Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Ghost of Christmas Present

This is about the closest thing you'll get to a Christmassy post this year, I'm afraid, and I make no apologies for that. You know I'm not one for posting the same stuff everyone else is, so you might like this as a welcome-but-still-themed break from the more traditional festivities in blogland.

 I'm staying at my grandparents' house for a bit, and they've decorated for the festive season. One of their decorations is a string of red bells that hang between some of the photo hooks in their living room. During the day these bells hang still, but in the evening...

To clarify, those bells are 'ringing' all by themselves. They haven't been given a flick before hitting record: you'll notice that the oscillation does not slow down, and that ticking you can hear is the bell that's closest to the camera repeatedly hitting the glass of the photo frame. These collisions alone should do something to dampen the oscillations but as you can hear and see, they're continuing apace.

So what's the deal? I won't post it here because I think a few of you will like to get your noggins around this one. As a hint, there's a key piece of information that I've left out and isn't apparent from the video that goes some way to explaining this apparently supernatural phenomenon. Have a think, maybe ask some questions in the comments, and I'll post my assessment of things down there in a bit.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ma's Corsetry

My mum's trying to start up a corset business, and she's made a few, one of which was modelled by Vicke, my brother's girlfriend, earlier. I had my camera with me, so took the chance to grab a couple of snaps. I've sent the half decent ones to my mum, but I quite liked this shot of Vicke's head in the background, with her blurry back in the foreground.

I still haven't had a chance to properly play with the new lens.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

New Lens - 55-200mm Nikkor

It was my birthday on Wednesday* and Emma kindly furnished me with a brand-spanking-new lens for my camera. It's a 55-200mm Nikkor lens, for those of a cameraly disposition, or something a bit zoomier than before for those who aren't. I haven't had much of a chance to play with it, but I took a couple of experimental snaps whilst my old Mathssive buddies (including Neil) were here on a surprise birthday visitation, by which I was considerably heartwarmed after a pretty rubbish birthday week.

Beth's classroom. I particularly like the Evil-Teacher-Prince-With-Aspirations-Of-World-Domination's enormous, silent and thoroughly terrifying pet duckling. It has a mouth below its beak, but you can't see that here.
Neil was taking photos of me taking photos of him taking photos of me taking photos of him. There was a moment in which we thought this may set up an infinite recursion solved only by the Universe devouring itself, but this turned out to be an unfounded worry and everything was o.k in the end.
One thing I hadn't thought of, but strikes me as completely obvious with hindsight, is that with a zoomier lens it appears that I need slower shutter speeds with all other things being equal compared to my other kit lens. I'm looking forward to being able to try it out on more suitable subjects**!

* 30, if you're interested. No, I didn't have a good time, but I did find out how old I'd be elsewhere in the Solar System.
** This does not extend to privately holidaying members of the British Royal Family.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Photopost: Warwick Castle

On the last Sunday of the school summer holiday I went to Warwick Castle with Emma, my friends Jo and Neil, and their daughter, Beth. Here are some things I saw and did. As usual, these are the highlights and there are more here.

Warwick Castle's front door
I'm struggling a bit when the sky's really bright. I can't seem to figure out how to get the foreground bright enough whilst retaining some of the sky's texture. I took another photo with a slightly slower shutter speed, and whilst the castle was brighter, the sky was washed out which affected the entire photograph.

Some of the inner workings of the castle's water mill
Despite having been to Warwick Castle a number of times, I hadn't realised that it had a water mill which was used for generating electricity for the castle before it was connected to the national grid. It works now, and there was even a point that you could use to charge your phone from the water mill (if it was working) or the mill's batteries (if it was not). Unfortunately, this needs updating as some of the connectors are all but obsolete, and there wasn't one to fit my phone (mini- USB).

A peacock outside the water mill
This peacock was preening itself just outside the water mill, with the castle's working trebuchet in the background. It was almost as if this bird had been employed to sit and pose for photo opportunities.

