Monday, 31 October 2011

No bats

I was booked into a hotel for Halloween, but actually dining in a different one with some work colleagues.

I don't think any of us noticed Halloween during the evening, although at lunch time in a different venue with a colleague we had noticed the lone Christmas cracker on the table as we hastily ate jacket potatoes before heading to a meeting.

I'm guessing it's all a factor of the pre-scheduling of everything now. My best Halloween encounters were Friday night, when I sat in a pizza place which had a pretty good pumpkin and then later in the evening the pub had a full complement of scary people spilling out across the late-night pavement. pizza place pumpkin The iPhone pizza place pumpkin picture (pause for breath) is above, but the picture at the top shows my 'creature of the night' performance after we left the Hallows Evening restaurant. I'd decided early evening to go home instead of back to the other hotel. It was a case of a 2h30 mid evening drive versus a 3 to 4 hour drive with an early start the next morning.

And I was back well before the witching hour.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

our kitchen always has its own time zone

time Time was, when the clock change meant everything had to be adjusted individually to the new setting. Nowadays it kind of works in reverse. Everything changes automatically except for a couple of old battery clocks.

Even getting into the car I was treated to that moment when the ignition is switched on and the clock then spins around 11 hours without me touching anything.

It can be confusing though. We keep the kitchen in a special +20 minutes time zone. Its a sort of tradition to try to avoid being late for things and just enough to be almost forgotten about in routine matters. On Sunday evening, as we returned from a couple of days away, it was at one of those times where we just didn't know any more what the right time was.

"Shall we make the kitchen only plus five?" came a suggestion.

We've left it plus 20.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

gullibity

I know, I should have taken the picture from a lower angle.

There was actually someone else trying to take the same picture so I just snapped away. The puddle in the foreground is a clue though. We were scoping out a few boat trips around Poole, with a view to taking a short trip on Sunday.

The modest sunshine on Saturday was probably indicating the last fine weather we'll get before the season finally changes but we'd already got plans for the day so Sunday seemed like the best bet for boating.

However, the little weather forecast on my phone was showing rain, rain, rain, rain, rain for Poole on Sunday.

The gull probably took a trip around the harbour, but we didn't.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

barrels of oil equivalent at the car service

bit of the engine Wednesday was car service day.

Its a whole year that I've had the current car and its little message popped up a few days ago to remind me to take it for a service. By the time I was ready, it had slid into "5 days past service" on the dashboard message and required me to tap "OK" before it would give me the normal read-outs.

Of course, the car is like a giant computer now anyway, and it only mildly surprised me when the chap in the service depot was explaining what they'd done.

"We've updated the command control software from version 1.3 to version 6."

I must admit I was slightly unnerved by this (thoughts of Windows updates in my mind - and especially for something that's only a year old). He was anticipating my reaction and said "Don't worry, it's a routine update."

I shall be interested if the change means that the very occasional playfully wrong "Now turn right" messages have been eliminated.

Then he went on to explain how they had "connected the car to Germany" to have the engine software updated. That it was all 'free' under warranty. And they'd done some modifications to some injector cables also under warranty.

So far, so good and all sounding inexpensive.

They got me on the oil though. I'm sure it needed changing, but I think I must have bought a whole barrel.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Heston Mince Pies - Are they Ecc?

DSCF1561 A quick way to replace those calories burned from the wilful effort of cycling is to start eating mince pies.

We all know they are not really supposed to be eaten until December, although the shops start selling them by the pallet load from early October.

I'm pretty good at tuning out the bright red aisles until at least after the new Beaujolais arrives in mid November, so it is unusual to have mince pies in the house this early.

These mince pies are by Heston Blumenthal, the well known experimental chef. Last year he produced a type of Christmas pudding that sold out everywhere in a stampedes of wild adulation, but I'm less convinced about this year's project.

Now I didn't actually buy them, and don't want to sound ungrateful, but I am slightly confused. Firstly, they are square instead of round. Maybe that's why the box doesn't show a picture of them. Secondly, they are made of puff pastry. Thirdly the filling is rather more of a smear than a dollop. Then the pastry itself is a little rubbery to cut with the edge of a fork. The 'pine sugar' has a pine zing when its tipped from the packet but doesn't really offset what I'd describe as a poorly executed Eccles cake.

That'll be another 15 minutes on the bike.

Garmin Edge 800 and Tacx Booster

DSCF1558 Today, it's a slight case of needing to read the manual. Or it would have been if there had been one included.

