rashbre central: August 2011

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Another Hooray for Hollywood

We were driving somewhere on Sunday and somehow had a copy of the Sunday Mirror in the back of the car. The horoscopes were read and mine (as well as another car occupant) both had to expect 'good news on Tuesday'.

Amidst the usual chortling we each promptly forgot the information we'd been given.

Then, lo, on Tuesday I received a phone call from America. Not so unusual and I'll confess the first one dropped through to voicemail. When I listened, there were a couple of keywords that caught my attention - "The Triangle" and "Hollywood".

Yeah, right.

Anyone who regularly reads rashbre central will know that my novel writing has been something of an experiment, with its origins in the annual NaNoWriMo process.

They'll know that I'm grateful for the support that I've been given as the book finally emerged blinking into the sunlight. And maybe know that the royalties are fed into a sort of low-budget gambling project.

But this latest twist adds a new dimension to the experiment. The phone call asked me about getting the book presented to "Hollywood filmmakers". I remembered the Cat Deeley quote about 'always answering the phone' in L.A.

Now I've read Elmore Leonard and so the Get Shorty blend of gambling and movie making resonates with The Triangle situation. I'll need to make a decision about this pretty quickly and let's face it, I did announce the availability of the movie rights in the opening section of the book.

A new extension of the experiment, that links well with my recent trip to Hollywood.

And if it doesn't work, there's always the Christina Nott music. Oh, that's covered in another Elmore Leonard novel.

Be Cool.

Sunday 28 August 2011

One Day Loverdose

Loverdose Beyond the back to School/College advertising, there's two adverts splattered pervasively around London at the moment both with a love story type of theme. One is for a perfume called Loverdose, which I have been trying to work out how to pronounce. The other comprises Polaroid pictures all over buses and is for a film called 'One Day'.

Well. It's Bank Holiday weekend, so there's been plenty of rain on Sunday, causing us to decide to hit the cinema. The pronunciation of Loverdose is indeed, Loverdose, not l'overdose or Lover Dose any other derivation. I know this from the cinema advert. Yes it's Loverdose Diesel Perfume. Arom d' forecourt.

Then to One Day. The premise is an annual St Swithen's Day view of two people and what happens to their intertwined lives. I won't give away plot points although many have read the book and will have a fair inkling.

I actually found the movie quite entertaining. It had a good pace with a simplified story of the two people played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. There have been various criticisms of Anne's accents in this film, as an American playing a Yorkshire lass. In truth the accent was all over the place - but not so different from some Americans one meets living in London or elsewhere. It's the same for we Brits when we spend time on the other side of the pond.

Beyond the accents, the movie tells a story of what happens, year by year, from circa 1980-something to the present day. I think the little band of us viewing all found it entertaining enough and were happy to chat about it over a glass of wine and some lovely food at Côte afterwards.

Friday 26 August 2011

Novel makeover

reconstruction by St Stephens Tavern I've taken part of the last couple of days to do some more writing work for 'The Square', but I couldn't help noticing the changes in progress on this reference point from the previous novel - 'The Triangle'.

One of the scenes near the start of the story is set in a 'pub opposite the Parliament buildings', in Westminster. I based it upon the St Stephen's Tavern, which is where Clare and then Bigsy heard the news from Jake about what had happened to poor Brian.

Well, it looks as if the exact spot is getting a makeover at present, probably because of the increased tourist traffic as people start to travel the route of the novel.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Thursday Thirteen V49 - Orange Multipass Edition

Lee Loo with Multipass
Here I go again...

1) Readership spike I just noticed that last week's Thursday Thirteen caused an interesting spike in my readership, so I thought I'd have another bash this week. Please comment if you pass by!

2) Not A Simple List : I'm not so sure about doing a simple list, such as top 13 desert highway songs or my top 13 favourite yellow items, so I tend to do something more rambling and maybe reverse engineer a theme when I'm finished, like 'orange hair'.

3) Through the Net :  Its also a great opportunity to write up a few items that slipped through the lazy cracks during the week.

lola rennt 4) Orange hair and repeating time. One item that I didn't manage to blog was my thoughts after seeing Source Code the movie. It was about a repeating situation like Groundhog Day. like Groundhog Day. How can I put it? I thought it was okay rather than excellent, despite all the plaudits. I preferred the humour of Groundhog Day (which I would still watch again) and the originality and editing of something like Sliding Doors. I also happened to re-watch Run, Lola, Run which also ticks the orange hair box nicely.

5) Snowmen: I've seen two early signs of Christmas already. First was the guy pricing Snowman carrier bags in the local shop. Second was the mailshot I received today. I notice the television is already talking about Autumn.

