Thursday, December 30, 2004

NutmegOvernutmegged bread sauce.

My contribution to Christmas. Good, huh?

But my mother retaliated with a pre-emptive strike with a copy Jamie's Dinners. Subtle hint? Nah, it can't be. We don't do subtle. Admittedly she must have bought a case of them, as every single relative seems to have been given them.

What else did I get? The bi-annual yet to be bought by me CD (my brother and I have a system: a thoroughly unsentimental, very practical system). Chocolate: no Ferrero Rocher this year, although I haven't yet had the present from the person who has given me it. Books, books and a bookmark (it's a penguin, because apparently I am penguins to my cousin. Which given my mother is convinced that it's her nephew who must have all things penguin, is a bit confusing. All of which pales in comparison to the aunt who must be rueing the day, a few decades ago, when she said that she collects things with chickens on. It's amazing how much tat has a great big cock stuck on it).

The books thing. I've just finished the not-a-present Grapes of Wrath. Very good, and obviously unsettling. Not least because one knows that it must be alright in the end, but has no idea how we got to be where we are. The book is full of hope, optimism and unrelenting kindness, and so feels horrendously depressing.

I've also romped through Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Why romped? Because it was given to my brother, and I wanted to read it before he went back to London, and also before he noticed it was missing (and therefore would be livid that I was reading his brand-new, unread book). And because it's big printing, big margins, small pages, and probably has fewer words in than the average "how to complete your tax form" pamphlet.

And [note the use of a conjunctive to start a paragraph] it's become obvious why that New Yorker piece I mentioned a while had it in for her: the book would make confusing reading for anyone unaware of modern British life (I imagine some of the Manhattanites would be muttering "Rolf Harris? Who the hell is that?"), and the author describes the New Yorker as famously punctilious (or words to that effect, not having a copy to check).

One point which annoyed me was the section on the use of speech marks. She begins it with an example of British versus American, which looks roughly like this:
He said "British".
She said "American."

So I was right. Or was I? Then in the following section in which she explains the rules. And gives no example which would produce the British construct. But she just said that it was the British version, so how can anyone get to that version, following her rules? The only one that gets near it is using a quote in a question, where the quote is not a question. For example:
How often does the Queen say "sod off"?

Yet the American version should read:
How often does the Queen say "sod off?"

Which to me changes the meaning. The first it asks about her majesty's use of the phrase "sod off". The second suggests HM is replying in puzzlement to someone suggesting that she should, and so the question becomes about the number of times it is suggested to her.

Of course, I still have not quite adapted from the version I thought I had only just discovered to be "wrong." As that version seems to imply that this is still part of the "Of course..." sentence. Imagine what might happen is the second sentence began with a name: ... the man is "a god." Jeremy Thompson believes ...

There's something not quite right with the structure of the words, but it still seems confusing, whilst being technically correct.

Scouting for examples, and it's no wonder I'm confused. BBC News has the following selection in one story:

But the UN's relief co-ordinator, Jan Egeland, said it will take another "two or three days" for the relief effort to get into full swing - by which time it may be too late for "tens of thousands of people who would like to have assistance today - or yesterday".

"We are doing very little at the moment," he admitted.

"I believe the frustration will be growing in the days and weeks ahead."

[The bold sections were emphasised by me].

So which is it?

The Indy uses both, apparently working to the rule that a full quoted sentence carries its own punctuation within the speech marks, but a word or phrase is borrowed the punctuation belongs to the rest of the sentence.
Mr Straw ... said he [the PM] was "entitled to some rest".
Mr Blair faced fresh demands to ... return to London to "direct operations".
"I would have thought Mr Blair should be ... coming back to direct operations."

The Guardian seem to use only [punctuation][close speech marks].

The Telegraph for the most part uses the same convention, however it too occasionally uses the reverse when dealing with single words or phrases.

The Times sticks with the punctuation within speech marks model, except for a curious construct I can only attribute to poor editing. (Oddly, most of the articles I sampled on their website go to strenuous efforts to avoid having a paragraph ending with the end of a quotation).

So what have we learnt from this? That one should avoid having a quote at the end of a sentence, and whatever the next sentence may be, that it should preferably start a new paragraph. Clear?

Me writing "quoting him".
Me writing about him, and here's his quote "I am frequently quoted."
"Simple and snappy," said Mr Soundbite.
"Occasionally I find that if I should happen to waffle on long enough, and this is only rare circumstances, mind you, that the editor quoting me may give up entirely, and, rather be faced with a mass of ellipses, would prefer to give me a full paragraph just to myself."

[I mean no offence by the selection of articles which I have used. There merely happen to be the most prominent at the time of writing. I could have used writing about the cricket, but it was less likely to feature quotes. Incidentally, the Times has really taken this whole tabloid business much too seriously haven't they? I saw a copy yesterday, and the content and layout seem as if they are performing the groundwork for the invasion of red ink, thunderous headlines and exclamation marks].

Moving on, or reverting perhaps, to Eats, Shoots and Leaves. The use of semi-colons and colons. The author is a bit too rude about the notion that punctuation comes in a graduated scale ascending thus: ,;:.!

Why do I say a bit too rude? Because I have never been very sure on the use of the semicolons and colons, and it was about the only thing which I thought I was getting right. She seems to think the ruling is based on whether a conjunctive (e.g. and, then) could be used in place, whether the author intends juxtaposition or clarification, whether it is introducing speech or a quotation, whether it is part of a list containing sub-clauses, and so on (meaning I cannot remember the rest).

Colon - For use when the following statement is thematically linked. And this is where I realise I am not confident enough to provide my own illustration, and so turn to books in search of an example. All of which means I have just spent a large amount of time trying to find a colon in many great works of literature, and the only one I can find is near the beginning of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, whereupon he uses two within the same sentence. Confounded man.

Anyway, the supposed structure is meant to run [Statement]: [qualifier], in which both could probably stand as independent, albeit thematically linked, statements. So an example might be:
He had a very religious approach to housework: Christmas, Easter, that sort of thing.
It was a dark and stormy night: the campfire lay sodden and dark.

[As you may have noticed, another use of the colon is to precede speech marks or examples, although other features of the text can also illustrate this].

I wonder if there is anything significant in my finding more colons with a few pages of a Dick Francis than in half a shelf of classic literature? Admittedly, many of the other books make frequent use of dashes where other punctuation might be appropriate - could it be that the greatest writers are (or were, mostly) as equally unsure of the usage of the punctuation marks as the rest of us?

Semicolons are a bit easier, and a bit more frequent. They pop up in lists with sub-clauses, between statements where juxtaposition occurs, or merely to qualify the former (surely that should be a full colon task?) and often wherever the writer may wish them. Some examples are:

The cast were: Leonato, Governor of Messina; Antonia, his sister; Hero, daughter of Leonato; Beatrice, niece of Leonato; Margaret, handmaiden to Hero; Ursula, nurse to Hero...
The clock struck one; the cow jumped over the moon; the owl and the pussycat sailed away in a beautiful pea green boat.

Warning: should you try to look up grammatical guides on things such as semi-colon use, do check the guide actually allows use of all punctuation marks. I've just found one belonging to an American university. It recommends using semicolons in a situation for which most other resources would suggest using a colon, simply because in no situation does it recommend using a colon.

[Muffled swearing, which is quite surprising considering this computer has no microphone (that I know of). I have been finding too many contradictory sources on the use of colons versus semicolons, and now can remember neither quite right].

Giving up.

Friday, December 24, 2004

[Seeing as everyone else will be talking about all things Christmas, such as turkeys which cost a pound (Sainsbury's misread their £7 reduced sticker), and how awful it all is, or how marvellous it is, I thought I would be truly cunning, and publish a post which I started ages ago, and which then grew. Anyway, here's just a little something I flung together on the subject of photography. It is only a rough draft at this stage, and I hope to be able to add, correct and improve at some as yet uncertain time in the future. Anyway, hope you enjoy it or find it useful and informative, or just don't hate for it. It's not terribly good, but I have spent far too long on it already].

So this'll be the photography post then?

Maybe, if I stayed focussed enough. Speaking of which...someone stuck another pin in the map in the sidebar. This time it's from Portugal, and links to his blog. One slight problem. I don't speak Portuguese. I'm not even sure I know how to say that in any language other than English. So about all I understand are the pictures, and they are giving me a slightly unusual impression of the guy. Anyone care to enlighten me?

Carrying on the theme of virtual globe-trotting, does anyone have any more information on why the Open University's Hitmap project is suspended? Because I think it's quite funky [and pretty, see GfB for an example], and each time I try to add it, I find the message about it being temporarily off line.

[It now appears not to be. Expect one to pop up fairly soon on here].

And back to photography [and if it feels like I'm lecturing you, I'm not, I'm just trying to remind myself].

The basics [as I consider them to be. Most of the photography sites start way above, and most beginners somewhere below this level].
On my camera the following are variables:
- Film speed
- Shutter speed or Exposure length.
- Focus
- Aperture
- Zoom
- Exposure compensation
- Time delay
- Single or continuous shooting
- Whether the thing beeps or not.

