Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rain Again

Today it rained. It didn't just rain - it REALLY rained. I was sat feeding my face with a couple of cheese toasties at lunch time when I heard a strange rushing, gushing, wind beating pitter patter noise. I looked out of the window. I could hardly see anything for rain lashing down at high speed with a gale blowing so hard my large potted plants were blowing over and the gazebo was tilting at a crazy angle.

Now I have to say that this kind of down-pour use to be very rare in this country. Today's torrent was reminiscent of what I used to experience when I was living in Singapore. Over there, the ground used to steam afterwards - no doubt still does! I am coming rapidly to the conclusion that the climate in this country is creeping ever closer to a tropical one. The summer ends later, the spring starts earlier, the winters are milder (what's snow?), and we are seeing more and more rats and other vermin which the cold used to kill off.

Being completely selfish, I don't really mind all this because given the choice between being warm or being cold I would always choose to be warm. I'm wearing a pullover now, and it's not cold! Even so, the temperature increase is only one aspect of climate change. We are going to see a lot more flooding and violent storms as the years go by. Because of the positive feedback contained in some of the climate change mechanisms, this process is going to gradually accelerate over time, and the insurance companies won't be able to keep pace and people won't be able to afford the premiums. Am I depressing you?

As for me, I shall continue to go and sit in a sauna and steam room, until the climate has changed so that I don't have to!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Late night Ramblings

I can't believe we are nearly into February already. It only seems like 30 days ago it was the beginning of January, and here we are - 30th January. How weird is that??

The wife and I went 10 pin bowling last night and we wiped the floor with the opposition which was nice. The floor is a lot cleaner now.

Tonight we stayed in and chilled. We watched "Egg Heads" as is our daily ritual. We are getting a team up at work to go on the show. I should be OK as I've managed to remember all the 6 wives of Henry VIII, so I can't fail.

I've also decided to start writing short stories, some of which I will publish on this blog. I was looking through my files earlier this evening for a short story I wrote about 4 years ago. I can't find it which is sooooooooo frustrating. All that effort and creative whatnot wasted! One day someone will come across it, claim it as their own, publish it, and make a fortune. This will be followed, no doubt, by an appearance on Jonathon Ross, followed by a film signing and finally die of a heart attack while being mobbed by adoring but hysterical fans.

It really is time I went to bed.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Photo Tips - Pets

Pets are a very common feature in most peoples family photos - "most people" in this case meaning people who own a camera and at least one pet! If you fall into this category, you are a kindred spirit, but don't let it worry you!

I'm a dog and cat person myself, or more precisely, a boxer and cat person. Now all dogs and cats are like people. They all exhibit different personalities and no one is the same. I know - I've had a number of each - (Dogs and cats that is - not personalities). It seems to me that trying to capture something of their personality in your photos can make the difference between a shot which is both interesting and entertaining - or just plain boring!

When I'm photographing my pets I like to get up close and personal. Getting down to their level can also make a big difference, adding impact to the resulting image. Sometimes, an eyeball to eyeball perspective can also hit the spot!

The two photographs here show Fred the cat and Sally our beloved boxer. I photographed Fred in Cyprus when I was stationed at Ayios Nikolaos with the Air Force. He loved to laze around in the dirt in the heat of the sun. I had intended to get a shot of him sleeping, but he suddenly sat up and let out a big yawn. Siezing the opportunity, I snapped the shot. I entered the photo in a local competition and won! No, I wasn't the only entrant. The other shot, this time of Sally; I took a few months ago for an on-line portrait gallery of rescued dogs run by the rescue association we got her from. When not bouncing excitedly around, she loves to just flop in her bed with her head lolling over the edge. This shot is very typical of the way we see her a lot of the time, and I believe gives a clue to her personality.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ink me up, Spotty

As a digital photographer I have forsaken the messy world of chemicals and its attendant COSSH (Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health), and the expensive world of having to buy a film every time I've pressed the button 36 times. I used to be a purist, insisting that digital hadn't caught up with film. However, I'm sorry to disappoint you remaining shrinking band of purists out there, but the world has changed and digital, in my view has not only caught up with film, it has completely overtaken it. It's just a question of how much of your hard earned cash you want to spend to get the quality. I am quite prepared to spend a decent amount of money on a digital camera because I take an awful lot of photographs. Add all that film and film processing costs together and the FACT that I get better results than I did with film, it’s a real no-brainer to see why I have left the purist/traditionalist set.