6) That leaf smell: I was also in the car park a couple of days ago and the wind was blowing from the park. I got that damp orange leaf smell which I usually associate with November. Its supposed to be Summer.

7) Unexpected Kindle effect : Another fine blogger also wrote recently about the effect of reading with a Kindle and also using it as a newspaper. I must admit I do the same to the extent it changes my 'entry to supermarket' manoeuvre now as I completely bypass the bright orange news racks.

Fuji test 8) Street Photography : To do or not to do? That is the question. I'm experimenting at the moment, and trying to find the ways to capture moments to make interesting pictures without crossing any lines. We all take plenty of street pictures in any case, usually with inadvertent 'civilians' incorporated. (n.b. I know that the pictures would conventionally be black and white, but this is the TT orange hair special)

9) Big world stuff : London appeared to reset very quickly after the unrest. The chain from corrupt MPs, amoral bankers through to looters still demands further repair. But the global scale confounds as the politicians get diverted to Libya and oil.

10) Anonymity : Some time ago I switched back to pure 'blogger' for rashbre central. I'd been using a different comment system and it was then ditched and the replacement was also 'stabilised' (which in this case meant it progressively stopped working). I can only now remember the main reason for moving away from Blogger comments was the amount of anonymous spam. I hate to switch on the 'no anonymous' filter and make everyone log on, but it seems to be needed as idiotic people keep putting irrelevant comments about iPhones, DSL services, blue pills and similar onto the comments.

11) Accidental blackcurrants : I noticed an extra small tree has grown around the side of the house. There are blackcurrants on it. I'm wondering how it got there. My old definition of a weed was a plant that was in the wrong place. Is this therefore a weed?

12) Little piece of Arizona : The tiny cactus in an orange pot brought back from Arizona is doing fine on the kitchen windowsill. It even has a small sign saying 'Arizona'. Do you think it misses the scorpions?
13) Fifteen minutes: It always take me longer to do a structured post like this one. Fifteen minutes to get to here, without adding any pictures. My usual blog post limit is ten minutes. Now back to work on the novel.

14) Bonus for Multipass Users: I wonder sometimes about the jumble of stuff in my head that tips out when I do something like this? Am I the only one?

15) Orange Haircut Multipass Edition : See, I said I'd think of a way to reverse engineer a theme. Don't forget to strike the pose.

leeloodallas multipass

Wednesday 24 August 2011

every clunk has a silver jammer

keys Alongside various manual labour tasks, I've decided to take a couple of days to work on the plot line for 'The Square' which is the partially complete second novel of the Triangle trilogy.

Most of the main ingredients are there already, but I've neglected to work out an ending and I'm pretty sure that there's a few major chunks that will benefit from deletion. My gambling of the proceeds continues and I can say that I'm still significantly ahead.

I have a very short window for this writing before I get started on a new proper work project and can already feel the membrane of constrained time tightening around me.

Although often time constraint works well and favourably.

Like yesterday I was taking apart some of my fancy car to fix something minor but irritating and which would therefore avoid a trip to the dealer (save a 2-3 hour trip probably). I discovered (to my surprise but also slight suspicion) that the reason for the problem was the very well concealed tracker unit which was bumping into something else.

not what you're thinking Everything is now working properly, but it also got me thinking about tracker jammers.

Sure enough, a google later and I've located a $20 Chinese cigarette lighter version that can go straight into the novel's plot line.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

London street photography

I’m trying a few attempts at street photography (beyond simply snapping ‘the street’) and am trying to build up a few simple learning points from the experience.
1) Coffee-cam = No: At one time I tried using a ‘coffee cam’ which was a camera I’d put into a coffee cup. It was really a bit of whimsy, but illustrated the need for something with greater precision. 
2) Smaller camera works best: It also occurs to me that a smaller camera works better for what would be candid shots, compared with an SLR with a zoom lens. 
Part of the challenge is to be able to include other folk in the shot, without them ‘striking a pose’ or glaring. 
3) Go busy: I have decided at the moment it is easier to take these type of pictures in busy and touristy areas. There’s more people around with cameras, so most people are already inured to the thought of being snapped.
4) Blend in: Having also returned from holiday, I realized it is easier to look a bit touristy as part of blending in. 
5) Look like a snapper: Then its good to establish that the way of taking photographs is to point the camera at a big landmark and fiddle using the viewfinder to get the shot. It is also useful to keep the process lengthy to establish the theatre of shot-taking.
6) Switch off all the bleeps: The other thing to do is switch off all the tell-tale LCDs and clicks and beeps. I’ll call that ‘stealth mode’. And remove the lens cap (!) - I use a filter instead. 7) Go Hyper focal : What!? Beam me up Scotty. For daytime, it seems to be better to set a focal length and aperture size that creates a reasonable depth of field - somewhere between 2-5 metres gives quite a range in focus. I’m playing around with 35mm lens, f11(sunny) or f8(shady), ASA800 (quite high) and then expecting the shutter to be at least 1/150. I’m sure this could be more fancy based upon autofocus, but (especially with small cameras) I’m not convinced the autofocus is fast enough.
8) Being static: I can’t help noticing that anything I take whilst moving is more accident prone that when stationary (camera shake, motion blur, bad framing). I have not really explored this properly yet, but the act of walking, moving the camera and trying to frame all contribute to art over precision. Next step will be to find some static points.
Having started to experiment with this form of picture taking I can now start to work out the simpler shots. Silhouettes, back views, aerial shots, shots when with others, shots through glass are all somewhat easier than ‘alone to roam’. 
We shall see.

