Saturday, 28 April 2012

OM-D arrives and is instant good fun

Spot the OM-D
Keeping this blog running requires a fairly steady stream of pictures and some will know I dabble with photography alongside my various other interests.

The pictures that make it to the blog are from a mixture of sources from fancy DSLRs, an occasional film shot, some iPhone (the London shots this week are from the iPhone) and various point and shoot clickers.

I suppose my real preference is still cameras with viewfinders, having learned to take pictures using an Olympus film camera and even to develop the snaps in a dark room with smelly chemicals and contact strips.

So when the renaissance of the Olympus OM series was announced a short time ago, I thought I'd better take a look. It's obviously not as highly specified as the latest Nikons and Canons, with its smaller sensor and so on, but for a lot of purposes that misses the point.

What is great about it is that it provides a small form factor DSLR like experience, even if it doesn't have a proper mirror system inside - instead using electronics to create the viewfinder image.

I've not had time to have a proper play yet, but I'm already intrigued with the possibilities. It comes with a pretty reasonable 12-50mm lens (which is 24-100mm in 35mm speak). The lens is also light weight but well built, achieved by keeping the aperture in the range f3.5-f6.3).

I haven't even set up the 'RAW' mode yet, so here's a quick 'through the window' shot as a test.
Untitled
The fun is also to be able to use my other micro 4/3 lenses with it - which are from my Lumix camera and give me some tiny but wide aperture primes - a 14mm f2.5 and a 20mm f1.8.

And then there's the little adapter I have which lets me clip old-school Olympus OM Zuiko lenses onto the camera as well.

Because of the 2:1 ratio of their focal length on a 4/3, I wondered if this would be very useful, but I can already say it is. The old lenses are generally quite small (thats the Olympus way) but open up some interesting options, like my old 55mm f1.2 and my £10 50mm f1.8. I have quite a few of these lenses and the camera breathes new life into them.
Untitled
A quick few tests with some of them has shown some interesting factors.

Firstly, they each look good through the viewfinder. The aperture controls work, but instead of the view getting darker as I stop down, the electronic viewfinder compensates, so the brightness of the view is maintained - its so good I initially thought the stop down aperture was broken.
Untitled
Then the focal lengths of these old lenses could create wobble. However, they all get an instant upgrade when used on the OM-D, because it has in-camera stabilisation. I'm sure a tripod could help, but it's fun to use these old lenses at wide apertures and let the camera's 'insane for film' type ASA take some of the strain.

And there's a sort of 'look' with the pictures from some of the lenses, which is still somehow analogue in the world of high definition electronically operated lenses. They are still manual focus and manual aperture, but it somehow brings the camera back to the basics.
Untitled
But don't get me wrong, there's a lot of technology in the little OM-D. It's one of the few occasions where I've thought I might actually need to read the manual. I've even downloaded it, because the one in the box is only the starter guide.

So that might be my suggestion to Olympus for the next model. Perhaps they should have an 'analogue shooter' mode that is very simple alongside all of the fancy touch screen spot focusing stuff?
Untitled
I know this camera isn't as well specified as the new D800 from Nikon, for example, but it certainly has the potential to be a lot of fun.

I'll try it out properly next week when I'm on the road.

Friday, 27 April 2012

dunking a hobnob (chocolate)

Hobnob (chocolate)
Something's puzzling me today.

I almost ate two Hobnobs whilst I was trying to work it out.

A few of us are trying to win a Dunking Mug. The offer says that there's a million of them. That would be one for every sixty people in the UK.

It's pretty easy really, you have to type the special code from a packet of biscuits into a special website. It's a bit like a lottery.

dunk The second way to get a Dunking Mug is to collect the requisite 35 points. Each time you type in one of the codes you get some points towards the total.

We're up to 34 points at the moment.

So I had a quick look at the almost attainable Dunking Mug.

Then I noticed the small print. Only 234 left.