These are roughly in order of importance. Film speed is obviously something you need to get right, as even the most basic cameras allow one to adjust this (or nowadays probably have it automatically adjusted to suit the film). Mine sets on the DX setting, which basically means it does what the film tells it too. Most of the time I use 100 or 200 colour 35 mm film.

Why? Because it's what I've always used. It's what most people mean when they say film. 35 mm [pronounced, round here at least, as "thirty five mill"] is the common film that's been around a fair while. Why colour? Because it's more colourful, and if I was using black and white film, I'd feel guilty for not developing the film myself. Developing BW film and making prints isn't that hard, you just need some equipment, a suitable room, a few chemicals, a bit of preparation and some time. However I don't have most of that, and I can't really remember enough of what I ought to do. Whereas I know colour film is much more complicated, and a lot more has to be done in the dark. So I leave it to people who might get it better than I would.

Why 100 or 200? Because I take pictures of buildings, hills, and people standing round. I don't usually take pictures of Formula 1 cars going at full pelt. I don't need a faster reacting film [such as 400]. Also, the general rule is that the faster the film, the less depth the resultant image carries. I don't know who decried this, and I haven't rigorously tested it. By depth, I think they mean the level of colour saturation [ignore for the time being the suggestion that saturation might suggest a maximum, as it is saturated, and thus can take no more. In this context, saturation can be thought of as more like a percentage of the maximum level].

So, I've done film, right? Basically I use the standard stuff, because I don't know better. I tend to use refer Kodak over own-brand stuff, because it is very forgiving [the Tanzania shots were taken with Kodak Gold, and a Halina 160 (Made in Hong Kong). Have you ever heard of the Halina brand? Me neither. It's a basic point and click rangefinder (separate viewfinder lens) camera from Boots. I don't think they make them that simple anymore], and has given me so gorgeous results. Which given my photography skills, says a lot for the film. Yes, it is much too expensive, but I haven't figured out a way round that.

Why is shutter speed adjustment more important than focus adjustment? [shutter speed meaning the period the shutter is open for, and not necessarily the speed of the shutter movement] It is important to be able to focus properly on the subject, but in certain conditions this will not matter. And those conditions are whenever the picture is liable to be over- or under-exposed, or blurred. It doesn't matter if the photographer can count the subject's eyelashes, if the image they produce is a mass of blacks, in which the eyes cannot be seen.

What does adjusting the exposure length allow one to do? Avoid [hopefully] under-exposing or over-exposing an image. Avoid problems caused by movements [either by the subject, or the photographer]. For example, today might be gloriously sunny. You might be trying to take a picture of vanilla ice cream melting in the sun. Take that picture. Done? Good. But now, this being England, a thunderstorm rolls in. It just got a lot darker. But you're in no hurry, so you'll wait it out in the doorway outside a bridal shop. There's a gown in window, and you know a friend is getting married soon, and having a nightmare finding the right dress. It looks like what she said she wanted. Take a picture, so you can show her. Golly, the rain is taking a long time to pass. By the time has cleared, the sun has set, and the sky is looking very dramatic. But you are forever taking pictures of clouds, and they come out right. Hmm, but that light is stunning. As you walk home, you notice the reflections in the wet tarmac. If you can get that to come out it will be a stunning shot. You try. As you continue home, the colour is draining from the sky. The temperature drops sharply, and suddenly mist drifts in. The streetlights in the mist should also make a good image, especially with that silhouetted tree. Another frame gone. You get home, having left the mist in the valley. The moonlight is picking out the lighter colours, against a very black night. You only had a few shots left on the film when you started, so you may as well use the last frame to see if you can get the eerie way the daisies appear to be floating in nothing.

You go in...and I fast forward through your've just picked up the pictures you had developed from the film you were using on that awful day. Before you open it, tell me how many of the shots do you think came out. Ah, but you've noticed, I haven't said what camera you were using. Suppose, for an instant, that it was that old point and click one, the one with the broken flash which you can't replace. So what could you adjust on that? Well, there's the film speed, and the flash, and the latter is permanently off now. You used that same film all day, so why change the film speed? So, that leaves how many variables? Yes, that's right just the stuff in front of the camera, which is quite frankly a bit hard to control [unless you happen to be a god, and even then it's too much like hard work].

So, knowing you changed nothing on the camera, how many of the images do you think will be an accurate representation of what you saw? There were 5 pictures you took. If you're lucky you might get 3 which don't inspire someone to ask "what was that?". If you're me, you'll get one at the level of just about passable, the rest are just various shades of grey.

So why didn't some of them work? Because we used the same film throughout. So why not just change the film to one that suits a dark subject in post-thunderstorm light? Because then you'd also need an ice cream in sunlight film, a wedding dress in a shady shop window film, a streetlights in the mist film, and daisies in pitch black lawn film. Which is quite a lot of films. Then if you bear in mind how fiddly changing films can be, and the fact that once you've wound a film into the case, you can't pull it back out again. So that's several types of films, all of which would have to be single shot to avoid wasting the other 23 or 35, and you would have to spend more time changing film than taking pictures. Not really viable is it?

So what else can you do? Get your camera to compensate. Suppose you have a film ideal for use in poor [typical English] light. Only now, despite it being the beginning of December, the sun has come out. And it's really, really bright. If you expose the film to this light using normal settings, the poor thing will go white with the shock [well, ok black, because it's the negative, but that ruins the analogy]. But you want a picture of that church, which isn't helping matters by being built out of cream Portland stone. So what can you do?

Ah-ha! (not the "take on me" type). There just so happens to be a cunning dial on your camera, which allows you to alter the length of time the shutter remains open for. Mine runs all the way, halving as it goes, from 2000 to B, but the last number is 1 [it also has a couple of other settings, but that's just needless complication]. Now what they don't print on the dial is what these numbers mean. So is 2000 big or little, fast or slow? The numbers correspond to the amount by which one second is divided, giving the exposure period. For example, with 2000, it means the shutter remains open for 1/2000th of a second. Which isn't very long. As it isn't very long, not much light will come through. At the other end of the scale 1 means 1/1 seconds, which means the shutter stays open for a whole second, and so lets in a lot of light.

Right so getting back to the church in the sunshine. You have miserable day film, but a nice day shot. How can you turn nice into miserable? By only showing the film a little bit of it. So, if you used a exposure of 1/125th sec, on a grotty day, then use a much shorter exposure on a sunny day. Each notch upwards [towards the smaller numbers] doubles the period of exposure, so should allow twice as much light in. So if you want to lessen the light coming in, use a larger number [faster speed] on the dial. As for how much you should do this by, use a light metre to work it out (handily my camera has an inbuilt one).

Right so that's shutter speed, and the impact on the exposure covered.

You know how eyes work right, and you've played with lenses? Please say yes, as I really don't want to have to explain basic optics. Just as we can use focusing to create a clear image on our retina, we can use focusing to create a clear image on the film. If you have an SLR [single lens reflex - the viewfinder shows the view through the same set of lenses as are used when the film is exposed], you can see the effects of the focusing. Ensuring the camera is on manual mode [for those whose cameras run to such luxuries], point it at something fairly close, move the focusing ring to its fullest extent in one direction. Look at the image that provides. Now move it back to the other extreme. Which is less blurry? Or is somewhere in-between clearer? Find the clearest point.

Now aim the camera at the horizon, or as near as you can get. Not so clear is it? Go back to whatever it was you were focusing on beforehand. Is the main feature still in focus in most of the view [ignore the section in the middle]? Make it so. Now, [assuming you have a focusing aid like mine, which you might not] looking at the three sections in the middle, there is a ring with a grid superimposed on it, and inside this ring two semicircles. Looking at the central part, which is split done the middle, what do you see? Does each half match the other? Do features crossing the line meet in middle? Do the tones match? If they do, well done, and now nudge the focus, and try to make them line up again. If it wasn't lined up in first place, guess what I'm going to say. Yep, line it up. It's a fiddle I know, but getting things in focus is kind of worth it. If you get it right, both images should meet, and the dark and light differences should disappear [but the tonal stuff is secondary].

Moving on to the weird scattering ring. It supposed to be used for "quick focusing" and on surfaces lacking in linear features. However it is easiest to demonstrate where there is a defined difference, such as printing on a flat surface. Now try focusing the image within the grid on the ring. One does this by adjusting the focusing until the scattering effect becomes minimal. I find this method of focusing the hardest, and it usually makes me feel slightly sick. This is why I suggested using printing, as it is easier to marry up the true image, and the faceted versions, than with some other subjects [for example trying to work out where each piece of green goes in the leaves on a tree].

So that is 3 sorts of focusing: general field, microprism ring, and split-image, which are in ascending order of their accuracy. Theoretically that is the mirror image of their speed of use, but I have problems with the prism version.

The aperture is a ring of plates which can be progressively opened or closed, forming a central hole of variable size. This controls the amount of light coming to the camera, and effects the focusing. But we have already had options that allow us to manipulate both of those, so why have it? Because it gives us greater control.

