I knew if I'd had a good week or a bad one. I mind being a bit hungry less than I did a year ago, and being over full more.

Since starting this journey I have discovered the Nationals Weight Control Registry. This is a long term research study of people who have lost weight and kept it off. Their threshold is losing 30 pounds and keeping it off for a year. I lost 34 pounds (15 kilos, 2 stone 6 pounds). So, hopefully this time next year I'll be signing up to join. I'm hoping this will help to motivate me, as I know that motivation for weight control is harder than for weight loss.

This is what me losing 34 pounds in 10 and a half months looks like.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Please don't close the Exchange (an open letter to Ray Yeates, Dublin City Arts Officer)

Hello Ray,

I tried to call you at the Arts office, but I was told that you're on holidays this week. I hope that you see my letter before it is too late.

I understand that you have told Exchange Dublin that they need to close their doors by Friday due to 'Anti-social behaviour'. I assume you're already familiar with the petition on to reverse this decision.

I just wanted to personally add my voice to this. I am not directly involved with the Exchange. However, I have visited there several times; for arts exhibits, story evenings, hand-craft sales, and other things. A few times my husband, son, and I, have stopped in while passing and there is always something interesting on. And even when I haven't been able to visit myself, I have been glad to know that this island of art and culture existed in our city. 

According to John Tierney, Dublin City Manager, in a press release in 2011, your role as Dublin City Arts Officer means that you are 'responsible for the continued development of the arts in the city of Dublin'. Even if this alleged anti-social behaviour exists, and can be traced back to the existence of the Exchange, I cannot see how closing it fits with that purview.

For the sake of arts in Dublin, please reconsider.


Slightly edited from email version sent to

Monday, October 14, 2013

Quick hello to Python people

I'd like to welcome anyone coming to my blog from Pycon Ireland, I hope you enjoyed the convention as much as I did. If you're here to get a feel for who I am, I recommend this post which I wrote for this blog

I love blogging for the same reason I love delivering training, programming, arguing about Monty Hall, and teaching boardgames. In all these cases it's about understanding something well enough to be able to explain it to someone else. It just happens that in one of those cases the someone else happens to be a computer. However, I blog very irregularly because it's rare that I get the inspiration and time to do so at the same time.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to fix (or at least open) a toilet

Some time ago there was some problem with the inner workings of one of the two toilets in the house. Unfortunately we have one of these new ones, with the flush buttons on top, which we didn't know how to open.

Flush buttons

My husband sort of did battle with it until it opened and he could fix the problem. Over the next while whenever I was in that bathroom I fiddled with it until eventually I had it reassembled. In the process, I discovered a magical truth. Those buttons screw off.

Just pinch the outside and turn anti-clockwise (lefty loosey). At first it will seem like it's not going to do anything. But keep turning and eventually.
Buttons and mechanism, unscrewed

At this point you can just lift the top of the cistern like an old fashioned flush on the front model and get at the whatever you were trying to get at inside.

A while later the other toilet in the house started flushing constantly. The cistern was constantly filling up and emptying at the same time, wasting huge amounts of water. So I simply unscrewed the buttons, lifted off the top and had a look. That black thing at the right had drifted up, and water was flowing over the top of the white pipe in the middle. So I pushed the black thing down, put the lid back on, screwed the buttons back on, and felt very satisfied with myself.

Friday, August 2, 2013

My current weight loss journey

I have another post about weight loss, thin privilege, size acceptance, yo yo dieting, obesity discrimination, being both fit and fat, the myth of how easy it is to lose weight if you'd only try, and much more, sitting in my drafts folder. It is a complicated and nuanced question, so it'll probably sit there for a while. This post, on the other hand, is on a topic I definitely am qualified to talk about: me.

Through a combination of good fortune, privilege, and conscious effort, I am less affected by our culture's body policing than most women. I had made peace with being overweight, and wasn't going to take 'but it's for your health' from anyone who couldn't keep up with me on a ten mile run. But recently I realised that I was not just fat, but getting fatter. Despite continuing my running, trying to cut down my portions and carbs, and trying to avoid deserts; I was getting large enough that I needed to buy new clothes, and heavy enough that it was slowing me down when I ran. So I am dieting.

I lost quite a lot of weight on Weight Watchers At Home several years ago, so it was the natural choice this time. I put a lot of that weight back on during pregnancy and breastfeeding*, and more since. I enjoy Weight Watchers. There are rules that I find easy and fun to follow; I quite like rules. I find the challenge of trying to pitch my eating in the narrow band between the daily minimum and my daily allowance pleasing. And most of all I enjoy Weight Watchers because it feels like a game, and it's a game I'm good at.

I expected to hate the ProPoints system which replaced the comfortably familiar system I used last time; change confuses and angers me. The new system removes half points, introduces weekly points in addition to the existing daily points, changes how points are calculated, and makes almost all fruits and vegetables 'free'. All of these changes, to my mild irritation, make it better.

Despite starting with a five day week, I lost six pounds in week one. I've been losing a steady pound or two a week since. Last time I aimed for the mid range of 'healthy weight' for my height, but found that my face started to get too angular under ten stone. That was before I took up running, and I have gained a lot of muscle mass since. So this time I'm aiming for ten stone six, the high end of 'healthy' for my height. I've already lost more than 5% of my starting weight, and I'm about a third of the way to my goal weight. I might update again when I get there.

I've struggled with my weight my whole life. I was a large child, I gained several stone during my junior cert, and apart from the brief period between the first time I did Weight Watchers and a month or two into my pregnancy, I've always been big. Some times more than others. So the really interesting bit here isn't how I look and feel in a few months when I reach my goal weight, but how I look and feel in three years time. Maybe I'll update on this again when I get there, too.

*A lot of people say breastfeeding makes you lose the baby fat. Maybe it does for some people. But I think this didn't work for me for the same reason exercising for weight loss doesn't work for me; it makes you hungrier, and only makes you lose weight if you ignore that extra hunger.

P.S. These comparison photos also teach me that my running bra is whatever the opposite of flattering is. But it is very good at its job.
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3 
Week 4 
Week 5