Anyway, this is not really why I have decided to write anything this evening - it's just related. Because I am a digital photographer I occasionally print out my photographs as I do occasionally like to frame, or stick in a "do it yourself " calendar from "Paper Chase" a hard copy of the occasional masterpiece which either I or my wife produce with such indolent ease from time to time. Now, what I am rapidly trying to hone into here is the extortionate rip-off prices us hard pressed digital photographers are being charged for our inks. I needed some more ink for my Canon printer. I strode into good ole' Staples and bought for about £19 a pack of three - inks that is. The black I bought separately. Now, being a perfectionist snob and not wanting to cut corners or settle for second-best, I insist on using genuine Canon inks or nothing. I did try and do printing on the cheap, using third party ink cartridges, but the results were shit. Actually, the results were worse than shit. I preferred my own (not anyone else's) shit to the results I was getting with these third party inks. The main problem was the blacks just weren't really black, and the colours had no real vibrancy to them. However, I was walking to some town called Damascus one day, and I was suddenly blinded by a great light. I fell on my knees and I heard a voice inside my head saying "Steve, Steve, why are you such a cheapskate git? Get your arse this moment down to Staples and buy genuine Canon inks lest I smite you even unto the tenth generation thereof, with shitty prints."

"Yes Lord" (at this point I assumed the CEO of Canon had invaded my psyche) I said, "for it is hard to kick against the pricks" (or the shitty prints). And with that I wondered for forty days and forty nights looking for a shop of righteousness called Staples which would sell me a genuine Canon Ink cartridge at a reasonable price.

Now I mentioned earlier that one reason you might want to print out photographs is to put into a calendar. I did this very thing just before Christmas and produced a very nice personalised calendar which I gave, along with other things, as a present to my Mum. Having used up a lot of ink (all the prints were 10"x8") I needed some more ink. My local Staples had sold out. I went into town and visited some of our friendly local shops for local people and could hardly believe the outrageous prices I was being asked. In each case, I told the shop assistant I wasn't buying it and I felt they were ripping me off. Today, I decided to go into Staples and PC World in Peterborough. They had sales on. However, even if they hadn't had sales on the cost of the inks would still have been substantially cheaper than if I had bought from my friendly local High Street stores. Anyway, I ended up spending around £24 on ink cartridges which would have cost me the best part of £60 at my local rip-off stores. Now, I know the local independent stores or even small-chain stores are the first to complain about "out of town" shopping centres taking away their businesses. Well, I'm sorry, but shopping is not a charitable activity, and as far as I am concerned its about getting the best you can for the least you can pay for it and if the "local" shops don't like it, well tough, because that's business.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Spaced out

I would like to travel to another world. By world, I mean another planet. I don't care whether it has any life on it or not, just the novelty of being somewhere completely different will do. I nearly said somewhere completely alien, but I didn't. Everyone uses the word alien when talking about other worlds or life forms in space, but I don't because I like to be different. Maybe being different is just another form of being alien. However, I suppose being alien actually has a smattering of meaning about it which relates to being "other worldly". That’s not the case with me though; I'm different because I don't use the word alien. There you are - I haven't used it so don't even try and pretend I have.

Anyway, I would like to travel to other planets because it is the stuff of dreams, science fiction, and near-future non-fiction. The space industry, though fledgling is really gearing itself up now to kick ass into space in a much bigger way than before, and before we know where we are people having commercial leisure trips into space will be commonplace. Even so, it will still be a long time before we start taking holidays on Mars without a Quantum leap in propulsion technology because it just takes too damn long to get there at the moment. To a space tourist, a three day journey time to the moon is bad enough, but several months holed up in a space ship to get to Mars is something else. Now here's a thought - what if we can start producing anti-matter and unleashing its 100% efficient power to propel us through space? That should speed things up all right. Or better still, being able to exploit zero point energy from space itself??