The aperture size is usually given as the f-stop or f-number. My camera has f3.5, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, and 22. The numbers might appear to be haphazardly chosen, but there is a pattern to it. Unfortunately I can't remember the pattern, other than it has the square root of 2 in it somewhere, and was fairly complicated. I think, that despite appearances, each change in the f-stop adjusts the level of incoming light by a set proportion. So just as one can adjust the exposure length by doubling it for each increment down the scale [towards 1/2000th], so too can one double [roughly] the area of the aperture [and so incoming light] by each increment. In this case the smaller the f-stop figure, the larger the aperture, or hole through which lights comes. Got that? You'll need it. So f3.4 is as wide open as my camera will go.

But we also control light by using the shutter speed, so why both again? What was I saying about greater control? Yep. The astute amongst you might have noticed that if you have two methods for controlling the same thing, then one can also use those methods for controlling something else. So imagine we are back in that sunny place, outside the wedding dress shop. This time there's something about the way the veil is pleated which catches your eye. So you want to take a picture. You don't know what settings to use, and so opt for a middle f-stop, about f11. You're lucky and the inbuilt light-sensor recommends that you use an exposure length of 1/60th of a second [it must be shadier than you thought inside the shop]. You take the picture.

Suddenly you hear the squealing of tires, and a cacophony of sirens. It's coming from somewhere over…there they are. They've turned onto the road you are on. Neglecting to realise the danger you are in, and ignoring the instinct to flee, the photographer in you takes over. You drop down into a crouch, in order to make a more dramatic angle. The cars are coming fast. You've got to take the picture. You will not get another chance so this has to be right. But they're moving so fast. What do you do? Fast cars means fast shutter, unless you want a series of indistinct streaks across the frame. You wang the speed up to 1/2000th. The LEDs are flashing. It's too dark. You remember the aperture can allow more light in. But which way was it? Big is more, no, less, no, yes, right? You spin that round to the smallest number and the largest hole. Damn, it's still too dark. Help! You drop the shutter speed down to 1/1000 s. The LEDs are happy, and there's no more flashing lights, over than those on the police cars. They're nearly here. A bit of rough focusing and ker-click. You have the shot. And I'll just F6 this little version of GTA2 [by the way, I feel I should warn you, as there is a very tempting chain of Elvises on the pavement directly behind you, that you might want to jump soon].
So what happened there? You started on f11 with an exposure length of 1/60 s, and ended on f3.4 and 1/1000 s. How's that work? (Other than it being jolly handy that the buildings across the road cause exactly the same amount of shading of the white police cars as the shop window did of the veil). At a set light level there is a shutter speed that works best with a certain aperture, for example 1/60 s with f11. But if you want to adjust the shutter speed, to avoid blurring for instance, then you are able to adjust the aperture to compensate. If you halve the exposure time, and the amount of light hitting the film, by going to 1/125th s, then at that light level, you will underexpose the image. To compensate you must somehow double the light coming in, back up to the original level. Hence you use the aperture to do that. Fortunately, it has been designed so that each notch it turns towards the largest opening doubles the area of the hole at the previous notch. So to counterbalance the change from 1/60 s to 1/125 s, you need to move the aperture setting from f11 to f8. As one gets physically bigger the other must get physically smaller [although remember that the aperture settings are the inverse of the size of the hole, and so a big f-stop is a small hole].

So how many options do we have at this fixed example light level? My camera will do the following pairings: f22 1/15, f16 1/30, f11 1/60, f8 1/125, f5.6 1/250, f3.5 1/500. Why on earth do we need 6 options to take one set of conditions? Well, we have already had to cope with high-speed subjects. I also mentioned before the belief that a shorter exposure reduces the apparent saturation of the resulting print. So we have one trade-off: sumptuous versus quick.

However there is also another effect of changing the f-stop. It changes the depth of field, which is the range of the focused area. Manipulation of the depth of field is a very common technique used in photography. I'm sure you can think of examples in which one item in an image is in focus, and another blurred. It is used to throw the attention onto a specific subject. Imagine you're a private detective [or deranged stalker if you prefer]. You are watching your target through a window. She is standing in the kitchen, with a cluttered work surface behind her. A man comes in, throws something onto the work surface, and they kiss. You ought to be taking a picture right now.

But, you've just noticed that this is your last shot on that film [happens a lot doesn’t it?], so you'll only get one go. You want to capture the action clearly, so you want a fast shutter speed. So you pick f3.5 and whatever the camera suggests, which is 1/250 s this time. You try to set up the focus, and manage to get the window frame clearly. Well, it will be useful for showing which house this is, but it is not what you really want. Change the focus, and you've got the couple, mid-embrace. Great. But what was that packet he threw on the counter? Focusing beyond the couple you can see it is a brown envelope with what looks like money in it, and an address on it, which you can't make out through the viewfinder. So, do you show the location, the action, or the goods? The camera is only letting you show one of these, as the depth of field is so shallow that the rest are out of focus.

But surely there must a way round this. And there is, and you've probably guessed it by now. Adjust the aperture. Due to very complicated reasons, the aperture changes the depth of field, which means it changes how much of a scene one can have in focus at once. The narrower the aperture, the greater the depth of field. So if you want to have that window frame, the couple, and the envelope all in focus, you need a narrow aperture, and so a large f-number, such as f22. But this means that you will have to adjust the shutter speed to cancel out the change in incoming light. So how many notches will you have to move it? You moved the aperture 5, so… yep, 5. In which direction? You have less light coming in, so you need a slower speed. So, from 1/250 s, you should end up on 1/8 s. Which is slow.

So we have another trade-off - depth of field versus speed, which in this light level is not a good choice. So what should you do? An eighth of a second is a long time in photography, and so you will need a tripod (or a very steady hand). But it is either that or using several different shots to show each item, and you have only got the one frame left on the film. It is up to you. You could of course feel the need to ensure the liaison occurs earlier in the day, that that cloud is not there, or perhaps that they will not notice that the bush outside the window has grown 3 metallic legs, as well as to two human feet.

Coincidentally, they have been kissing for a very long time, have they not?

Moving on, or possibly zooming on. Yes, you have got it; it is now time for the audible warnings switch. Or maybe the zoom instead.

Lenses come in all manner of, well, everything. There are 50 mm such-and-such's, 200 mm whatever's, et cetera. But what does it mean? The number expressed in millimetres reflects the focal length, between the final internal lens and the film surface. So in a 50 mm lens, the final internal lens is five centimetres away from the film. Some lenses have more than one focal length. This allows one to zoom in and out, by adjusting the magnification of the image. My camera ranges between 28 mm and 70 mm [it also has a Macro setting, but that can left alone for now]. This is not a huge zoom, but I cannot afford a huge zoom lens.

What effect does the zoom have? Let's get back to that kitchen window. At 28 mm, the view through the window occupies the middle third of the frame. At 70 mm, it fills two thirds of the frame. If we move closer until it fills the frame and then zoom back out, the hole fills just under half the frame. So if we decide that we want the frame of the window to match the frame of the image, we move closer, and use the zoom. But hang on, moving closer to that menacing man, who is in the process of dropping off that dubious package, whilst we are clutching a camera with which to record to evil deeds…not today thank you. Shall we just stick where we are, in this nice comfortable holly bush, and let the camera do the work?

Whilst I'm doing zoom, I may as well mention the dreaded parallax. Parallax is the variation in apparent position which occurs when our eyes move relative to two objects. So for example, you are driving your car. You think you are doing 70 mph, as that is where the needle appears to be over on the face of the speedometer. You lean your head to the right, so it would be out of the window if you are English, Indian, Australian or Kenyan [or anywhere else we invaded], and over towards the passenger seat if you are American. Now look at the speedometer. The needle appears to be somewhere over 60 mph. Oh dear, driving below the speed limit - we can't be having that. So you accelerate until the needle appears over 70 mph once again. Ok, so our American friends have scavenged whatever they want out of the glovebox, while those of us who drive on the right [as in correct, not as in not left] side of the road decide that inhaling exhaust fumes at 70 mph is not all that fun. Reverting back to our normal driving positions, and we look once more at the speedometer. Oh no! Now we are doing nearly 80 miles per hour! My goodness, if we go any faster, we will find ourselves time-travelling [Whilst I would never break the law (much), I have discovered that Hollywood lies. 88 mph is not a magical number. I did not find myself 50 years hence. Although I wasn't driving a Delorean, so might be why]. Getting back to the point, if we move in comparison to two objects [the needle and the printed dial], they apparently move compared to each other.

Take two equal sized objects, such as two pencils. Hold both upright. Hold your right arm straight ahead of you, with the pencil sticking up at the end. Place your left hand on the crook of your elbow, holding the other pencil up. Shut your left eye. Keeping you arms still, move your head until they line up. How big is the apparent distance between them? How large are they relative to each other? Um, well you should be able to see the nearer one, so it was a bit cruel to ask.

Now, open your left eye, and shut your right. And how did you manage to read this, and look at the pencils at the same time? Wow, the power that is multitasking. Once again how big do they seem comparatively, and how far apart do they appear? Well, you can see both for a start. Now flip back to using your right eye. And back to the left. Yes, you are playing peek-a-boo with a pencil. But you are also discovering your own internal parallax. Which actually provides the foundation for 3D vision, but I am not going to get into that now.

So what where the differences you saw? When you could see it, the nearer pencil appeared larger. Why? Perspective, and once again I am not going to cover this now. If you do not know what that is, go and watch the Father Ted episode with the toy cows, and those which are merely far away. Suffice to say, the nearer one is to something the bigger it appears. So in camera terms, the more of the frame it will fill.