Does that mean the other 999,766 have already been won?

It got me thinking whilst I nibbled the Hobnob.

The thing is, I'm not really eating biscuits at the moment.

And any fule kno its impossible to eat more than two chocolate Hobnobs in one go anyway.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

hey now baby, get into my big fat car

Untitled
Never mind what difference a day makes, it's almost been minute by minute today, with my London meetings in alternate sunshine and deluges.

Similarly with the unfolding of politics and intrigue today as the Leveson inquiry continues to sound like a really good novel.

We can go right back to a meeting in New York by Hunt ahead of a secret television channel takeover bid being prepared by Murdoch. Murdoch's support for Cameron in the last UK election. Cameron's election to power and a rapid set of decisions resulting in the BBC losing some of its commercial powers and not increasing the licence fee. I'm not suggesting any direct links, of course.

Then there's the actual Murdoch bid for BSkyB which led to Cabinet Minister Cable being replaced by Hunt. Allegations about whether there was a secret 'back channel' from the office of Hunt, to the Murdoch camp. The George Club meeting of Murdoch and Cameron and then the Cameron/Brooks/Murdoch Chipping Norton set Christmas tipples at both of which it would have been improper to discuss the bid.

That just warms it up. Then there's the Murdoch company phone tapping discoveries which led to the rapid demise of the BSkyB bid. The establishment of the investigation by Leveson, which also led to the removal of a few policemen who had been inappropriately supplying information.

Now Hunt's special advisor has resigned after 168 pages of emails, texts and similar have been exposed, which were not part of the original Hunt team submission. Hunt claims the moral high ground so he clearly cannot have known what his special advisor was doing.

There's that old phrase in politics about plausible deniability. 'Hands off' - like the way the big cheeses do things in gangster movies.

No need for deniability, of course, because everyone in the witness box is telling the whole truth.
Untitled

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

adjusted reality

Olympic countdown London (™) ©
It's still subtle as different areas of London are receiving quiet makeovers ready for the Olympics. Of course, there's the main Olympic Park and surrounding area which has looked fairly complete for quite a long time.

Now we are seeing more of the central areas that are getting re-paved and adjusted, along with the increasing number of transport posters suggesting the need to find other ways to get around town.

There's still another 94 days until everything starts, but with the Marathon last weekend, a few more try-out events, including a three day security rehearsal, the upcoming Jubilee celebrations and then the actual Olympics, there's plenty of indications that preparations are under way.

I wasn't sure about the degree of predicted Central London impact, because the games are over to the East, but the recently published maps give a clue. The first one here is a 'before' showing typical London road loading on an average day. It's always busy, but there's none of the special lanes switched on.
Before
Then to a 'during' picture, which shows a few of the central London designated Olympic routes as red lines, plus a heat map of the expected extra traffic where yellow represents 'very busy' and red is 'wooah, maybe I won't go there'.
During
Maybe it's time to start paying attention to the adverts about finding alternative routes.

Monday, 23 April 2012

a spatter a scatter a wet cat a clatter

life is to blame for everything
Some weeks I can work remotely, which provides a certain clothing flexibility. This week it's mainly suits as I zip around different parts of London to various meetings.

It's that tricky time where one moment will be bright sunshine and clear skies and the next will tip bumbershoot barrels of rain over everything.

I've one of those mini umbrellas for those awkward moments. After exhaustive stress testing, I have discovered that it is not suitable for London's bridges, where the playful wind will blow it inside out.
Noisy Poems

Sunday, 22 April 2012

i test the soothing herbal bath creme

bike A chance to combine a couple of themes from my recent blogging today - cycling and the new bathroom.

It all started innocently enough when I applied to do a sort of cycling event today. It was only the 'fun' distance, but as I arrived quite early today I realised it was a little more serious than the central London cycling events which feature folk of all ages.