Monday 22 August 2011

fixing Aperture performance by reinstall of Lion

Apple Lion
I ran into my first ever significant Apple software update glitch over the last few days.

I've had plenty of Apple systems and versions of software but until this time every update has been simple and worked first time - often making the system snappier after the upgrade. Contrast that with my years of PC experiences where I'd sometimes have several goes at installing and then have to go through all sorts of device driver refreshes, registry hacks, Norton Utilities and maybe still find a couple of items that no longer worked.

This update glitch occurred with the new version of OS/X called Lion but only affected its interaction with Apple's own Aperture program. I'd already updated my Macbook air without any problems (I even did it when 'on the road' leaving it to install overnight whilst at a hotel in Albuquerque).

It was the home iMac that hiccuped. The install worked fine, but then Aperture started to show sluggish behaviour and to use vast amounts of memory.

I looked on the internet and found plenty of other similar comments and a few suggestions about deleting cache files and similar. The experiences from the PC era came flooding back as I thought about the effort that might be required to fix it.

There seemed to be two sets of users - those that thought Aperture now worked faster and those where it had pretty much stalled - to the point where it would not be sensible to leave it open on the desktop.

It was late evening and I didn't feel like a long 'fixit' session, so I decided to use a blunt instrument approach. Re-install the whole of Lion for a second time.

There were lots of suggestions about the ways to re-install Aperture but I decided to RTFM for this one. There's a note explaining this somewhere.

0) Ensure it is bedtime
1) Go to the App Store.
2) Select Purchases
3) Find Lion (it will say it has already been purchased and not give an option to install)
4) Click on the highlighted 'Lion' text whilst holding the option key
5) It will take you to the option to Install (i.e. as an override)
6) Click Install
7) Follow the prompts to re-install (2-3 questions)
8) Gasp when it says the download will take several hours.
9) Go to bed.

The next morning, if it's anything like my example, the birds will be twittering and the sky will be blue with little streaks of cloud.

The mac will have rebooted and be back to the screens that were in use before the re-install started.

The difference is that everything will now be working properly.

Happy happy.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Thursday Thirteen V48

DSCF0407 I've been spending the last day or so doing more clearance from the garage. I can see the floor again now. There's a few observations about some of the stuff.

1) There's been some furniture there which we have been unsuccessful to even give away. That's not to say that we didn't successfully donate a few items including a bed, two wardrobes, two tables, a set of four chairs and some other bits and pieces. It even included a disassembled kit which someone wanted to rebuild.

2) The miscellaneous hand basins and similar have all gone. They were not re-usable in any case.

3) A few tools looked to be over ambitious and have resided as 'investments' rather than practical items. They have now quietly disappeared (OK except the electric plane and the dangerous flame blasting paint stripper)

Clark Hutchinson
4) Records and increasingly books are going digital. The vinyls are still hanging in there because of the artwork of some of the covers. Probably 75% of them are now available digitally. My most tricky acquisition was Retribution by Clark Hutchinson. There's a CD copy around but it's just not as clean as the original album. The cassette tapes I found are now all goners.

5) I realise that the various anthology books I've acquired at different times are not all that sensible. They are too big to read. My Kafka, Huxley, Orwell and Lawrence mega books have not been read although the individual stories have as separate paperbacks.

6) Despite the plaintive cries from the book publishers, I can't help thinking that more book reading will go digital over the next few years. My own recent experience of this has been much better than I expected.

7) After spending some time in L.A., where I had access to a vinyl record player, I'm sorely tempted to restore one of the decks I've found and have a small filtered selection of about 10 vinyls for casual playing.
8) I can't believe how much spare cabling of many types I unearthed. It was mainly for PS/2 style connections of keyboards, parallel printer cables and serial connections. None of these connections even exist on modern technology so they are really defunct now.