And what about the distance between them. Well, we know that your right arm is unlikely to have shrunk and grown during the experiment, so the actual distance between the pencils remained the same. But your view of the pencils did change. In one they were so near as to be indistinguishable, and the other they appeared a far distance apart. But what I forgot to do was to get you to look at them as you moved your head gradually. So we will do that now.

Lay both pencils so they overhang the edge of a table, about 10 cm apart. If possible get them perpendicular [at right angles or 90o] to the edge, and parallel to each other. Shut one eye, and stick with using only that eye. Now lay your head on the edge of the table, a fixed distance away from the nearest pencil, using a ruler or your hand-span to help you (just don't poke your eye out). Can you see both pencils? Probably not, or only just. Move your head so it is halfway between surface of the table and a point directly over the first pencil, check the distance away from the first pencil. Now what do you see? The separation of the pencils has increased. Now move until you are directly above the first pencil, still keeping the same distance away. The separation should appear to be about double what it was at the midway [45o] point. Now move back round the curve you have just come up, rotating around the nearer pencil. Watch how the separation wanes. It appears to change slowly at first, then speeds up in the middle, and then slowing again. It follows a sinusoidal pattern, but as that is a bit too complicated for now, I will leave it.

Anyway, despite rotating evenly around the pencils, the change is not uniform [and I have made it a bit less uniform by using a pencil as the axis, not the midpoint between them, but I thought an invisible point might be a bit hard to stick to, especially when one of the items it is derived from cannot be seen].

So by now you probably understand that as one's point of view shifts, the view one sees shifts. If one moves around two items, the view changes. If one moves towards two items, the view changes. Exactly the same effects work on the camera. Stand down the lane from two gateposts flanking a path off the road, and they will appear together, as a slight change in the rhythm of the fence which runs through your shot. Walk up the lane, and they diverge. Stand opposite the gateway, and they are even more widely separated, showing the track down to the farm beyond. Walk through the gate, and one post passes to one side of you, and the other to the other side. You would be hard pushed to get both in the same shot.

So what has all this stuff about kitchens, cars and gates shown us? That if you move the camera, the composition within the frame is effected, and so the image is not the same. But what if you want the angled gate to fill the frame, but you happen to be standing down the lane. You could try walking closer, but then you would be looking down on the gate. You could then kneel, but then the brambles just this side of the gate become too prominent, and the nearer gatepost is much larger than the further one. You cannot take quite the same picture. You cannot move the camera and expect the same image. You cannot use your feet to zoom. You can get closer, but that is not the same. Zooming allows one to crop an image and enlarge it in one go, but without the usual faults enlarge often causes.

But on the other hand, zooming, because it is operating on items far away, invariably has a long depth of field. And so causes flattening of the image, with the background and much of the foreground being equally in focus. So it makes it harder to use the plane of focus to pick out a certain detail, whilst discarding the rest within a blur.

But I think I might have done zooming to death, so I will start on the next item. The exposure compensation control. Which I have never quite got round to using, despite there being instances when I should have done so. This setting allows one to adjust to exposure to under or over-expose the entire image. Why on earth should anyone wish to do this? The example where I could have used this feature was when I was at a friend's birthday party on boat going up and down a river. There was seating facing inboard along the gunwales of the boat. I tried taking pictures of my friends. Most of them are dark ovals with halos of hair in the middle of a stunning picture of the estuary behind them. Oh dear. What I should have done was use the dial to adjust the shutter speed by a notch or two. Which would have left me leave my friends looking normal, but with an overexposed and washed out looking view through the window behind them.

The opposite scenario would be if one were taking a picture of someone in a spotlight. Let's say that it is your eldest child's first school play, and they are playing the lead role [unlikely I know, but not everyone can be Sheep Number 3]. The school are really piling the pressure on, and your child is giving a monologue, as a solitary spotlit figure against a dimly lit set. It's beautiful, and you want to treasure the moment forever [so you have some embarrassing blackmail material for use on your offspring's potential partners]. You point the camera at you child. He, she or it is a slender figure, who only reaches two thirds of the way up the image. The camera's inbuilt light sensor decides it is quite dark, and so adjusts the suggested shutter speed up to a reasonable level, to allow the average light levels to match the requirements of the film.

Note that word average. Three little piggies each own one house. The first house has a value of £3,000 pounds, as it only built of straw. The second, being built of wood, is worth £6,000. The third, a stone house, is worth £60,000 [it is in the back of beyond, hence the low asking price]. So there is a mean [average] value of £23,000. So when Hurricane Wolf huffs and puffs and blows all the houses down, how will the three pigs respond when the insurance company pays out the average cost of an house in the area? Two of them will be delighted, being much richer than before, and one will be a bit miffed, as he has just lost nearly forty thousand pounds. [And no pointing out that the insurance company would probably opt for the median value of £6,000 or claim the pigs were not covered for anything officially known as "the Big Bad…"].

So averages can be unfair. Some get too little, and some too much. Cameras cannot average out the light that hits film, as doing so would cause every image to be various shades of grey. But light metres do only use the average. So, the averaging light-metre would instruct the camera to use a shutter speed which lets too much light hit on one part of the film, and not enough on the rest. The greater the disparity, such as the smaller the child in the frame, or the stronger the contrast, the more the average is skewed from the desired exposure. Think of DOS. One small white chevron in a sea of black is not going to make much impact on the average, which will be very dark grey. And so to recreate this very dark grey, the automatic response of the camera is to adjust the shutter speed so most of the field of view would come out very dark grey. So the DOS screen would have an odd blob of blinding white in the upper left-hand corner. And the shot of your firstborn would allow you to see the ghost of you child, in an all concealing white haze. But you can pick out the screws on the scenery behind the child.

So to stop this happening, we need to drop the exposure down a bit, by either using the adjustor dial, or by ignoring the advice of camera, and selecting a shutter speed which is faster than that the camera suggests. We do this and the child appears to float above the darkened depths, like the angelic being that we known them to be.

There is also (according to the manual, which I cannot check, having lost it again), a button by the self-timer control, which allows one to use the exposure recommended for one view on another. For example, if one wanted to take a shot of the roof of a house against the sky, but did not want the roof to the silhouetted, then one could set the exposure whilst the building fills the frame, and then swing the camera upwards, so the composition is right. This would allow the roof to be properly exposed, whilst the sky would probably become over-exposed.

However, despite having used this button, it miraculously seems to have become part of the self-timer, and caused me to take an unintended shot of a pile of boxes. So I won't be pressing that again, until I find the instructions.

Which brings me on to the self-timer. It allows one to delay the point when the photograph is taken. Usually just long enough for the people in shot to begin to wonder if the thing is still working, and so they begin frowning and muttering amongst themselves. It also allows enough time for any faults in tripods to become apparent, as the camera starts sagging, or rolls off the convenient perch one had found for it. How it can take so long, and yet not be long enough for the last minute changes one invariably needs, I do not know, merely that it does. I have never successfully used it, and usually only manage to set it off accidentally.

Now onto something for which there might conceivably be slightly more use. Switching between single and continuous shooting. If one is taking shots of a scene which is changing rapidly, continuous shooting might prove useful. If there can only be one chance to take pictures, one may as well cram as many in as possible. So instead of only having one shot of a rally car crashing, during which a spectator fleeing blocks most of the view, one could have a series, thereby increasing the likelihood of getting a decent shot. Also a series of similar, but temporally displaced photographs can prove very effective visually [and for demonstrating how horses gallop]. Having said that, film is expensive, as is developing, which given I am not a freelance photographer capable of selling my pictures, means I having used this feature in earnest, but only by mistake.

And so onto the last adjustable feature: the audible warnings switch. Which sits on mute the whole time, as it flattens the batteries, scares off wildlife, and the beeps and whines irritate me beyond measure.

Speaking of scaring off wildlife, I need to get a flash, as well as learn how to use one. This because most of the times I want to take pictures, the shutter speeds end up too low, and I get blurred images.

That appears to be all the variables on my camera, but I have hunch that this is a bit too long winded for most people. So here is a recap of the important stuff.
- Cameras. Viewfinder: separate viewer from shutter lens. Rangefinder: separate lenses, use to find distance, then adjust camera lens. Single Lens Reflex: proper camera, shutter and viewing screen share lens.
- Film speed: Fast = faster subjects, but grainer and less rich. Use slowest practical.
- Shutter speed controls exposure length. Inverse exponential scale, as 1/X second. Bigger number = faster, for use in bright conditions, or action shots.
- Focus. Split image most accurate [align]. Microprism for soft shapes [reduce speckles]. General field for quick estimate [least blurred].
- Aperture. Smallest number, biggest hole. Each notch bigger doubles incoming light. Allows flexible shutter speed, and depth of field trade-off.
- Depth of field. Greatest with furthest focus, smaller [higher f-stop] aperture. Approximately1/3 before, 2/3 behind optimum focus.
- Zoom. Change dominance, enlarge subject, without perspective or parallax problems.
- Exposure compensation. Graduated, persistent override of automatic light sensing. Alternative to manual shutter speed based adjustment.
- Self-timer. Delay shutter release, e.g. for self.
- Single/Continuous shooting. Series can be effective, also scattergun approach.