Some fire
Our trip to the castle was on the last day of the season's jousting events. While we were a bit far away for my meagre zooming capabilities to get much in the way of actual jousting action, I managed to snap this bit of fire produced as a part of the pre-actual-jousting events.

I befriended this duck by giving it a chip. It wanted more, and wouldn't leave me alone afterwards. It reminds me of a riddle that goes like this: What's the difference between a duck? Answers on a postcard (or in the comments), please.

Nobody tosses a rat
One of the more surprising activities available to children at Warwick Castle is something which can only properly be titled Flinging Rats Through a Hole on a Stick. They're not real rats, though. I think.

Compare this photo to this one on Neil's Flickr photostream. We were standing next to each other at the time. A heartwarming tale of friendship and shared experiences, no?

Helen Mirren was there too.

Is that painting yours? It's rubbish
Fans of Oblique Exposure (from my good friends Jenny and Carlos) might recognise this mirror

A stained glass silhouette
Not to be outdone on the stained-glass window front, here's my own, though I'm not sure whether I prefer this shot, or the other one I took.

Is this cheating?
Neil's camera is more zoomierer than mine is, so I thought I'd hitch-hike on this long-shot.

Finish Him!
We watched a demonstration by the Knights of Warwick Castle that was both entertaining and educational.

There can be only one
A brave knight showing a ruthless stick no mercy
I like the fact that I caught the bit that was hewn from the stick as it departed the immediate vicinity.

Mace + brain
Another knight boshing a brain with a mace. Well, it was a lettuce, but I know plenty of people for whom the two are virtually indistinguishable.

You wouldn't argue with him
It's tricky to get decent photos where animals are concerned, especially if they're flying ones. I got a couple I'm fairly pleased with- there are a few more on my Flickr stream.

Can you spot t'wit t'who is in this photo?

Watchu lookin' at?
There are lots of peacocks wandering around the castle grounds. Some of them looked a bit dishevelled.

Ain't gettin' on no plane, fool
I liked this peacock-shaped topiary, but I'm not sure why they've been given mohawks.

I can see you!
I'm quite proud of this photo, but that's largely because of the number of attempts it took to get it: the little bugger kept ducking its head down as I pressed the shutter release.

Emma, Beth, Neil, and a mediaeval siege weapon. Oh, and Jo.
I'm trying to take more photos of people as I know that people make interesting photo subjects - I do enough people-watching when I'm not behind a lens - but I struggle with the thought that I might look like some kind of weirdo. These are people I know, so it's not too bad, and I really like how it turned out.

I love the pose this guy is striking. Jus' chillin'
Something in his eyes transmits a primal desire to eat yours
I don't know these people, but they look comfortable
A brief surge of photographic confidence led to me snapping some people I don't know.

I'm pretty sure that somewhere on the piece of paper is the instruction "don't pull the sword out"
Here's a lady who didn't manage to pull the sword out of the stone, standing next to a guy who'd previously also succeeded in not pulling the sword out. That guy on the right is Merlin. Looks different on telly.

And here's the kid who did manage to pull the sword out of the stone. Or anvil. Much to the surprise of all concerned, most evidently on the faces of the actors, the young-un's name was Arthur.

Warwick Castle has a fully functioning trebuchet which appeals immensley to the part of me that's still nine years old. Actually launching something that's on fire from it makes my inner nine-year-old run around screaming, and demand an ice cream.

I tried to be clever and get shots of the fireball as it flew through the sky, with the trebuchet and predicted landing spot in shot at all times. I had visions of quadratic curves in my head which could be overlaid on a grid and projected for my classes to see. Unfortunately, whilst my left-right estimations were almost nearly right, my up-down spatial awareness wandered off for a bit of a sit down, and the fireball is lost somewhere quite considerably out of shot. As a wide-angled shot, however, I really like it. If you head over to Flickr there's another shot that just catches the fireball on its way back down...