9) I have a large pile of Hard drive disks varying from 100GB upwards. Most have shown signs of unreliability, so I can't really use them, but I also can't dispose of them because of what they may contain. I shall have to look further into this. I realise my minimum unit of non laptop disk is now 1Terabyte, which only a few years ago would seem somewhat excessive.

10) I think I have spotted several species of spider during the clearance work. I saw plenty of pholcus phalangioides (they are the clear coloured spindly ones) a few segestria senoculata (they live in the holes that have been drilled in the brickwork) some pardosa amentata (they are the wolfy ones that run about without webs) and some enormous tegenaria duellica (they are the big spring suspension spiders that suddenly appear on walls at night). I expect there are a few more as sometimes I felt like I was in that scene from Indiana Jones. There's at least one of each type in the picture below.
11) There were a few previously packed crates that now Have No Meaning or Logic. I was able to dispose of them without really examining the contents.

12) I have decided that keeping boxes from purchases is not very sensible unless one wishes them to eventually be placed in a museum. As an example, the 25 inch Black Trinitron box from another era had just been filled with old broken watering cans and small segments of hose pipe. Apart from a rodent nest made from old chewed bus tickets in one corner, it didn't seem to have served any useful purpose.

13) An important stage has now been passed in the clearance project. The floor is now visible in a circle and its possible to Walk Around and Look Across the space. Testing it on others though is less convincing. They still look bemused at the amount of stuff and mutter things along the lines of "you should have shown me what it was like before."

There. Thirteen. It must be Thursday.

Monday 15 August 2011

shortage of short cuts in central London

In case yesterday's picture gives a false impression of the numbers of visitors to London, here's one around the central area which illustrates that there are still a good number of tourists around.

Most seem suitably relaxed and law -abiding, although not everyone recognises the "don't feed the pigeons" sign displayed in Trafalgar Square.
Of course, another feature of the square is the countdown clock for the Olympics. 347 days to go, so parts of this same central area of London are being adapted in readiness.
The most noticeable areas include the entirety of Leicester Square, which is currently under wraps behind black hoarding.

The streets leading into the square are also being torn up by mechanical diggers and the garden which featured the Charlie Chaplin statue has temporarily disappeared.
It's necessary to pick one's path carefully through some of this central area at the moment and some of the usual short cuts (such as the Charing Cross Road cut-through to Oxford Street) are non-functional.

There's plans on display, but I'm not sure who really knows what the renovated totality of the new area will look like by 2012.

It's similar picking through the political wording at the moment. Both major parties are making reform speeches, but filtering is needed to extract real initiatives from polemic, while everyone struggles to find short cuts to the answers.

Sunday 14 August 2011

resuming a kind of normal

cycle lane
With all of the London news of riots over the last few days, I wondered if this weekend would see deserted streets around the capital.

No such thing.

During Saturday I was in several areas including Sloane Square, Chelsea and the West End including Oxford Street and Regents Street. They were rammed with typical shoppers many of whom had been buying, judging by the number of freshly issued carrier bags on display.

I cut through Belgrave Square at one point and noticed police presence there, but it was for one of the 'regular' protests that goes on in this Embassy laden area. There were also additional police vans running around, but the overall numbers didn't seem particularly different from a normal weekend.

Sunday sees the central area and roads to the south being roadblocked for the test run of the Olympic cycle race, so I'd expect less traffic and people in some areas as a consequence.

The debates about 'why?' and 'what should be done?' continues, but what is interesting is the speed at which 'normal' appears to have been restored to many areas.

Saturday 13 August 2011

more from the hills

I said I'd comment further on one of our visits during our time in Los Angeles.

We were staying in Hollywood and Vine, with the sidewalk stars literally going past our well-appointed and somewhat hip apartment.

I realised we were close to where Naomi of the Sittin in the Hills blog lives, but didn't know for sure.

Then I received an email from her - would we care to drop round for a while? After all we were 6000 miles closer than usual!

You bet.

When we checked the address, we realised it was only a few blocks from where we were staying, in the hilly part north of Hollywood Boulevard.

The time duly arrived and we found her home, easily identified by the splendid cactus collection which extended out onto the sidewalk.

We parked our 'small' SUV on the drive and rang the bell...

Naomi answered the door, engrossed in a phone call. We saw ourselves in and waited for her to finish the call.

Then big hugs.

Like with so many bloggers,there was that strange 'knowing one another' experience, although we'd never actually met before.

And then we talked!

A lot.

And it was all delightful.

As anyone who reads Naomi's blog will know, Naomi leads such an interesting life.