I've been using one of those Garmin units on my bike for quite a long time. It has that ANT+ wireless telemetry and reads out speeds, cadence, heart rate, calories and my route. I originally just tapped in a few basic setup instructions, clipped it and a couple of sensors to the bike and was in business. There's even little guy riding another virtual bike to act as a pacemaker on the display.

Then, a few days ago I decided to start some preparation for the colder and potentially slippery weather. Time to pump the tyres on the metal bike with lights, mudguards and the other paraphernalia.

It got me thinking that I could hook the summer bike to one of those turbo trainer things in the now reclaimed garage space.

So I connected together the two or three components of a Tacx Booster, which is a kind of magnetic turbo unit with about ten settings (of which I am only capable of using 1-2-3 only at the moment.)

I'd left the Garmin on the bike and it seemed quite happy to function statically although the route map admittedly looked a bit strange. That's when I noticed the workouts menu. It lets me build little training regimes into the Garmin. Along the lines of 'pedal till heart-rate =x. Then pedal in range x for 100 calories. Then pedal at cadence x for y minutes. etc."

I'd never really noticed these menus before and so spent a few minutes making up some test scripts.

Then to test it on the bike. It all worked fine. The sensors would tell me if I was going too slow or too fast (yeah right!) and after each step was complete the Garmin would switch to the next one automatically.

Pretty good and with the display scrolling around there was enough going on to prevent boredom whilst pedalling. The main difference compared with road was the ability to set a constant pace in a suitable 'Zone' and then pretty much stick to it, which is quite difficult on roads with hills, traffic and so on.

I know I'll prefer being out on the road, but this little setup with the turbo trainer and some basic telemetry can be quite fun.

And back to the manual. The small print in the box said the big manual was available on-line where it also explains how to use another feature - the training centre, which turns out to be quick way to set up training programmes and review their results.

Next plan is to charge up the spare iPod for 'garage use'.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Bat flash trigger Tigger tale

remote trigger experiments There' a complicated chain reaction that led to these pictures.

I decided to take another picture of the bats flying in the garden, this time with a flash. It really isn't much effort because they seem to appear punctually at around 20 minutes after the sun sets, which has been around 6:30 or so for the last few days.

I found a flash gun and connected it to a camera and when the bats appeared I simply fired a few shots. The effect was almost blinding. A white wall of light that looked as if we were under alien attack. The bats seem unperturbed and carried on hunting for insects.

"There's lighting!" I could hear a neighbour calling out, "It must be very close!"

I decided to abandon the experiment which was starting to divert aeroplanes.

As I returned indoors I noticed that the camera was remote triggering the flash. Cue Tigger to pose for a couple of test shots. remote trigger experiments

Sunday, 16 October 2011

wild-eyed iCloud?

icloud_upgrade_devices-1I've converted one iPhone to the new iOS 5 launched a few days ago by Apple.

Unlike the various press reports of disaster, it transferred without incident, albeit taking the best part of two hours.

The phone in question isn't my main one; I preferred to transfer something less critical to check that the various email and calendars (which include Exchange) all worked before I took the plunge with what I consider to be my 'work' device.

It's raised another interesting set of questions about the iCloud transfer, which is a sort of inevitability because the old .mac/.me mobile system is being phased out sometime next year.

It's one of the few times where I need to read the small print before I start moving things though - because some services are no longer supported.

My issue will be with the Apple Macs I still use that are "pre Lion" and non-upgradeable. The main need will be for them to still access email and remain generally synchronised.

I think everything will be ok, but once I've typed 'Yes' into the relevant 'move to iCloud' boxes it looks like a one-way-trip.

Maybe I'll paint the garage doors today instead.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

the hunt for tony blair

The hunt for Tony Blair I've always been a fan of the Comic Strip Presents although they are quite rare items in the schedules - I can't even remember the last one shown until last evening's Tony Blair movie.

Scripted by Peter Richardson and with Stephen Mangan (Guy from Green Wing) as Tony, this was a full on film noir classic.

There were slanted camera angles, London buses, Coppers in pairs chasing through twisting streets, pipe smoking, ordinary people in crowded London theatres and mafia leader George Bush.

Many of the Comic Strip regulars were included and the familiar storyline managed to include most of the cliches of the British variety of black-and-white crime thrillers - except maybe a scene by a pier.