And now for the quiz.

1. A magpie habitually lands on the roof of your house, just above a window. You get a stunning view of the splayed wings as it comes in to land. It is a bright, yet overcast day. For ASA 100, f8, my camera suggests using 1/60 s. Which of the following should you use?
A. ASA 100, f3.5, 1/500 s, 28mm lens, fd 7 m.
B. ASA 200, f8, 1/50 s, 70mm lens, fd 0.9 m.
C. ASA 200, f11, 1/1000 s, Macro lens, fd 1.2 m.
D. ASA 400, f11, 1/125 s, 28mm lens, fd ∞ m.
E. ASA 800, f5.6, 1/2000 s, 70mm lens, fd 0.9 m.

2. I am using 1/125 s, f8, with ASA 200 film. You have ASA 100 film, and your camera is jammed on f16. What shutter speed should to use?
A. 1/8 s.
B. 1/15 s.
C. 1/30 s.
D. 1/60 s.
E. 1/125 s.

3. Select the lens with the widest field of view.
A. 20 mm, f11.
B. 30 mm, f3.5.
C. 40 mm, f22.
D. 50 mm, f5.6.
E. Macro, f3.5.

4. You are using ASA 200, f5.6, 1/8 s. What are the conditions?
A. Strong direct sunshine.
B. Strong reflected light.
C. Overcast sky, but bright.
D. Unlit room.
E. Night.

5. Family portrait time. Your family are sitting at a table, with 3 down each side, with you standing at the head to take a photograph (you have them well trained). Select the best settings for ASA 100.
A. 1/2000 s, f3.5.
B. 1/1000 s, f5.6.
C. 1/250 s, f11.
D. 1/125 s, f16.
E. 1/60 s, f22.

Oh, do you want answers now? Really some people. Ok, highlight the section after this, as the text should have been set to match the background colour.


1: e. Fast film, fast shutter speed, zoomed in to fill the frame [the bird is very predictable], close focus. Aperture is being driven by shutter speed. Maybe not ideal, but the best of the bunch.

2: b. ASA 100 is twice as slow as 200. So that the shutter speed needs to halve, to 1/60 s. Then it is 2 stops from f8 up to f16, so the shutter speed needs be quadrupled [doubled twice]. So, 2 x 2 x 1/60 s = 4 x 1/60 s = 4/60 s = 1/15 s.

3: a. The shorter the focal length of the lens, the wider the field of vision. Aperture is irrelevant.

4: d. Slow shutter speed means a long exposure. Long exposures are generally bad, as things [including the camera] move, and therefore would be avoided if they could be. f5.6 suggests that the aperture is as open as possible whilst still retaining the depth of field. ASA 200 is fairly normal speed film, but no conclusions should be drawn from its use, as it could just be what is in the camera. So the camera is set up to make almost maximum use of light. Which suggests there is not much. But 1/8 s is not really suitable for use during the dead of night. So it is probably inside a building, either with poor daylight levels, or on a dull day.

5: e. The family start quite close to the lens, and finish a few metres away. Turning your uncle into a soft focus blur is not a good idea, so you need a long depth of field. The house is not big enough to have everyone in focus at near infinity, and you need to choose the aperture which allows the greatest depth of field. Which is the smallest hole, and highest f-stop, or f22.

Comments, queries, objections and corrections can all go in the comments section below. You could email me, but if there's a counter-argument then it's probably that other people know about it.

- Spillman R, 1971. ### Complete + links ###

Well that was fun.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Swedish English ChurchTwo posts a day! Aren't you lucky?

Anyway, having been aFlickring, and ended up looking at Strang's photographs. Can anyone tell me what is wrong with the image of the church [on the right]? Not really the image, more the church itself.

It's bizarre. It is a church which apparently was based on English churches, but no way could it be English. The main window is wrong for a start. Just the shape of the arch. If it were just the arch alone, with no other clues, I'd put it down as a Tudor fireplace. The only windows I have ever seen in that shape, and on that scale, are those of the chapels some of the Oxbridge colleges. Which aren't quite what I'd describe as rural.

God only knows what the top of the tower is supposed to be, although it looks like it pines after its St Petersburg roots [and I don't mean the one in Florida].

Even the proportions and the positioning of the elements seem odd. The mini-rounded staircase tower abutting the main tower? There are too many things which just don't sit together.

Partick states that it was built in the gothic period. I presume he means Neo-gothic, as he also suggest that the church is Perpendicular in style, which given Perpendicular grew out of Gothic... [and I'm not terribly convinced any part of it is strikingly Perpendicular]. It also is far too big and homogenous to be original gothic. Although one has to admire the painstaking attention to detail in keeping the scaffold holes.

A brief Google does not bring up much, but I don't know the Swedish for church or saint. All I could find was one pdf, in Swedish, which suggests the church is only a 100 years old [assuming I'm reading 100 år, 1904-2004 right]. I'm guessing kyrkan means church then, and that they write St. as S:t. And I presume församling means something like parish or congregation (having decided it couldn't mean baptist. Well, it did say S:t Johannes församling).

Isn't it wonderful want one can learn simply by being bemused by what someone sees as English architecture? And here was I thinking there wasn't much to any of it, having tried to get a Norwegian flat-mate to teach me Norwegian, only to be very disappointed the learn that, in Norwegian, the word for people is folk. So just Norway and Norfolk, and probably Nova Scotia as well then? But then I managed eavesdrop on her conversation with a friend (she was having it in corridor outside my room, so it was a bit hard to miss), and understand it fine, until I realised she was speaking Norwegian. And then I tried thinking about it, and suddenly could not understand a thing.

Back to churches. Une chapelle anglaise. Eine englische Kirche. Una iglesia inglesa. Een Antiguaanse kathedraal in de stijl van een Engelse kerk.

Ok, so the Dutch is stretching it a bit, as it's basically baroque. The Spanish one does have a chapel in it. Part thereof. Somewhere.

So in a blatant "I've always wanted to do this" rip-off of GfB stylee...
Swedish word for the day: Församling - Tester pot.

Spangle stonePicking up from yesterday: The mañara's got explained pretty much anyway, and spangle bit I only discovered because I've been asked to source some rock (don't ask, and I really should have pointed out that no-one quarries much in winter as the stone fractures too easily. If only I'd known that at the time, rather than having Mrs Quarry-Owner inform me). Spangle is apparently stone in which large calcite arcs are visible. It looks like TS limpet shells made of quartz embedded in typical greyish-brown stone (do I mean transverse? Which way is up on a limpet? Anyway, pretty much a cross section). Unsurprisingly given the name, it's a bit over the top.

Picking up a meme from a BE'd blog [Strang] I hereby present ten randomly selected songs from the entire collection on my computer [although Winamp's shuffle has never been completely random]. I suppose 2,033 mp3s is quite a lot to pick from isn't it? So why, of all the mp3s in all the folders, why did you have to pick Verdi?

1. Verdi - Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. 4:22
2. Mansun - Legacy. 4:39
3. The Avalanches - Since I left you. 3:57
4. [Austin Powers Soundtrack] James Taylor Quartet - Austin's Theme. 3:38
5. Less than Jake - Faction. 3:30
6. Foo Fighters - Oh, George. 3:00
7. U2 - Grace. 5:45
8. The Cranberries - Empty. 3:25
9. No Doubt - Just a Girl. 3:28
10. Levellers - One Way. 4:07

What does this tell you about me? That I started running out of disk space sometime in 2001, and really haven't added anything since then. In fact I have only subtracted anything which I had on CD since then. And that I only added whatever was available on the uni-network, and in some cases copied whole folders unedited. I think I may need to rationalise.

This selection really does me no favours, does it? Am I allowed to admit to not being able to stand number 5? A freind reccomended them, and they have never grown on me.

Hands up if you can spot the album tracks.

And yet, despite the thoroughly dismal selection, I'm sure there must be worse tracks buried somewhere on this computer (Do I really need the Bananaman theme tune?).

The top 3: 9, 8, 3. And don't ask me for a top 4.

Now for the complete antidote. Well, not really, but it's Christmas, and it was one of the following songs: Last Christmas by Wham. Cheese has its purpose.


PS. Someone could have told me. Mañara, mañana, same thing really. Except one is tomorrow in Spanish, and one sounds like a National Park in Tanzania, which roughly explains why I thought it sounded right. And as a reward for reading this far you can have a picture of an elephant, which actually was taken in Lake Manyara National Park. Well done you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

.London - TateM Window frame
Being quick:

Flickr - not as bad as I had feared (ok, it was, but I found some ways round it). I think I've got the URLs for all my photographs now. I started off entering each individually, but quite a few had been caught by that infuriating invasion of privacy: autocomplete. Luckily they are in vague batches and sequential. Ok, so half the functions are gone, but even solely as a storage device Flickr is quite good (if only for the resized versions). Now all I need to do is catalogue them all, and create an index.

Question for the day: Who the hell calls a stone spangle? I'll explain when i have more time.