She's also had a 'big' birthday recently, which has been well described in her own blog, and there were still signs of the festivities around the house. A big balloon, some remaining decoration and cards. It was like stepping into part of Naomi's story.

But I haven't mentioned where Naomi lives. It's breathtaking. Naomi publishes her own pictures from time to time, but I can only say the the impact of being there is even more amazing.

Her balcony looks out onto pretty much the whole of Los Angeles.

All the way from downtown on the left, with Hollywood in the middle and right across to Century City on the right. Its like being in the middle of a vast and busy landscape with Naomi's home right at the heart.

Oh and if that's not enough, there's the hills in the foreground and the Pacific Ocean glittering in the background.

Naomi explained that she'd looked at a lot of places when seeking the right home and that when she finally found it she knew it was right.


And its clear when Naomi writes on so many subjects that there's so much inspiration around. From the vista, from the closer hillsides and the adjacent canyon with its walking trails, from the wildlife of everything from hunting birds to hummingbirds.

And that's just outside.

Inside there's all kinds of evidence from Naomi's rich sources of friendship and living. Naomi started out in New York and moved to the West Coast where she helped start Theater West. There could be many tales from that alone.

But additionally Naomi has written music, painted, sung on records and created art quality photographs. All of this is represented in the numerous pictures, books, and decor of the interior.

We chatted for hours, what we were each doing and covered films, theatre, travel, work, politics interspersed with Naomi's hospitality which included some delightful cookies she'd obtained from a marvellous baker somewhere nearby.

We took some pictures too, which required us to get to grips with the self timers on our respective cameras (no mean feat) but I'll let Naomi select any of those pictures suitable for publication...

The time just flew by.

Naomi had another visitor due in the early evening and we wanted to give her time to 'reset' from our visit, but even as we were leaving she was showing us around the garden and giving us suggestions for additional places to visit around Santa Barbara.

For us it was a superb and most enjoyable visit more like meeting an existing friend than making a new one. I guess that's part the power of the blogging relationships.

But it's mainly the joy of knowing someone as wonderful as Naomi.

Friday 12 August 2011

film reviews, from 30,000 feet

With my recent travelling, there was a chance to see a few more movies. My previous experience is that comedy and action work best on planes, rather then anything deeply clever. Here's my capsule reviews:

Limitless: : I really enjoyed this story of a slacker writer Eddie who accidentally acquires a stash of smart-drug brain enhancing tablets and changes his life. I'm not even sure that this was released in the UK, but its just out on DVD this week and well worth a viewing, for its dead-pan narrative as Eddie reacts to increasingly wild situations. Cleverly shot and with some photo-gimmicks that actually work (I actually watched it twice). (4 stars)

Fast Five : Yet another car chase with Vin Diesel. You get what it says on the tin, although I was surprised the franchise was already at Five. Totally generic plot-line and predictable moves, with some hints of sentimentality in this one which took it away from a Saturday Morning Pictures format. Loud enough to keep awake on a long plane journey. Forgettable action flick. (2 stars)

Source Code : US military helicopter pilot is beamed into a Chicago train scene to figure out who bombed it. Improbable quantum effect on future premise. Quite like a 'flames and action' version of Groundhog Day which paid a few dues to the 'earthling' parts of Avatar. Played out predictably although there was a bit of a bolted on ending which I missed because of landing. (2 stars)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows V7 Part 2 3D : I watched this in the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood which, inside, has a very high-tech screen and sound system. It was also in Real 3D which worked very well. Strong last part to the Potter franchise, which has got darker as the series progresses. Alongside the action, there's some cheesily contrived "kissing scenes" and a montage that is used to summarise probably 100 pages of the narrative for people like me that can't remember the story. Genuinely entertaining, although I do prefer the humour and light and shade of the early films. (3.5 stars)

Hanna : Revenge thriller about teenager Hanna raised in isolation in Finland then leaving the snow to go finish some family business. Cate Blanchett is the villainess in this and alongside the sometimes cartoonish story I was very taken with the filming and soundtrack which elevated a probably lowish budget movie to something quite special. I'd class it as a modern and dark fairytale rather than an action movie. (3.5 stars)

The Adjustment Bureau : I like the variety of films that Matt Damon does and this one was about a Senator and ballet dancer (you know the old joke) who were not supposed to meet. Then the fates intervene to replot their lives so that they can both become super-duper at their professions. It becomes a chase and there's a few Bourne lines thrown in by way of acknowledgement. Its one of those where it might have been better without a Hollywood ending, so that we could have walked away appalled rather than glowing (2.5 stars)

The Lincoln Lawyer : Lawyer hired to sort out something but its all more of a conspiracy than expected. Nothing compelling in this so I decided to sleep instead (0 stars)