Most people here seemed to have proper cycle clothing and quite a few spent some time putting wheels on their shiny steeds and adding various energy food to the back pockets of their jackets. Even a cyclist with a bike with panniers had a special aerodynamic helmet that would look good on a track.

I'll admit I'd also adjusted the handlebars on my bike so that it would fit into the car, which gave me a good 2-3 minutes of fiddle around time, and I did have some clippy shoes but my two layers of tee-shirt and a waterproof plus my £2.99 Sainsbury's yellow cycle gloves were not quite as professional looking as most people.

Still, it was all a bit of good fun in the bright sunny early hours and I was still back home in time to watch some of the London Marathon.

It was like having a sort of sense-o-vision watching the runners, having just cycled around a few hills. It also gave me a chance to test some soothing herbal bath creme on my slightly achy legs.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

i watch a certified copy of a foreign movie

certified copy
I'm not sure whether it goes back to the TV series 'The Killing' or to dropping into a couple of independent cinemas recently, but my foreign language movie intake seems to have increased.

I've also got some on my list to watch, like 'Le Havre' which is on at the Curzon at the moment.

There's also a new Juliette Binoche movie although I've only just watched her in 'Certified Copy', which was made by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami and is set in Italy.

It's a clever and twisting two-hander between Binoche's 'hassled single mother working in an antique shop' and William Shimell's 'self satisfied academic author in Tuscany for a book tour lecture'.

We then get a swirling debate around art, aesthetics, life, perceptions of what is real and are left to determine the true nature of the relationship between the two main characters.

It has a gentle pace, some good humour and illustrates the few hours as they meet, go for a drive, drink coffee and act our some increasingly tense scenes that could be from many relationships.

But there's a twist after Binoche chats to the coffee shop proprietress during their trip to another village. From that point we have to decide whether what we see is real or a copy of something that could be real.

I liked the idea and the dual ways to view the rest of the movie. It flickers between Italian, French and English language and its only two thirds of the way in that the English Shimell begins to talk back to Binoche in French, entirely consistent with the plot-line.

And the reality of it's story is very much open to personal interpretation.

Highly enjoyable.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

getting a ticket to ride

train
A best laid plan didn't quite work out as expected.

I've an early start tomorrow, probably alarm clock set for 05:30.

As the trip involves a train I thought I'd pre-buy the ticket and save a vital few minutes at the train station.

Internet web site, type in train time, order ticket, pay.

Ah, the ticket isn't printable on my computer, unlike a postage stamp (which is) or a plane ticket (which is, although strictly not needed with e-tickets)

There was an option to collect the train ticket from the railway station, so I decided to grab it this evening, instead of getting in a line tomorrow morning.

I remembered to take my credit card and the airline-like eight letter reference code (sort of JX7TH6Y if you know what I mean).

The only thing was, the ticket itself wasn't available.

There's a two hour gap between ordering and it being available at the ticket machine.

So now, I'd travelled to a station, where I could have bought the ticket immediately, only to be refused access to the one I'd ordered over the online system.

I shall remember to travel more slowly next time.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

popping new tyres on the road bike

new tyres
I finally got around to changing the tyres on my road bike.

I've been taking the mountain bike out recently, which has quite new tyres, but I was just getting slightly doubtful about the ones on the road bike.

Now I've done the deed and looked at the old tyres more carefully, I can see that the small holes I had spotted and was worrying about were actually tread wear indicators. Two small semi-holes in the otherwise slick surface to show how much wear was left.

There was still plenty of tread left actually. So I've folded the old tyres into the boxes supplied with the new tyres.

Unlike car tyres, I've absolutely no idea how long the tyres are supposed to last - is it measured in years or miles, for example? I know I've done about 1,200 miles on the road tyres already this year and they were also used for the whole of 2011. So perhaps a change was sensible.

I managed a couple of minor mishaps when changing the tyres. The first was simply that I'd re-lubricated the bike a few days ago, so it was still extra oily, and transformed my hands to shiny black in a few moments.