Now you might think I'm talking crazy here and that none of this is ever going to happen. I'm not so sure. I remember when I was a young teenager (I guess all teenagers are young), when I think back to the technology we relied upon in those days, it seems almost stone age compared to what we take for granted today. Forget computers - look at television (I guess you DO look at television - or watch it anyway). Back in the 60's they were low res 405 lines black and white with three channels if you were lucky. Then it went 625 lines colour. I used to watch it just because it was colour. It didn't matter that I wasn't interested in what was on or the programme was complete crap, it was in colour damn it and that meant you had to watch it and feel very smug and superior in the face of those who still made do with black and white. I guess it's like the difference between dial-up and broad band today. Anyway, I think you catch my drift. Then the screens started to get wider, then the sound went to stereo and satellite and cable came along with squillions of new channels and millions of adverts to watch. Then digital and interactive TV arrived. Then the screens got flat. Then the cathode ray tube (CRT) did a disappearing act and the TVs turned into panels, and all of a sudden 625 lines weren't enough and we were all exalted to convert to High Def (HD) TV. Then, I read in the paper (so it must be true) last week that Philips is launching a 3-D TV onto the market this very month!!! 3-D TV is the next big thing. Get a big enough screen, and you can pretend you are on the Holodeck. As you can see, TV today bares little resemblance to the TV of my youth, apart from perhaps Blue Peter and Coronation Street. Everything else has change almost out of all recognition. Even the news readers have to stand up and walk around in front of panoramic projections while the poor weather reporter has to freeze his balls off or freeze her tits off in the Blue Peter garden!

I am only using TV as an analogy for how much and how quickly things advance before you even realise it. If you look at the world of computing, that has totally grown out of all recognition to the ZX-80 which Sir Clive Sinclair proudly unleashed into our homes in 1980. Now we think nothing of playing around with computers in our houses with far greater computing power than building sized main frames costing many millions of pounds and not very long ago. Now, if you add up all that additional computing power, the political determination of certain governments not to allow certain other governments to steal a march on them in space, as well as the commercial pressure for the new emerging space tourism companies to out-do each other, the massive advances being made in sub-atomic particle physics and the potential for new and undreamed of new sources of power, it all adds up to the dawning of a new age in space exploration, exploitation, or just plain going into space for the fun of it.

To finish on a deeper and more serious note, if mankind is to ultimately survive for any substantial amount of time in terms of the life of the universe, it is essential that we inhabit space and find new worlds and other star systems to live in. We will probably even build our own artificial worlds as well. Why - because the Sun is doomed and us with it if we don't act. We don't have to hurry particularly at the moment as we have another (so we think) billion years or so before we start noticing any real changes in the sun which - it is predicted - will eventually use up all its hydrogen fuel and swell into a giant star, filling most of the view of our sky. The Earth will lose all its atmosphere, the seas will boil away and our planet will be left a charred cinder orbiting a dying star. Now THAT'S what I call global warming!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Writer's Block New Year Blues

I have decided to sit down and write, although I know not what about. Its a New Year and I should be approaching it in a positive manner and to admit that I am suffering from "Writer's Block" would be a rather negative admission, so here we go - onwards and who the hell knows where? Talking of Hell, the world didn't get off to such a brilliant start did it? - what with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and now all the trouble in Kenya. The sight of machete wielding savages on the streets does nothing for my faith in human nature, nor my non-existent desire to visit Africa. Also, we had better watch out in Pakistan. If an Al Qaida supporting Islamist government comes to power - with nuclear weapons - then we are heading for a holocaust. Happy New Year.

I was very disappointed with the Christmas TV offerings this year. I thought they were absolute pants. To escape the fast encroaching plunge into the abyss of catatonic cerebral neurosis, I went to the cinema to see "The Golden Compass". I thought the film was brilliant, very entertaining and visually stunning. I am told the book is a lot darker and that the story has been lightened up to make it more child friendly. Being one who likes dark literature, I've bought a copy of the book which I shall be reading just as soon as I've finished reading Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons." Talking of demons, why do the TV channels only seem to put on films I want to watch late at night when I'm either too tired to watch them or cannot stay up because I've got to get up and go to work the next morning. I could record the film (of course), but I don't bother because my life is so full of other things (like going to the cinema) that I just know I will never get around to watching it. The film, in case you were wondering and are still actually reading this, was "Exorcist - The Beginning". This was a prequel to the 1970's film "The Exorcist" which at the time was blamed for people committing suicide having seen it. Priests and others who should have known better campaigned and demonstrated against the film. This, of course, only had the effect of ensuring that far more people went to see it than might otherwise have done. I really loved the film, the more Satanic and scary the better as far as I'm concerned and I loved the projectile sick scene - wonderful! I have a copy of the film which I watch from time to time when I'm feeling low and want to cheer myself up.

Sticking to the subject of scary films, I also went over the Christmas period to see Will Smith in "I am Legend". I have nothing but superlatives for this film as well as the faultless acting of Will Smith. The sets and special effects in this film are astonishingly convincing, and the story line ain't half bad either. If you like to be shocked out of your seat, go and see this film.

Well, that's it then. I hope all my readers out there had a happy Christmas and I wish you all the very best for the New year. Watch this space.............