And then we went home.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Things to Do in Leicestershire: Visit a T Rex!

In your mind, superimpose that spine-tingling T-Rex roar from Jurassic Park
Another joint photo-and-I've-done-something-interesting post! I'm including some of the photos below, but (as always) you can see more here.

I have lots of interests, but a good way to figure out what some of them are would be to grab a small boy and ask him what he finds interesting: space is a surefire hit, but so are dinosaurs, and that's the subject of today's Interesting Thing.

My friend Victoria is a seismologist*. She works in the Geology department at the University of Leicester, which has its very own pet Tyrannosaurus Rex**. They are actively encouraging schools to send groups of students to visit Jane (and to see some other things in the department- they have an extensive collection of rocks and fossils on show, including some meteorites!), but Victoria kindly arranged for myself and my other half, Emma, to come in and meet Jane without a gaggle of kids in tow. She was doubly-kind and arranged for us to meet Dr Jan Zalasiewicz***, senior lecturer in Palaeobiology, who knows all about Jane (as well as everything else dinosaur-related) who talked to us about her (and palaeobiology in general) and answered all of our questions.

Jane is a young adult T. Rex, standing 2.3m tall, and 6.4m long. Double these figures, and you'll get an idea what mummy and daddy were like.
To any teachers who are reading, I found Dr Jan to be knowledgeable without being overbearing: he obviously knows his stuff and is experienced and comfortable with passing it on to others, and not necessarily at the university level. He showed us one of the activities he does with younger kids (involving a very large rolled up sheet of paper with an ancient dino-wing drawn on it), which I can imagine working well with anybody, young or old, with a dino-geekery streak in them. To get in on the action, check out Jane's website and email schools liaison officer Dr Gawen Jenkin at to find out more.

There are other fossils on display, arguably the most impressive of which are these well-preserved dinosaur eggs.
After we'd finished with the fossils, Victoria took us down to the room where the meat of her work - seismology - gets done. She works for the university and maintains the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)'s seismic equipment pool (mostly seismometers, funnily enough), and part of her job involves testing the equipment when it is returned to the department.

These seismometers were being tested. Victoria showed us the readings they were given on a laptop they were connected to, and how they were effected just by jumping up and down near them. Earthquakes on the other side of the world have been detected by seismometers on test in this room!
We also headed down to Leicester's New Walk Museum and Art Gallery for a look, largely because they have a dinosaur exhibition on at the moment. This was pretty cool, but the museum doesn't allow photography, so that's a post for another day!

Part of the internal workings of a water-damaged seismometer.

* Yes, that has very little to do with dinosaurs, but keep with it.
** Unfortunately she's**** been dead for around 66 million years, but looking good for it, despite the lack of skin, flesh, internal organs, etc.
*** I recognised him, but my memory wasn't being very helpful until later in the day when I remembered seeing one of his lectures at the Space Science themed 2010 University of Leicester Homecoming. I blogged about that (and the other lectures) here.
**** Actually, they don't know whether Jane was male or female: sexing dinosaurs is tricky.
Ja(y)ne can be a boy's name too...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Photography: A Sunday Walk

I've been on a Sunday evening walk and I took my camera with me, so here's a motley assortment of dusky photographs. As always, comments, suggestions, (constructive) criticisms are all most welcome. There are a couple more images here.

Sunset. Or, rather, sky-effects round about sunset timeish.

Part of me wants to find out just where this path's limits lie - we all have them, after all.

Most of the arguments against these things are complete rubbish.

I'm still getting to grips with Moon shots. An altogether zoomier lens is definitely something I want to get my hands on: this is a heavily cropped shop. It was quite misty up there tonight, and I'm not totally dissatisfied with this shot, I'm just not sure how to get more contrasty Moon images.

It always surprises me how fast a shutter speed is needed to get a detailed image of the Moon, but I'm not sure why it surprises me. Also, taking my tripod out may well help- this was stabilised on the rail of a roadbridge.