And then I absent-mindedly pumped the replacement front tyre with its new inner tube whilst forgetting it takes a lot less air than a mountain bike tyre.

Pop.

One of my nice new inner tubes didn't survive very long and it's entirely my own fault.

Still. I now have a fully re-shod bike ready for the sunny months.

Friday, 13 April 2012

listening in comfort to automatic iTunes selections

sport buttonI haven't quite worked out why it happens, but every so often when I get into my car and hit the 'Play' button on the music, it reverts to the same sequence of tracks.

The iPod is connected into the car stereo in some mystical way and has thousands of tracks to choose from, yet I get Norah Jones as a sort of default setting.

Maybe its some kind of 'comfort' mode that I haven't properly identified, and to be truthful its pleasant listening and unlikely to offend any accompanying passenger.

It happened again yesterday after I'd dropped off some dry cleaning and as a result I decided to unplug the iPod and reset it, just to see what would happen.

I then pressed the tracks selection and decided to start with 'A' and work through them alphabetically for a few moments. It's quite intriguing to know what, of dozens of years of music, the iPod would decide was first. It turned out to be 'The A Team' by Ed Sheeran, which is quite a recent track - I wonder if they know its probably the first track on many iPods?

I then let it play a selection or two and realised (a) that I have tracks I've not heard in years (b) I might even prune a few out of the iPod.

A couple of the other tracks wouldn't be quite such an obvious 'comfort mode' setting compared with the ones my car seems to prefer. We had one with a non workplace friendly title, then a Vampire Weekend tune, some Babyshambles, two different songs featuring A&E in the title, 'A13 Trunk Road to the Sea' by Billy Bragg, Captain Beefheart and his magic band singing 'Abba Zabba' and Nico singing 'Abschied' amongst the early selections.

I've just checked back on iTunes and it would take me 2.6 days to get through all of the songs just starting with letter 'A'.

I know some people will work through their collections listening systematically, but I think I'll create some new playlists and maybe edit away some of the songs too.

Maybe I should test whether I get different tunes if I press the 'Sport' button instead of leaving the car in 'Comfort' setting?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

i might have won something but i still don't know

due process
With Easter activities, it's been a few days since I last posted.

One activity in particular has kept me quite occupied.

It's my book gambling.

Ages ago, I said I'd put my novel royalties from 'The Triangle' to some gainful use and decided that the best one would be modest gambling. There's only been a trickle of income but with a few small wins the money has somehow managed to bump along at a slightly positive level.

Imagine my excitement to receive another one of those little emails that said that there may be something of interest if I logged onto my gambling account.

I should explain that my gambling is rather low-effort, comprising lottery and premium bonds.

Anyway, I'm not a very good gambler because I didn't know my account number and had to wait until I was back at home and could look it up. I should also explain that this all started before Easter, when I was travelling around Cornwall.

So back at home, the magic number was entered and then it asked for my password.

I typed in what I thought it would be, but it gave that brrp that says 'no'.

I tried a few variants based upon the creeping complexity of passwords, which means that what started as a short password has got progressively longer because (a) it needs number (b) it then needs a capital letter (c) it can't be a simple word (d) it should have a non alphanumeric included (e) it can't resemble a previous password (f) and sø øn.

None worked and the system then said I had locked the account.

I followed the special instructions to do a reset.

Answer some special questions and then supply a phone number.

Wait for a message on the phone.

The phone was in another room and as I reached it, I could see someone from the USA was trying to contact me. I flipped it to voicemail so that I could deal with the password.

Wrong.

The call from the USA was the one linked to the password retrieval. I had to answer it and listen to the message.

I went through the process again and my new best friend from America called a second time.

This time I picked up the phone.

"Now type in the two numbers displayed in your browser."

I did. "Now we will send you a new password"

I checked my email.

I checked my text messages.

Nothing.

I waited ten minutes.

Still nothing.

I decided to try the help desk number, which was open until mid-evening.