Christmas card wars: are they the greatest things ever? Fraught with etiquette problems, and proto-spouse issues. A snide comment here, a bound to offend picture there, a faux-naive question just happening to exist on this bit. Once again mañara, mañara. Actually I know what is the best - the round robin letters people send out. "Eric has just started working for the church youth group. It is nice for him to get out and be with the young people... Susan was recently nominated to be a prospective Conservative town councillor, on top of her work with the parish council. She looks forward to working with our luminaries... It is with sadness that I must inform you that Rita has died. I'm sure many of you knew her well, and can only hope that the joy she gave freely to all is some solace to each of us now. It was therefore with mixed feelings that we have acquired a new cat - a kitten really. After some confusion early on we are fairly sure it is a female, however since she had already started responding to the name Tobias, we will call her that... In February I hope to have a short spell in hospital, whilst I undergo a series of operations which will hopefully prevent any more of these bothersome urinary infections. Unfortunately, due to the drugs I will be given, I am unable...." [Names have been changed to protect the all persons mentioned]. I have only slightly edited these fragments. Rather oddly, the family who used the phrase "the young people" last year have now started putting it in quotation marks. Does this mean someone wrote back quoting them, and they didn't realise who was being quoted?

And then one overhears someone talking about how they've found the ideal card for X. X sends out cards and letters with anti-EU stickers on them, and is blue enough to have been made from cobalt. Y, the person speaking, is delighting in the fact she has sent them a card with the words to "Oh Christmas Tree". Why? Because the tune of Tannenbaum or OCT is the same as that for the Red Flag. See the bitter slight, the pure malice inveigled in a piece of card.

Is it me, or does that seem a particularly daft way of insulting people?

Somewhere around was a greenfairy thing one Christmas la (the stars are bang on. My carpet still holds stars from a 3 year old birthday invitation [the invitation was, not the person]. And they wonder why they're lucky to get MC+HNY?). Running ever blogwards, Neil is back at GfB, or more accurately GfB is back. Not sure I'd mentioned it 404ing, but it had, but now it's not.

And having been in someone else's house, and stuck discussing their cards [there was one made by a photographer which we were trying to decide if it was real or faked. I say Photoshop], what should one do if one receives a card which completely lacks a post-mark, or any sign of franking at all, has an unfinished, slightly nonsensical sentence on the inside, and no signature. The handwriting is generic old lady. Somewhere out there is an elderly woman has either completely lost it, or has only just lost it enough that they'll now be getting frantic about this missing card. The recipient hasn't a clue who it is.

That wasn't quick, was it? Ay well.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Hungry CaterpillarOh God I'm pathetic, aren't I?

One little comment, and a 10 star rating on BE, and I go weak at the knees (although I am sitting down, so it doesn't make much difference, and it could just be I've had my legs crossed for too long). Anyway I'd like to introduce you to the ever so nice SexxxyJon. He has a slight penchant for pink, somewhat biased music taste [Busted doing Hark! The herald angels sing? What next? V doing a rap version of Once in royal David's city?], and I'm trying not draw to conclusions.

[And would the cynic at the back please stop suggesting that he could have just given a ten star rating to every blog he came across on BE, in a carpet-bombing with hugs kind of way, solely in order to get people to think he's nice and link to him. Which would be a damn good idea. Might try it. Well, obviously I won't, because I'm me, and the most anyone ever gets is to be damned with faint praise, and I have to struggle not to use the word "fairly"].

Although it was somewhat worrying reading his blog, as I started thinking things I really didn't want to be thinking. Such as seeing that one of the songs named was by Billie, whereupon the dark recesses of my brain chime in with "I know where she lives." Which sounds worse than it is. The really worrying part of the resulting thought sequence involves Chris Evans and pair of cycling shorts [he on bike, me driving behind, unable to overtake. Not a nice view].

The other frankly disturbing memory stimulated by SJ's fascination with V undressing each other. Unfortunately in describing it, I'll have to admit to: A. Watching CD:UK, B. Watching when McFly were on, C. Watching when they were dueting (can ...hear the fingers... nine-ish people duet?) with V. D. Knowing that the combined total of the members of McFly and V is 9 (4 + 5 right?). E. Watching it long enough that they were nearly at the end. F. Not turning off in Tunbridge-Wellian disgust when one of V [dark hair, dimples, but not the stunned looking one] kissed one of McFly [round face, one of Tom, Dick or Harry, but I don't think McFly have a Dick between them], who was tied down by cables and a static microphone. G. Remembering all this.

As releasing such knowledge could seriously damage my chances of joining the Guild of Musical Fascists [founded in 1999 by the only member of Meanwhile back in communist Russia who left to do something more worthwhile], I refuse to incriminate myself, and you'll just have to go on wondering what this is all about. Oh who am I kidding? I've managed to confuse S Club 7 and Toploader before now.

Moving on [shall we? really rather rapidly?].

Isn't central heating great? Er... well, it depends. It would have helped if the guy who fitted it had mentioned at the time that the instructions are out-dated, that it can have three periods a day when it comes on, instead of the stated two. Although it explains why he was having fits trying work out why it was coming on for no apparent reason.

Oh of course the only problem with having heating after an age of not having it, is that everything is too hot, and we still haven't got the balance right. So one room will happily double as a crematorium, and the next is doing a fair approximation of the great outdoors. Factor in added complexity of the boiler being controlled by a thermostat next to the doorway of the only room in the house without heating, and it all gets a bit haphazard. But hopefully we will finally get it all sorted.

So the kitchen, which is the only room without heating, has now gone from the warmest room [when the oven was on] to the coldest. Which we can easily remedy by cooking. However, to do so we needed to move all the boxes which were gridlocking the place. That done we try tried cooking. Which we haven't done in a while, as most meals have been defined by their lack of preparation and cooking, the minimal washing-up created, and by their ability to be eaten whilst sitting cross legged on the floor. And by their abysmal interpretation of a balanced diet, what with them consisting of fish and chips, Chinese take-away, and fish and chips again.

Of course, only once we were safely into the weekend did we try cooking. And so only then did we discover that our man with the van had managed to disconnect the gas supply for everything but the new boiler. Not best pleased. But he came yesterday to reconnect it.

Oh and never help a new neighbour in distress (he'd tried bump-starting his car in reverse. Hence he was parked at the bottom of the hill). Especially don't be super-efficient and be able to diagnose the fault by engine noise alone (it's a very similar car to mine), and therefore know how to fix it. Why not? Because he then reappears, having been able to drive home, clutching a big tin of chocolates. Which is very nice, but when one's diet has been dire anyway, adding a heck of a lot of sickly sweet things into it doesn't help. I've been on a constant cycle of mini-sugar-rush and endless slump, complete with headache. Fun huh? I know, but someone's got to eat them and there are so many. Oh, and does anyone want a dozen of the strawberry ones?

And that has really made my day. Curiosity got the better of me (that's when it's not committing felinicide). Yes, I downloaded Busted doing Hark! The herald angels sing. Yes, I dissolved in fits of giggles. It's not helped by he of the great eyebrows (surely they must pupate soon?) not being able to hit the top notes. Oh hell, I think I might just investigate what else is in that treasure trove.

Oh, McFly better it. They don't even know the words. Deck the halls with boughs of folly indeed.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

And another thing: Blunkett's mistress or vice versa or whatever the hell was going managing to sleep with the guy who writes the sketch in the Guardian? They live in very small world, don't they? Is there anyone in the world of politics who isn't within six sexual degrees from Blunkett?

And I thought I always did quite well in that adapted version of the Kevin Bacon thing, whereby one has to get to a celebrity from one's self. Knowing cousins, sons and sisters-in-law helps.

Vaguely connected 1:
Having been press-ganged into attending the Christmas party for my gym [even though I'm not rich enough to have membership of the gym, but instead use the swimming pool], I found myself talking to a bewildering array of people, including yet another cousin-of. It probably implies something about the people gathered that the longest running conversation was about where to get one's hair cut. But it was either that or talk to the man about his many Open University courses. I assumed he taught them, someone else assumed he took them. I think people actually got desperate enough to start asking the caterers for the recipes bits of the buffet. Which given that there wasn't much taste to any of the offerings, does rather imply they were looking for any distraction. At one point, when I'd been left to tend to some aged woman, and the conversation had collapsed to the point of us both saying "What? Oh sorry, I thought you said something," I very nearly asked the question I have only ever dared to ask once. Which is something along the lines of religion being a non-starter nowadays, and not knowing enough about sport to use that, which leaves us with politics, and asking about their views.

The only time I used that was at another stiflingly dull party, and every attempt at small-talk had failed, and the room was in near-silence. I don't think the hostess has ever forgiven me for making the rest of her evening dissolve into light-hearted arguments about the Euro. She is a bit controlling, and does not take it well when she loses control. In this instance she appeared to have forgotten that if one wants people to do what one wants, then one must give them something to do. But then she probably had down on her plan "8:30 - Light merriment."

Actually, it really does say something that there were so few attempts at jokes that I didn't even have to think about hamsters [my fallback whenever I need to smile and look like I mean it. If you ask nicely I might tell you the story, which you will then fail to find funny, and you will probably be highly offended].