These two cars both hit 88mph at about the same time. What are the chances?

This is probably my favourite image of the night.
I just missed a police car with its flashing blue lights, which would have looked fantastic...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Must See TV: Wakey Wakey, Drakey

I don't watch a lot of telly, but now and then something catches my attention and I make a good effort to see what it's all about. Slightly less often, I get hooked so much that I have to see it through to the end, and rarer still is the situation in which I find myself wanting the DVD box set on my shelf.

Series 3 of Ashes to Ashes is the best eight hours of television I've seen in a long time. It has drama, conflict, action, emotion and light relief all playing about a backbone of perfect comic timing and slick dialogue accompanied by a brilliant soundtrack. There's a catch, though.

Here it is: If you're going to get out of these eight hours the entertainment and enjoyment I have, you've got to see series 1 and 2 first. But more than that, you really need to kick it off with Life on Mars. That's no chore, though- all four of those series are brilliant, and I'm choosing the final series because it really is the high that more television drama should aspire to end on. Here is, without spoilers, what you're missing:

Life on Mars, series 1

It's 2006 and Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler is investigating the kidnapping of his colleague and girlfriend and, in the process, is hit by a car and knocked unconscious.

He wakes up to find he's swapped his sharp suit for a leather jacket, loud shirt and cuban heels. Storming into CID, he finds that, somehow, it's 1973, he's now a Detective Inspector working under loud-mouthed, sharp-tongued, uncouth, consistently drunk and violent DCI Gene Hunt, and alongside Hunt's team, primarily consisting of DC Chris Skelton, DS Ray Carling and WPC Annie Cartwright. Sam's methods are as alien to the team as theirs are to him, and he works hard to gain their trust whilst hearing snippets from the future on TV and radio sets.

The series deals with the relationship between Sam and Gene, with each learning from the other's wildly different style of policing. They develop a grudging respect for one another as Sam tries to answer the question "am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?" Accompanied by a cracking soundtrack of contemporary popular music, he fights to find a way back to his own time and uncovers a dark secret from his own past.

Life on Mars, series 2

Sam's still in '73, still wearing the cuban heels. and still strutting along to a fab soundtrack trying to find his way home. Gene's still quick-talking, speedy with a punch to the gut and driving too fast. Solving crimes, beating up nonces and fighting with each other as much as the criminals they're trying to catch, Sam and Gene, along with Chris, Ray and Annie, head towards an emotional climax that threatens to tear Hunt's team apart. This is the price for getting Sam home.

Still hearing voices through TV sets and radios, Sam find things out that turn his world upside down and leave him questioning if his memories are real. The ending to this series was excellent- totally unexpected, with some of our questions being answered, some being left hanging, and a truckload more being dumped in front of us.

Ashes to Ashes, series 1

It's now 2008, and Alex Drake, who has been studying Sam Tyler's report of his experiences in 1973*, is called to an incident. She's shot in the head and wakes up in 1981, quickly finding herself in the company of Ray Carling, Chris Skelton and Gene Hunt, who have been transferred from Manchester to London. Having similar experiences to Sam, Alex hears messages from the future and her fight to get home is even more desperate than Sam's as she needs to make it home for the sake of her daughter, Molly. WPC Shaz Granger is introduced as part of the team, a young woman doing her best in the overtly sexist 80s environment.

In parallel to Sam's story (there are many), Alex's journey intertwines with her own past, answering questions that she had forgotten needed answering.

Ashes to Ashes, series 2

1982 (that's the year I was born!) and the gloriously retro 80s soundtrack continues unabashed, as does Alex and Gene's love-hate relationship. Is Gene there to help Alex, or to hinder her? Should she work with him or against him? This series explores issues of police corruption as well as digging deeper into the murky depths regarding the nature of the place that Alex finds herself in, and that Sam Tyler inhabited a couple of years before.

We see the characters of Chris, Ray and Shaz developing further, with another series ender that needs to be seen to be believed: Alex goes home! Or does she?