I called them and explained everything that I'd done, but that the password had not been sent.

They politely explained that the password would be sent to me.

But..it would be sent by post and could take three working days to be processed.

That'll be after Easter then.

The letter finally arrived yesterday.

Great, I can open it, logon and find out how much I have won.

not exactly.

They have sent me another form, which I must sign and return before they will issue me with a temporary password.

I posted it back today.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

a tap helps me learn which way is up

Shower
I'll expect to be testing the new improved bathroom over the next couple of days.

As I predicted, we had the comedy moment during the testing of the squirty switch. There were only a small number of positions, but the instruction leaflet didn't bother to mention which pipe shot water out and which way was off.

A small game of 'trial and error' ensued which was made extra special by the change from one type of tap to another.

The original control taps provided were more angular but didn't have an obvious pointer end. Their substitute replacements did, but created a strange effect of not knowing which way was 'up'.

Yes, I was caught standing in the shower holding my thumb over a small pipe whilst a two bar pressure pump blasted water all over me.

We live and learn.

I now know which way is up.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

a postcard from the sunny south west

South West Coastal Footpath
They say there is snow in many of the higher parts of the UK today, with up to 30 cm in some places. All the more strange that I've spent the last few days wandering along one of the coastal footpaths in bright, warm sunshine.

It's still too early in the season for there to be many people around although the beaches had a light sprinkling of well-wrapped folk, including a few surfers catching the early waves.

We've been mainly on the southern coastline of Cornwall, quiet villages still preparing for tourists with many a fresh lick of paint for the new season.

Before we returned, we headed north along a short section of the Atlantic coastline, similarly sunny before the only splash of rain as we finally jumped back into the car for the homeward journey.

So hardly a thought of snow and cold around here, with blue skies again this morning and thoughts as fresh as my still valid car park ticket for Padstow.
Padstow Parking

Sunday, 1 April 2012

deller and shrigley

"Bath" - an installation piece

I somehow managed to catch up with my cycling on Saturday, clocking an extra 51 miles, which safely put me over the 40 miles a week I'm aiming for.

It would have been pleasant to soak in the bathtub after this, but at the moment it's not to be, until a few more finishing touches get applied, not least of which is that the control unit requires a new cartridge because the one installed has a slight leak.

So above there's a copy of my latest intense art installation, which I'll call 'bath - unfinished' featuring a grout spattered bath awaiting completion.

It somehow reminds me of the entrance to the Jeremy Deller exhibition I visited a few days ago.

Deller's art is quite expansive and themed, with large conceptual arcs to bring to all together. In the current show, you walk into his bedroom, and can riffle through artefacts stored in cupboards along the sides. Deller's room
In the next room, there's a section devoted to the melancholy and agit-messaging of the Manic Street Preachers, complete with pictures and a scrap-book diary.

In another area there is large scale work from the protests related to the pit closures from the Thatcher era, with the reconstruction of the battle of Orgreve Colliery also depicted.

There's a section devoted to failures too - a new tube map to complement Oyster cards subversively drawn like a bicycle and a series of entrances to the Olympic site which includes a look of druidic Stonehenge.

Yet another room relates to Iraq, and features a rusting car bomb and a juxtaposition of Britain and Iraq with place names swapped. There's a place to sit under flags and hold debate about the politics of the region too.

I also viewed David Shrigley's exhibition, which has plenty more 'single slide' humour along the lines of a bad picture with a caption saying 'this isn't very good' (I made that one up, but it's a reasonable facsimile of those displayed)

It's quite magazine friendly and probably gets more coverage because of this, although I found it altogether more transient.
Shrigley
It was when I got to the inevitable 'shop at the end of the show' that I could see the difference in appeal between the two. I felt that Deller's work was more thought provoking but would be difficult to pick up and carry around. Shrigley's was more of a postcard giggle or a short stab at a single social norm.

Maybe a long soak versus a quick splash?