Vaguely connected 2:
Janet McTeerHaving been over-ruled on the choice of television for the evening, I ended up watching the latest remade Miss Marple. Yep, Miss Marple on a Sunday night, and an ITV Miss Marple at that. One of the problems with an all-star cast is the incessant "Who's that?" which I usually much deride. But then there was the woman playing Mrs Protheroe, who I recognise from somewhere. I look up her name, which is Janet MacTeer, and it means nothing me [Oh Vienna?]. Cut to a fair while afterwards and then it strikes. Beatrice. As in Much Ado About Nothing, as in the wondrously powerful version of Beatrice I saw when I did the play the first time round at school. I'd forgotten her name but I hadn't forgotten her. Nor the orange. I cannot remember the theatre, other than it wasn't the Barbican, and that it had a bizarre amount of gold curlicues. I can hardly remember the rest of the cast, although looking up the faces I recognise Benedict. But I cannot even remember if it was year 8 or 9, which would be 92-94. But I remember her. So it's quite odd when she pops up in Miss Marple.

Anyway, this really is getting much too long, and having blazed a trail [ok, stumbled] from pre-fab bands to Shakespearean actresses, I think I have fulfilled my cultural remit.

A quick plug for another blog: Brom-man. A Welsh chemist, but not apparently the Welsh chemist I know, with slightly porous balls. Which reminds me. Exeter is closing chemistry. Fools. I've also just received the alumni blurb, which mentions this in passing [due to going to press aeons ago], and then proceeds to wow us with pictures of the shiny new halls of residence. Which happen to have been named after the previous VC, who happened to see no problem in his being paid to sit on the board of Total Fina Elf, who happen to happily deal with the Burmese junta government. The VC's answer for any criticisms was that he was a non-executive director, and therefore powerless [so powerless in fact that he could do nothing to stop himself being paid by them, or allowing them to trade on his name]. So, an interesting juxtaposition then. Although it is all capped off by the glorious thought that the new hall will be run by the wonderfully inept Domestic Services.

Continuing the round-up of the other open windows, and as it's nearly christmas, I thought it was about time for some Lego. Just don't shake you monitor to see if it really is. Also nicked from this blog, is this list of linguistic recommendations for the Internet writer. Useful, if only for providing something to react against.

I'm not sure what Tosska means in Russian, other than pretty damn artistic. Found via Flickr, he also works beyond photography. BTW yay for added functions in Flickr. Boo-hiss for one of them being date-taken as well as date-posted. Because now I feel I have to be accurate, but it's taking me ages to work through them and I cannot remember when some of them were taken.

Very, very boo-hiss for Flickr. My freebie pro-account has expired. They said that if that happened then my photo-stream would only show my last 100 photographs. They did not mention that these hidden photographs would be removed completely, and so they would not show up in browsing by tags or in the groups. Very unimpressed. Despite what their guide says, I cannot even access them. They insist they will not be deleted, and half the site still lists them, but whenever anything is opened then only the recent pictures appear. So whilst it tells me that I uploaded 16 photographs on 16th September, whatever I then click on then proceeds to tell me that I did not upload anything then.

I know it is a free service, and I know I have the option of paying, but that's not what irritates me (well it does, as they want more per year than the Tate or the National Trust wants). It is that they do not mention the changes. They mentioned the photo-stream limit, but did not mention that everything else is a subset of the photo-stream. As I cannot really afford to have yet another annual outgoing, without getting something in return, I simply won't bother. Flickr is a good idea, and nicely designed, but in return for money? I have to start wondering how much getting my own domain name, and associated storage would run to, which as I just said I cannot afford.

In case you think I'm being daft, what would you say the following sentence means? Your photo sets are treated the same, that is, nothing will be deleted.
It's just that one thing tells me that there 27 photographs in one of my three sets, and yet everything else insists there are only 6. Only 6 show up. Not quite nothing.

I think someone neglected to mention that the statement is only true for photosets beyond the 3 set limit (though quite how it could know which were the sets one intended to keep up, and which were not, is not obviously clear).

Ok so my indignant ranting doesn't quite taken into account the dire state of the dollar at the moment. I was working on one and half to the pound, but it apparently is nearer two per pound. But also part of me thinks that if I'm going to get a paid-for account, I'd do it in my real name so then I could add pictures of people I know. I was also being unfair over the Tate comparison, as I'm not a standard individual.

Anyway, I am a little pissed-off by this, not least because had the warnings been accurate then no way would I have let this happen.


PS. Quite a few of the early photographs are in the browser history, so hopefully I should be able to scavenge. It's either that or play battleships with 6 figure numbers, although I do know the probable range.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

FireflyAnd now we continue in our occasional series "How to encourage regular readers"...

Suggestion 14. Leave a post about one's mother up on the front page for 12 days, during which time no changes should be made to the site.

Sorry about that, but I have been a little busy. Central heating don't ya know. Or more specifically, central heating system was tres kaput, hence a ridiculous amount of upheaval. Like moving house, only without the new bigger house to put everything in.

And is it a good sign if the plumber [sorry, central heating engineer], upon inspecting the boiler he has just hauled out, asks if we were on holiday when it went wrong. He seems to think that in generating that much soot, the level of carbon monoxide the thing churned out should have gassed us all. It's just as well this house is incredibly draughty.

The soot had formed in marble sized nodules, which I would have taken a picture of, had I had a camera I hadn't stuck in a box. Also I'm not sure my skills extend to accurately capturing a large expanse of black, especially in the omnipresent dull light which has been coming through the mist and fog for the past month. Surely mid-December shouldn't still be having November weather?

Speaking of which, there is a monumental spider hanging outside my window, and we have had wasps popping up out of somewhere. At first there was a queen (or possibly a hornet), which is explainable due to seasonal confusion caused by the mild past few days. And then the workers started turning up. Which means there is a still a nest out there which has survived.

The plants are no better, as buds and catkins abound, and half the bulbs have decided they would much prefer to flower at Christmas not Easter. But then by this time last year the roses were still flowering, and the strawberries were still fruiting. Actually, last year the roses flowered until they got snowed upon (very the BBC's version of Pride and Prejudice). This year [to save me from tears] there have been bugger-all strawberries, and not much of any other fruit. Admittedly it was so damn wet that most of it rotted before it ripened, and everything was lush and green, and constantly growing. Even the occasional pools of water that form in the clutter [sorry, items which may one day come in handy] that surrounds the house did not evaporate away as normal during the summer. Half of them still have larvae jigging about within them. Nature is obviously going in for at-this-price-lunacy this year.

Oh, whilst on plants, does any know how to get rid of greenfly from a banana plant? They have been going manic over the past few days, despite being in a house without heating. Though at least those odd white things seem to have given up the ghost, and stopped invading everything. They are now ensconced on a Mexican hat plant, and have turned into immobile fluffy white balls. Which I then worried might be eggs, and so squished them all, and as yet there has been no other sign.

Ye gods, that was a bit of a ramble. All of which is a way of saying that much has happened. Oh and I got a bike. Have yet to ride it, due to the whole house in chaos and no spare time thing. It was the one I won from Weetabix. But it is not the one they said it would be, which was a Raleigh Tundra. Nor is it the one they said would be sent in place of the Tundra, which would be the Chinook. Which turned up, but was the wrong frame size. I may or may not have written up that episode. So then a week later the same deliveryman appears. He comes bearing a bigger box this time. Hurrah, success at last. Only it appears to be a Firefly, not either of the models I was told it would be. What the hell, a bike's a bike, and so I sign for it.

I unpack it, and judging by the state of the packaging, and the chocolate wrapper in the box, I think it might have been returned by someone else. But the bike appears to be fine. Front tyre is a bit flat, but it might be meant to be like that, or it never got properly inflated, or it makes it easier to assemble, or whatever. If it is a puncture, I would be a bit annoyed, but it is not the end of the world. A short period of alun-keying later [how does one spell alun in that context? Allun 24, Alun 51, Alen 393, Allan 2.2k, Alan 3.7k, Allen 61k ghits], along with the traditional sagging of the saddle as one tries it for height, and doing stage 2 before I notice that there was a stage 1, and it seems to be ready.

It is quite a funky bike, coming complete with suspension on the front wheel, rotary shift gears, the oddest bell known to mankind, and rapid release wheels. The latter meaning I need to find a decent lock. And about the only thing I know about cycle locks is that the one which I thought was the decent brand, turns out to be vulnerable to attack by biros.

And of course discovering the rapid release mechanism means I have to try it. I read the instructions. I squeeze whilst hooking, and pulling, and how many hands am I supposed to have? I try again. I notice just how cold I have become, and how numbing hefty chunks of chilled metal are. Eventually I unhook the brakes, which then spring apart, leave the wheel free to drop out. Instructions say a hard tap. Ow. I haul and wrench, and worry I could be about to warp the wheel. Then I undo the safety nut. How did I miss that? Another hard tap. Ow again, but don't worry I can't really feel my hands anymore.

I must be missing something. I'm not. Wiggle, thump, wiggle, spin for effect, and it drops out. It's not really a procedure one can carry out with great élan. And then to put it back in again. Which is thankfully easier. And with that I decide I'm too cold and tired, and put the bike in the garage, carefully neglecting to consider how anything involving the gears and the chain can possibly be quick release.