Battle for Los Angeles : C'mon. Aliens hit LA again with hand-held battle sequences. No light, shade or discernable structure. District 9 was so much better and more original. This film is not needed. I switched off (0 stars)

Paul : Gentle comedy where two sci-fi loving Brits touring the South Western USA give a lift to a worldly wise alien. Loved it. Simple bordering on slapstick humour. Many references to other movies and use of (eg) Spielberg lighting techniques. Moves at a good pace and genuinely funny. (3.5 stars)

Brighton Rock: Remake of the Graham Greene story, this version set in 1960 mods and rocker scooter-filled Brighton. Well acted story telling and compelling to watch the slightly squalid gang of crooks going about their business. There's still some Catholic sensibilities in this version, but played down and offset by the pragmatism of other characters. Enjoyable adaptation (3 stars).
Limitless Trailer

Hanna Trailer
Paul Trailer

Thursday 11 August 2011

Ronald Roybal - The Buffalo Hunters

The Buffalo Hunters - Ronald Roybal
Along the trails we stopped to listen to some beautiful flute playing by Ronald Roybal (HwAn-Pi-Khaw ... Red Tailed Hawk Song).

He's an American South Western descendant of Pueblo Tewa and Spanish Colonial and expresses both sides of his heritage in the music.

He played a wide range of Native American flutes in the concert each with a different personality and it was clear to see the complex ways that Ronald played the different instruments and the tones and expressions he could evoke.

Unlike orchestral flutes, which I think of as being played 'sideways', these are played straight down but each has its own tone, shape and style of playing.

Ronald used much finger work, clever breathing and tonality to sweep from sonorous bass tones to sharp little trills during the playing. It was very easy to be carried away to imagining the desert during the performance.

We saw him in Santa Fe, which is nowadays his home and where he performs regularly. The album we brought back is called 'The Buffalo Hunters' and combines the flutes with other instruments and vocals on what amounts to a spiritual journey across the plains, from the eagle dancing with the wind, through sunrise, to a water place, a white shell mountain and to a final farewell.

The tracks have been given 'time to breathe' as well so it is easy to become lost in the wonder and journey of the music.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

bridge camera on road trip

Fuji HS20
I decided to experiment with taking a single so-called ‘Bridge’ camera for my recent trip, instead of the usual DSLR and lenses. It was partly a space compromise, to keep the backpack reasonably light.
So what worked and what didn’t?
First, the camera I used...It was a Fuji Finepix HS20 EXR, which is a modern 2011 device, which would compete with the (e.g.) Nikon P500 and the Canon HS30. 
I expect the camera buffs will talk about sensor size, chromatic aberration and megapixels, but I simply preferred that the Fuji has a (non exchangeable) manual twist zoom instead of the generally slow electric zooms on the Nikon and Canon models. At a non technical detail level they are all very similar, with (in my opinion) a slightly more robust apparent build quality on the Fuji.
And as a comparison, I’d usually take a Nikon DSLR, probably a D300 and maybe a couple of extra lenses, which would be 2-3 times the bulk of the Fuji.
So what happened?
Firstly, the camera does take pleasant pictures. The colour looks good and there’s enough pixels to mean some cropping is viable. I know, with a good SLR the cropping might not be needed, but its still a matter of balance.
The Fuji also had an automatic mode with a sort of dynamic range enhancer called EXR, which was supposed to stop sky highlight blowout and to improve detail in shadows. I didn’t find this setting to my liking, it seemed to slightly over-expose, so instead I used the ‘P’ mode and set the exposure down by 2/3 of a stop. This kept detail in the sky and although darkening the whole picture it ultimately gave more data to work with.
The camera also has a viewfinder, which was one of the other things I wanted; some of the bridge cameras have removed this, but it is still useful for framing, although the electronic viewfinder on the Fuji had a slow refresh and would go blank at the moment the shutter was pressed.
This leads me to the main drawback of this type of camera. I’d sort of forgotten about ‘shutter lag’ because of using DSLRs and other mechanical shuttered digital cameras. I once had a very smart looking Nikon compact that had a discernible ‘and one and two’ between pushing the button and the picture. This camera has a similar drawback.
What about the defining moment?
Digital photography misses the point if the defining moment of a shot can’t be captured. Cartier Bresson showed this in his work and there’s plenty of other famous examples. 
To illustrate a basic challenge. Driving along the Camino Real it would be fun to take a photo of one of those bell markers that showed the route of the old Mission road. They are about every mile or two and can be seen from a long way away. I’d slow the car to make it easy for my co-pilot to ‘grab’ a shot, but it was surprisingly difficult with this camera. Firstly, it would power down and take 3 seconds to awake. Secondly, it would confuse itself about whether to display the image on the back screen or in the viewfinder. It would then take too long to work out the focus. And blank at the moment of picture. The end results were some ‘near misses’ taking these pictures. And this from a camera which includes 'dog' and 'cat' modes...
In general use
For general use in cityscapes, landscapes and general coverage the camera works fine. The built-in flash is also subtle for fill in and the ISO range is quite forgiving and can be set to an auto maximum, which will drop to the lowest sensible setting most of the time.