There was Mandelson played by Nigel Planer as the Third Man. Margaret Thatcher (Jennifer Saunders) alone in an old house watching endless news reels of the Falklands war and hiding something deeply disturbing in a cupboard, we had just about everything.

Robin Cook's denouncement of the war meant He Had To Go and was summarily dispatched in a soundstage mountaintop scene by Tony.

No one came out looking too good from the whole situation, and it ended after Tony floated along the Thames with a caption that "Tony Blair is still at large"

More, Please. Tony and Margaret

Friday, 14 October 2011

more bats

pipistrelle bat again A sort of anti-photograph with today's post. It's my attempt to photograph the little bat that flies around in the evening.

My theory is its since the house across the way had some work done.

They added solar cells to the roof.

Good plan, but then they had to arrange for two tall trees to be cut down so that the sun could reach the cells.

So I'm guessing that the bats lived in the quite tall tree.

Notice I said bats, not bat, because I did notice this evening that there were two or three swooping around.

They are very fast and darting so I simply pointed the camera towards one flying around and pressed the shutter.

The frame came out black - but I turned up the brightness to see if anything came out.

It may look like a black smudge, but I know it's a bat.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Lytro light field


The conversations swooped around yesterday including some intra family discoveries of musical and photographic interest.

I was tipped off about the Lytro, which is the new technology camera that doesn't need to be focused. It use light field technology, which is like having a set of micro lenses to support every pixel in the sensor. That means it can record multiple depths of field in the equivalent of the RAW image. The current images are relatively small pixel counts, but it means that the decision about the point of focus can be left until post production.

For most photographers the choice of focus is something done at the point of pressing the shutter, but I suppose this can be used for a new type of point and shoot camera where the camera pretty much captures everything and then lets the 'user' choose the thing to be kept in focus - "Shoot first, focus later"

Of course, we also debated its use for video, but even for photos this must be bashing out quite a large file size.

Still, its one to (literally) watch.

Try it here: Decide how to present the above picture of Coco Rocha with a bicycle. Click to focus on her face, the wall or one or other of the bicycle wheels. Double click to zoom.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

celebrating a life

DorisSome of us were at a family get-together yesterday - celebrating the life of Doris.

She'd have been pleased at how it went and the buzzy hospitality of the busy house where we congregated for a chatter.

The right kind of cakes were on offer and it gave a chance for sometimes far-flung parts of the family to catch up on the gossip.

Just how she'd want it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Låt den rätte komma in


Naomi over at Sittin' in the Hills just wrote about another US re-make of a UK television series. In this case "Prime Suspect" - which every Brit will know.

By chance, right now Sky is showing a different US remake, in this case of the Swedish movie "Let the right one in", which was a classy and touching vampire based story. The remake is called 'Let me in'.

It's another situation where I struggle with the US-made version of a perfectly good European screenplay. I'm only part way through watching it but it seems almost identical though in some ways less touching than the original, as if the actors are working to the marks rather than the feeling.

In principle I've no objections to re-makes but this, like a few others I've seen, is more like a slightly less good carbon copy.

I guess everyone has to get paid.

Monday, 10 October 2011

darkness on the edge

sin city
I've noticed its happening again.

Definitely.

The morning. And again in the evening.

It's dark.

Not just that edge of darkness - it's proper darkness right up to when I leave the house.

Same tonight. The light by the door has broken. It was difficult to see the keyhole.

Another few days and I will take it for granted.

Before it starts getting cold.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

In which I visit A&R Photography, Liverpool



During the week I was able to visit my good friend the photographer Imran Ali. He runs his studio from Liverpool Bluecoat and along with the excited conversation of catching up with one anothers' exploits, we were able to tinker with the range of goodies in his studio.

I'll confess he was impressed/amused at the bag of camera bits I took along for the session, but no-where near as impressed as I was with all of the lighting gear, reflectors and general electronica he had available for our photo-fest.

And as a delightful addition, we also had blogger friend Debra join us and add Vlad the Hasselblad into the equation.

"So How would you set up this lighting?" asked Imran, as my mind swam into a vortex of unease at the sheer range of options on offer.

"Er, something at the front?" I ventured, "And maybe something ELSE at the side?"

It was clearly too much for me and I was having trouble remembering the different between a grid, a snoot and a sparkling water.

"Reflector" I clung to. "Reflectors...We'll need to use some reflectors"

Because Debra and I arrived at different times I was able to witness the same effect when she was asked similar questions. We both did that sharp intake of breath when we first noticed all the gantries and swivelly things.