Ashes to Ashes, series 3

It's now 1983, and here's the meat and two veg of the entire franchise. Five series of Gene Hunt come to a head with slimy bastard Jim Keats mixing things up for the team. Allegiances are brought into question, friendships are tested to their limits. Things really hot-up towards the end of the series as all of our questions are answered, and Chris, Ray and Shaz learn as much about themselves as we do. The finale is an explosion of emotions as we, along with Alex, find out, once and for all, what's really been going on for the last five series.

Forty hours of television, all watchable stories in their own right, but working together to make one of the most original and compelling tales that I've ever found myself drawn into. It's one of those series that has you hooked from the start, enjoying the episodes and trying to second-guess the writers' intentions with regards to the overarching themes - but failing. Once it's over you'll feel a sense of loss but also of completion - they did a brave thing, finishing before it got stale. The revelations will be running through your mind for days, and you'll eventually go back and re-watch it, and spot all the clues you missed the first time around.

And then, if you've got any manners, you'll come back here and thank me.

* This really isn't as much of a spoiler as it sounds. You'll have to watch Life on Mars to find out why.

Anne of Greengages

This is a bit of an experiment wherein I just waffle a bit and see where my thoughts take me. Let me know what you think, either way.

Emma just came home with some greengages. They are a fruit that I haven't encountered much. They are rather like a small, green plum. Apparently the first 'true' greengage was bred in France.

Anne of Green Gables is a novel written in the early twentieth century by Lucy Maud Montgomery, in which young orphan Anne Shirley gets sent to live with a middle-aged brother and sister at Green Gables, a farmhouse on Prince Edward Island. They wanted a boy. When I was at university, living in university accommodation (academic year 2001 - 2002), my friend Rachel* made us watch a television adaptation of this book. There have been many adaptations, but I believe this one to have been the 1985 version. I remember us laughing quite a lot at unintentional innuendo, and at the fact that Rachel had an unnerving tendency to accidentally lean on the TV remote and unwittingly change it to Channel 5, which was essentially a porn channel at the time.

Anne of Cleves was the fourth ("divorced") wife of Henry VIII. They were married on January 6th 1540, and the marriage was annulled on July 9th of that same year, on grounds of both 'non-consummation' of the marriage, and her having already been betrothed to the 10-year-old Francis of Lorraine in 1527 (though this betrothal had been cancelled in 1535). Anne died, probably of cancer, 430 years to the day before my brother was born.

* My laptop's spell-checker wants me to replace 'Rachel' with 'Tracheal'.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Photography: First Space Attempt

Don't forget you can read about (and ask questions on) spacey topics over at Blogstronomy!

Being, as I am, interested in both photography and astronomy it's a wonder that it's taken me so long to get around to mixing the two up. I've been stopped so far by a feeling that it would be hard. And I was right. I started off fiddling with different settings- I kept the aperture wide open and the D60's stock lens zoomed out, and experimented with different ISOs and shutter speeds. I found that I'd have to use longer shutter times than are catered for automatically if I wanted to use the lower ISOs.

I might experiment with star trail pics at some point, but I was trying just to get a half decent shot of the sky at this point. I found I needed a higher ISO to keep shutter times down to a point at which I wouldn't have to worry about star trails.

Another problem I had was focusing: the camera wouldn't autofocus on the sky (which didn't surprise me), but manually focusing was difficult because I couldn't see well enough through the eyepiece.

After a while I had the bright idea of auto-focusing on something closer and seeing what happened there. So I did.

And then it hit me: I could auto-focus on the house and then point at the sky without refocusing:

Which isn't a bad nonspecific starfield, I think, for a first night's shooting.

Any tips would be most welcome.

Here are my thoughts for the future:

  • Give my remote shutter release a whirl.
  • Try to get shots of some recognisable constellations.
  • Photograph the ISS.
  • Try a low ISO, extra-long exposure wide-angle shot to get some star trails.