It could take regular AA batteries which meant not having to worry about running out of power anywhere.
In bright sunlight the back screen wouldn’t show anything clearly and the viewfinder images would be dark if I used the -2/3 setting which I needed to get the best exposure.
So did it work?
Mostly, yes. It handled the main travel pictures well. I learned to handle its peculiarities to get good pictures most of the time. The usual ‘halfway down’ button pressing worked to help the shutter lag, by effectively pre-loading the focus and exposure - although I suspect a lot of people wouldn’t know to do this type of thing.
Would I do it again?
Probably not. I have no regrets about the pictures I’ve taken - most of which have come out fine, but I do feel that the camera presented more of an obstacle than I’d expected. I don’t think I’m ‘blaming the tools’ here or particularly picking on the Fuji; I know I’ve had similar experiences with an equivalent Nikon in the past. 
The camera’s strengths are a lens that runs from 24mm to 720mm with image stabilisation and pretty good colour on plenty of pixels. The best way to use it is to prepare for the shot (I know, I know). 
That’s OK in theory, but not always possible. I know that when we used a pocketable Lumix for a few around town shots there was a sigh of relief that its fixed ‘28mm’ lens gave us shots at the exact moment we wanted them.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

been checkin' out the news 'til my eyeballs fail to see

We're back in the UK and trying to make sense of the news.

Riots in London, Birmingham, Manchester and elsewhere, with what seems to be a mainly mercenary agenda.

The television is full of it like that old Zappa lyric.

Sure, there's been some comments in the interviews with sympathisers that say its because of government measures or policing, but all the footage I've seen seems to indicate its mainly about looting and destruction.

 Of course, its a tiny but orchestrated minority creating the disorder with a disproportionate and heartless impact on others and on the global impression of the UK.

Not forgetting the new financial crunch.

Fortunately, the majority of people are showing community spirit whilst detesting the situation or else I think I'd need to escape back to holiday.

Monday 8 August 2011

American Riviera

We've added Santa Barbara to our list of 'must return to' places.

Actually, most of the places we've been visiting are 'should return' in any case. Beckham Ramsay Malibu

So its time to start making the new lists for the next visit.

As we travelled back towards Los Angeles, we passed Malibu where the the Beckhams and the Ramsays are staying and even spotted a couple of people setting up a video camera outside the Beckhams' place (which they have rented from Steve Spielberg).

I can understand Malibu as a location for surf and access to L.A. but somehow preferred the guaranteed sunshine and variety of amenities in Santa Barbara.

Sunday 7 August 2011

early morning, pacific time

Early Sunday morning and I'm pretty much alone on the beach. An occasional jogger passes in the opposite direction but the main company is the wide variety of seabirds.

Pelicans glide over the surface of the waves and small groups of some kind of dipper bird run back and forth along the shoreline.

I idly wonder if they have learned to predict when the big waves appear (is it every seven or ten or something?) Then I notice the gulls scrambling and flying back from the water's edge.

With all their time by the sea they are as clueless as me about when a big wave will appear on this incoming tide.
I also know that in a couple of hours this scene will be broken as more people awaken and the 300 day year sun appears to melt the mist from this scene.

Meantime I will get my feet wet in the Pacific.

at one with now

A pleasant day wandering the sunny but surprisingly quiet beaches, dipping into the Pacific and generally chilling.

It's easy to understand why Brother One Feather has made this a home with the Temple of One Love as his place for living in the Now.

Love and Peace.

Saturday 6 August 2011

El Camino Real

We arrived at the Fiesta this morning just as the main parade started and saw all manner of costume as we watched horse riders move through the town to the great delight of the large crowds.
Then, into the Santa Ynez Valley to wine country, to a small and deceptively sleepy ex-cowboy looking town called Los Olivos. The town's timber fronted properties have been used in a wide range of movies.

Stretched limos and open topped Hummers give the game away that this is now a well-heeled centre for the local wine industry and there are dozens of wine-tasting locations in and around the town.
Naturally we imbibed, as well as picking up some strawberries (the other famous Santa Barbara crop). Then onwards to Denmark, or at least an American version of it in Solvang, a small town founded in the early 1900s as a base for a Danish-style and somewhat free-format folk school.