There's a clear need for vocabulary and a way to overlay structure onto what could otherwise look like chaos.
My compliments to Imran though. A combination of patience, indulgence and some basic disciplines shepherded both of us through the initial stages of using the lights.

Here's the basic build we used.

1) A 'beauty bowl' front light comprising a bowl containing two diffusers.

2) A grid rim light to provide side highlights

3) A snoot projected backwards onto a black background to provide background colour via a gel



I can make it all sound glib here, but trust me, it took time for me to get this set up and balanced. By comparison watching Imran work was a revelation as he would change the degree of feather on a light with one hand and be simultaneously correcting the power output with the other hand.

Debra and I both experimented with the build up of lights one at a time. It was useful to see the effect of one item such as the side light and what it did to the subject. There are plenty of shadowy pictures of each of us now as we trialled the various combinations. Another thing that was interesting was that we were shooting at ASA50, with quite stopped down apertures (f7.1) and 1/125 shutter. The available light in the room was negligible compared with the power of a thousand suns as the main strobes/flash units fired.

Anyway, I think it worked.
It was incredible how quickly the time passed and we'd planned a grand finale with Debra's Hasselblad film camera (Vlad). 'He' was proving a little moody in this digital world and had to be coaxed to play with the strobe lights. We had a combination of a bulb and an electronic flash firer which Debra had to press simultaneously for her self portrait.
We created a few black Polaroid pictures along the way because the co-ordination required was to the nearest 125th of a second. Gulp. Anyway, the snap above is of the modelling light setup for the shot which we tried several times. I await Debra's development of the film with bated breath. In the meantime, here's a lovely square mono picture from the Canon.
The time ended all too soon but we were all quite pleased with the picture taking and progress. I learned a fantastic amount and it was fascinating working with Imran who mainly shot great pictures SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) and just used colour correction, minor RAW exposure correction and minimalistic cropping.

I'm already thinking about a return visit!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Lacie 5 Big NAS Server Failure

Lacie 5 Big Network RAID I sometimes put up posts with very direct titles when I think there may be someone genuinely looking for some information about something that I have discovered. In this case its my Network Attached Storage, which happens to be provided by Lacie.

The box contains 5 drives, each of 1 Terabyte. Four of them are mirrored into a RAID 5 configuration with total redundancy. In addition, the fifth drive is effectively configured as a 'spare' so if one of them goes wobbly, the server will reconfigure itself to use the spare and send an email alert to have the faulty drive replaced.

Also the whole device backs itself up to another single big disk attached to it through a USB connection.

Sounds pretty foolproof, doesn't it?

Well I knew there would be a weak link (I can think of a couple actually).

The one that created the fail was the most obvious. The power supply. Yes. It has blown up but in a subtle way. The lights still come on on the power brick and also momentarily in the server. The Lan connection lights glimmer faintly as well. But it's really a dead supply.

I ejected all five drives from the back of the unit and then tried a lower rated supply (only 2.5Amps) as a quick proof that the main unit was working. Sure enough, all the lights came on properly as the server tried to re-boot without any disks.

Internet ordering time. Although Lacie are out of stock.

Normal service will be resumed.

Eventually.

Update Yes, a short trip to Maplin Electronics and I'm back in business with a new power supply.

12V 120Watts.

Technically its over-specified for the server, but I'd rather have something not operating at its limits. Now is a good time to run an extra full backup.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

everybody must get stones

everybody must get stones This week has been rather hectic.

Sometimes its necessary to pick the right path across the week, predicting where one will be and juggling hours to fit things in. Back on Sunday I'd driven somewhere only to be greeted with a message that suggested I needed to be somewhere different.

It was an error by the sender, who had inadvertently set up meetings that clashed horribly with my schedule.

There was little I could do on Sunday evening but make a plaintive request to a voicemail to get things rejigged. It all worked out in the end, so I have been able to happily hop-scotch my way along the week.

It's all about picking the right coloured stones. They may all look the same from a distance, but up close they can be very different.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

pause for breath?

What a difference a few days make.

Here's the supersaturated end of Summer that somehow crept into October. I'd been out for a cycle ride and this is one of the places I sometimes stop for a few minutes to take in the scene.

On one of my routes I think of it as 'half way around' although the time to get back to base can be quite short because of the helpful gradients. Actually, there's one more 'steep bit' ahead too which can get the pulse racing.

Maybe its good to sometimes have those pause moments in the schedule.