Moving on. An awful lot has happened whilst I've been absent. So many news stories, so many oh-so-apt snide comments, and so few published. And then there are earthquakes in Germany. What was The Day of the Triffids said about such things? By the way, have finished that, and The Kraken Wakes too, and have started on The Grapes of Wrath.

Oh the quote thing was actually from The Kraken Wakes (which is about the post-funeral parties of the Kraken family). Ex Africa semper aliquidi novi. Which according to Wyndham means "funny things happen in other places."
It is odd how in Latin the word for other places looks a lot like the word for that continent off to the south.

And is one supposed to be in one's twenties before one notices that no-one else uses the same punctuation around speech as I thought I was taught to do. I thought the pattern was "quote[speaker's punctuation, if any]"[writer's punctuation and rest of sentence]
So that would be:
"Blurb", said Jeremy.
"Wah!", cried Helen.
With the post-wah comma being optional.
Someone comments on this, and I try to back this up. And then I notice that no matter how many books I pick up, each uses the model of "Quote[punctuation]" Additional text if needed[punctuation]

"Damn," said the author.

Anyway, the John Wyndhams. Both good, fun, silly, naive, convenient, stoic, sensible, and stonkingly cold war, although in the second he obviously feels guilty for blaming the Russians in the first book, and so only the stupid people in the second book blame the Russians. Both are also of the era in which they are written, although there seems to be an implication that it is somewhere beyond the then present day. But if you can manage not to ask questions about why they don't just use their mobiles/cell phones/handies, or why they don't just use email, this doesn't matter.

Onto other stuff.
News has been happening hasn't it? The whole Blunkett saga has been building, and by the time I get a chance to write about it, he goes and resigns. It's very odd though, that a crackpot Home Sec can go, and yet there isn't a feeling of "Oh good", as there isn't anyone available who I'd like to see become the Home Secretary.

So anyway, Blunkett has resigned, presumably to spend more time with his family. Well, that's the excuse they usually give isn't it, and I had to say it before it appears in one of the papers, to prove I don't just copy everything from other people. Although having said that, something similar is bound to turn up on the Honourable Fiend, although I haven't checked.

And with that, I shall bid you good night.


PS. Why do the stats show my blog does better when I don't post regularly?
PPS. Apologies for the lack of links, but it's late [the time is only the time I started the post], and I really can't be arsed. Use Google, although you'll have to type that in too.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Alison Steadman as BeverlyWill I never learn?

Mothers are wonderful aren't they? Mention in passing anything which has some semblance of a story or plot, and before you can remember that you've just done a really silly thing, she is in there with how the story ends, usually posed as an innocent question.

I would have thought that watching Abigail's Party with her years and years ago ought to have taught me to never let her speak, but still I haven't managed it. If you haven't seen Abigail's Party, then you ought to, but also you most cease and desist reading this post immediately.

Now that the spoiler warning is out [and if you are ignoring it, don't say I didn't warn you], I can demonstrate my mother's awesome power of ruining anything. In Abigail's Party the hostess (for the party that isn't Abigail's) spends much of the evening trading polite insults with her husband. However, at one point she's had enough, and snaps at him "Oh drop dead". Cue my dear mother chiming in with "And he does!". Thanks for that, because I really love knowing the ending before I know the rest of the plot.

[It's safe again].

Needless to say (but what the heck, I'll say it anyway), the book I mentioned that I'd started a couple of days ago, which was The Day of the Triffids, has been very briefly summarised by my mother. I'm not best pleased, as I'm not even a third of the way through it.

It's like telling a roundhead before the civil war that Cromwell was a bit of a lunatic, and that the royal family will be around for at least another 300 years yet. Or asking 1930s Germany if Hitler was the one who kills himself when Germany loses the war. Rather takes the fun out of it.

Maybe I ought to force-feed her Grolsch? Maybe then she'll get the "not yet" message. Or maybe not.

And speaking of ... god knows what, here be BE'd blog that I actually can stand reading, and with a fair amount of material I was inclined to nick. How's that for praise and a half?

Whereas I'm still hoping no-one points out that a large chunk [thematically] of the last post had already appeared on here. Oh. Sorry, I thought it already had, in more detail, but Blogger can only find one other instance.

Anyway, back to TDOTT. I know it was written in the era when everyone smoked, but it seems as if every single time the main narrator does anything it's "I lit a cigarette". I suppose I'm only on day two, and there haven't been that many. But if he carries on at this rate, he'll become the Marlboro man by the end of the book.

Completely random thought du jour. Has any form of electronic media made use of that staccato interference noise that speakers produce just before someone's mobile rings or beeps? Surely it must have turned up in some dance track by now [or have I not been listening?]. I mean if people can use the Casualty theme tune...

Having just heard the news about Blunkett, can I be alone in wondering how long it will before he dons a cape and is found hanging banners from a tightrope slung between Big Ben and Portcullis House? Or perhaps how long will it be before some F4J allusion appears in a political cartoon.

Given how much attention this case will obviously receive, what else is around in the political milieu that might benefit from the distracted spotlight?

And with that happy thought, I'll finish.


Thursday, December 02, 2004

George GallowayIn no way does this have any implication upon the result of George Galloway versus the Daily Telegraph libel trial, or the subjects contained therein, however; hands up if you can tell me which media organisation features most prominently in the images of Mr Galloway making his victory speech [it shows better in the live footage]. I wonder where I've seen that drop of gold before?

So why should a Qatar-based news channel take such interest in a civil court case in London? What do they know about Mr GG that we don't?

And you've got to love the placard held up on the left. Galloway 1, Telegraph 0. Written in scrawled pen. Do you think they might possibly have been waiting to find out if the Telegraph's claims were false before preparing that? His supporters must have an awful lot of faith in him.

Speaking of that which inspires faith, I've recently finished Catch-22, so that's only 2 months. Whatever happened to slamming through books in a weekend? Probably the lack of suitable weekends. And Moby Dick slaughtered my reading habit (if the choice was between reading, or not, and reading meant Moby Dick...).

Anyway, it is a good book, if worrying, and infuriating [but knowingly so]. And somehow it manages to have cheesy ending that has just enough doubt left that it might not be. But as you might have noticed, I'm not a book reviewer, and so I'm not really very good at writing about other people's writing. Basically it's strange, funny, bemusing, and a cruel manipulator of logic. But it shows just how easily reasoning can be obvious, and yet lost to all sense. As for Heller's habit of using linguistically natural sentences to jump between people, times and contexts, well, I suppose it is a useful literary technique, but it just makes me feel like I'm back doing Withering Heights.

Moving on, as I have done, straight onto another block pillaged from my brother [ok, borrowed, and this one he suggested I take, but that doesn't have quite the same power to it]: The Day of the Triffids. No, not some odd half-remembered memory from early in my childhood [they were green, and like dinosaur tails which wobbled, not that I've ever seen dinosaur tales], although I'm guessing it was based on this book. Either that or there are some remarkably poor copyright lawyers out there.

I'm not very far into the book, and already some aspects are amusing, such as the quaint 1950s fear of the Cold War, and the bizarre wranglings betwixt east and west [what do you mean "Ukraine"?]. And others are oddly familiar. Could the writers of 28 Days Later have read the book perchance? One starts with a man awaking in an apparently abandoned hospital, and the other is strangely similar. Admittedly, our man in the 1950s sci-fi is encountering people quicker, and the mysterious affliction isn't quite the same. But still, one experiences a certain deja-vu [but not really presque-vu, and certainly not jamais-vu].

And with that I got distracted, by an H2G2 (it used to be big, think Wikipedia with a [often dubious] sense of humour. That was pre-BBC, or being revealed as BBC) piece on deja-vu. Apparently someone Swiss has broken déjà-vu into two distinct forms: déjà-vecu and déjà-visité. The former being what I usually mean by déjà-vu, as in catching a falling tomato whilst listening to the people in the programme on radio 4 break into French (the programme was about farmers who emigrate). But I usually tend to have dreams, which then crop up in life. I mean a dream about a bouncing tomato that runs away, whilst the radio is talking about pigs in French, well, it's just not normal, is it? And yet it was.

I know this is all supposed to be the result of synaptic confusion, which is thoroughly logical, but it just hasn't convinced me even though it should. But then I don't think I'm susceptible to things like that, but I have tendency to find myself stopped, for no reason, only to later discover that something major has happened to someone I know [such as them dying, or getting knocked off their bike]. It's physically impossible, and nonsensical, and yet, and yet.

But then one of friends is about as fey as they come. She'll walk in talking about things she can't possibly know, and has no idea how she knows them.

I would say I'm able to predict bad things, but I think it's just that my brain is in a state of constant worry, and so runs thorough so many worst case scenarios that sooner or later some will mesh with reality.

All of which distracts me from defining déjà-visité. It is the sensation that one has already been to a place. With me it usually happens in small towns in West Sussex. Which either means I am the reincarnation of a local, or that possibly there is an innate commonality to such places, and I'm quite good at picking up the subconscious signs.

I think I better stop now before I worry people by mentioning I still do "touch wood". Scientifically it's rubbish, and about it does is indicate that the room one is in has a reasonable degree interior design (just think how miserable rooms are if they are without a single wooden item).

I also believe in "tempting fate", or trying not, if you know what I mean. And yet I don't believe in fate.

"Just in case" is a very powerful argument.


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