Nowadays theres an obvious Danish influence with flags everywhere, busts of Hans Christian Anderson and a statue of the little mermaid.

The architecture is also quite Scandinavian, although the Belgian coffee shop, the Heidelberg Inn and the town clock playing "Frère Jacques" add a more general 'European' flavour to the proceedings.
When in Santa Barbara we'd also visited the Mission and we soon found ourselves back on one of the famous Mission roads, the El Camino Real, with its distinctive bell markers along the route as we headed back to the coast in time for a fine sunset.

Friday 5 August 2011


It turns out that we'd arrived in Santa Barbara just as their annual Mexican fiesta was about to start.

The first sign for us was a young girl getting on a bus with a box containing around 18 brightly coloured confetti eggs. Then we heard that a few roads would be closed and finally as we arrived in the centre we could see the Mercado de la Guerra in full swing, with a rock band on stage and various Mariachi and Norteño groups grooving in the side streets.

Sizzling and popping from the adjacent stands were all manner of foods and colourful clothes, and this was still a day before the main events really got under way.

Thursday 4 August 2011

sittin in the hills

Yes, we realised it was time to check out from L.A. but not until we'd done one more thing. We'd already spent time on Hollywood Boulevard, seen the sign, wandered along Sunset Strip. Been up to the big houses in Beverley Hills. Seen a movie in Graumann's Chinese Theatre. Been backstage at the Kodak. Visited the fancy schmancy restaurants frequented by the stars, seen Famous People Driving Around In Fancy Cars. But there was one more big attraction of the area that we hadn't yet done.

I know you'll guess...

Yes - Sittin' in the Hills - with Naomi.

And for that story there's

'More to come...'

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Hollywood - Marina del Rey - Beverley Hills

marina del rey
We're still in Hollywood but have also been out to Marina del Rey to meet a friend.

The road systems around Los Angeles are more demanding that most of the other places we've visited and we saw some quite spectacular manoeuvres by other drivers changing lanes. I was driving at my most defensive.

Michelle Shocked sings 'I've driven five hundred miles today and never even left L.A" - I know the feeling.

Then an evening to catch up on years of news with Michael who now lives in a ritzy apartment in the Marina district. His place has all mod cons with valet parking, onsite gyms and pools and was quite a lot like living permanently in a luxury resort. We spent several hours chattering about our various adventures before taking our leave for the return to the centre.

Whilst we were away the construction workers seemed to have made central L.A. a total exclusion zone with various strategic roads and ramps closed to traffic creating something of a puzzle to get back. We made it in and only seemed to lose about 10 minutes, but it was more with luck than judgement. It was also another late finish, maybe 2am compared to yesterday's 1am.

Today was spent around more of the central areas, although we also hopped briefly over to Beverley Hills and in the evening visited the excellent and vibrant Spago restaurant where we also met the head chef Wolfgang Puck, who visited our table. The food, ambiance and service of this restaurant were all first rate.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Hooray for Hollywood

We can see the Hollywood sign from the apartment. I didn't realise this yesterday night when we arrived, but noticed it as soon as it was daylight today.

The same with the stars on the pavement which go right past our building. There's Judy Garland and James Dean within a few paces. However, the main Hollywood Boulevard still has a wide variety of shops, ranging from tattoo parlours, places to by hubble bubbles and strange herbs all the way through to quite upmarket stores.

The tourist centre today is a few blocks west from here, by the Kodak Theatre and Grauman's Chinese Theater. We took a look around both. The Kodak is where the Oscar ceremony is held each year now although the off-duty outside resembles a shopping mall. For the Oscars around a quarter of a mile of the mains road is laid with red carpet for the fil stars to walk along. The rest of the year its a high pressure tourist location which somehow reminds me of an unfolded and very sunny Leicester Square in London.

Adjacent to the Kodak is the 80 year old Grauman's theatre, which looks very Chinese because Grauman was a fan of the Chinese. Inside, it s a very opulent and well detailed building, which can somehow teach the designers of the Kodak about adding some spirit and soul to a building.

In fairness, the inside of the Kodak theatre has been done well, but there are large areas which look as if the paint has been applied rather thinly.

But we are standing quite literally in the footsteps of the great and good outside Grauman's. All of Hollywood royalty is present with their feet and hands marked out in concrete slabs. I've seen one of the ceremonies in the past (Nick Cage) and he had Jim Carrey, Jay Leno and others show up for the session. I'm told they limit the ceremonies to 2-3 a year which stretch back to Marilyn Monroe (much handling of these impressions) via John Wayne (whose impression includes a fist) and up to the Harry Potter trio who share one large square together.

Now its time to head to a marina to catch up with another friend.