I have a good fwiend in Wome - Part One

Two weeks ago I arrived in Rome for my very first visit to a country outside the UK that isn’t the USA. Hard to believe really, here I am, very nearly 40 years old and I’d never been elsewhere within Europe. And that impending 40th birthday was the reason for the trip. My sister had very generously offered me an all expenses trip to Rome to celebrate my big “four oh”.

We flew from Liverpool to Ciampino on RyanAir. This is going to hit my carbon footprint a little, I mean £7.99 to fly out, £0.01 for the return journey. Crazy! It costs me more than that to travel one way to London on the train, a journey of only 100 miles. As the flight was leaving at 06:30 and my sister lives in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, I had driven up to The Potteries the night before. We’d be getting up at about 03:00 to make sure we made it to John Lennon Airport two hours before the flight. This little nugget about Newcastle-Under-Lyme, The Potteries, Stoke-On-Trent, whatever - it will be mentioned again in part two.

All went to plan with the flight and I was soon admiring views of The Alps out of the plane window. Being used to trans-Atlantic flights it seemed like a short hop to Rome, and also a novelty to have land below us for most of the journey. We stepped out of the airport into a gloriously bright and sunny day, catching a shuttle bus that runs non-stop between Ciampino and the Stazione Termini in the middle of Rome. As we pulled out from the airport “Imagine” came onto the radio, fitting considering the airport we had flown out from not long before. It took the bus half an hour to deposit us safely in the city centre. During the journey my eyes were popping : bits of aqueduct popped up everywhere, continental architecture, exotic plants - and graffiti… There seemed to be graffiti scrawled in every available space. This had a somewhat detrimental effect upon my first impression of Rome, but it wasn’t enough to cool my excitement and it was something that my brain soon learned to filter out.

We were staying in a B&B a few minutes walk away from the Stazione Termini, near Porta Pia. This turned out to be a great location, just a few minutes walk from the nearest Metro station but to be honest it was only 30 minutes walk right into the centre of Rome, so we tended to walk most of the time.

Our rooms were on the 5th floor and were large and airy. Mine had a balcony that for some reason was fully equipped with gnomes, something I had always thought was only a British eccentricity. The view was only of the houses opposite, but I didn’t mind that. Most of the time I would be here I would be asleep and the bed was large and comfy.

After settling in to our rooms it was around mid-day and it was time to head off into Rome and see some places that I had only ever dreamed of seeing before now - which is where I will pick up again in part two!

As a closing note, I had harbored thoughts of making blog postings during my visit. This really would have been the correct way to go about things. I took my laptop with me, primarily to download my photos to during the visit. However, if I was able to pick up an open WiFi connection from the B&B then I thought I’d post some things here. I couldn’t find an open WiFi connection and I didn’t want to waste time lugging my laptop to a WiFi enabled cafe or similar. To be honest it was nice to be ‘offline’ for a bit anyway, and I wanted to make the most of my time in Rome seeing, doing and experiencing. The blog entries could wait. Although I must admit that I didn’t think that they would wait for two weeks!

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A Week Late

It has been a busy couple of weeks. And some of it has been good busy! I’m a week late writing about this trip to the British Museum, I was down there on Saturday 11th August as part of the Tips From The Top Floor London Get Together 7 (GTG 7).

I have been longing to get down to the British Museum ever since I got my DSLR about 2 and a half years ago. Being keen on history and prehistory a place like this is “Squonky Heaven”. I could quite happily wander around the place for days on end.

The shot above shows the old Round Reading Room of the British Library post ‘make-over’. I had visited once since the the Great Court was opened in 2000, but not with my camera and I was looking forward to seeing what shots I could get of that amazing glass roof (designed by Norman Foster). The way the light falls through that roof is magical. With a bit of sun it creates some wonderful geometric shadows.

Every time I see the Reading Room I can’t help but stop and think about the great minds who have used it over the years : Marx, Orwell, Gandhi, Wilde… Of course it is no longer the main reading room of the British Library as that moved 10 years ago to a new building next door to St. Pancras Station.

Apart from the delights of the Great Court, there are of course many wonderful objects to point a lens at within the museum collections. The Ancient Egyptian galleries are usually my first point of call, and after my initial look a the Great Court, that is where I wandered off to next. I didn’t manage to get close to the Rosetta Stone all day - there was a continual stream of guided tours and as the day progressed the place got busier and busier. I’m glad that I got there early for my shots of the Great Court. Although the exhibitions open at 10am on a Saturday, the buildings are open from 9am and I would heartily recommend that anyone who is after some un-cluttered shots of the Great Court go well before the exhibitions open.

I was delighted to find myself once more confronted by the Lewis Chess Men. These are some of my very favourite pieces within the museum collection. A little over a year ago I was amazed to find that Leicester’s New Walk Museum had some of them on loan for a while. However, while they were in Leicester I wasn’t permitted to take photographs of them. Here at the British Museum there was no such problem.

Although there was no restriction on photography, it was still quite tricky to get a decent shot. Low light, glass cases, lots of people around, no tripod and of course objects displayed without photography in mind with respect to their arrangement. I used my Canon 50mm f1.8 quite a lot that day. Opened wide at f1.8 it lets in a reasonable amount of light, though I was still having to bump up the ISO to 400 and 800 at times. I hate noise! Well, I hate noise that is imposed upon me. I do have a liking for grainy, high contrast black and white, but I like to decide when I’ll see grain. Digital noise, although analogous to grain in terms of the reasons it appears, somehow doesn’t give me the same feeling.

I managed to get a few acceptable snaps of the Lewis Chess Men, including one of these little guys chewing his shield (photo above) which I think is my favourite from all of them. What I love about these figures is the incredible expressiveness they exude. And maybe they take me back to my childhood and memories of Noggin The Nog. I also have a love of the place where they were discovered, the Isle of Lewis, so seeing them again took me back there too.

As usually seems to be the case whenever I visit London, I wore myself out. I stayed at the museum all day before finally heading out to get the train home. I’d decided to eschew the Tube for the day. It’s only about 15 or 20 minutes walk from the British Museum to St. Pancras, even with tired feet. Hopefully next time I’m down there I’ll have Shelly with me - she seems to have inherited Daddy’s love of ‘Old Things’, and particularly Ancient Egypt for the last year or so. I can just see her face when she walks in and sees the colossal head of Ramesis II.

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Got Sensor Dust? : Part 2

It’s a little while now since I wrote here that I was going to be giving Sensor-Film a try to get rid of some stubborn dust on the sensor of my 20D.

I finally got around to giving it a go a couple of nights ago. I had been kinda psyching myself up for it. Somehow the idea of painting gunk onto my sensor was making me nervous.

I practiced on the surface of a CD first and all went swimmingly well. So, it was time to do it for real.

I made sure my battery was fully charged to ensure that my shutter would stay open for the requisite drying time, then putting the camera into cleaning mode I got to work. The main difficulty is that the sensor is of course a little way into the body of the camera. Working within the chamber was a bit tricky, and I can’t emphasize enough that you need good light to work by.

I started to paint on the Sensor-Film, which has a texture similar to runny honey. This was the part where I felt that I must be nuts. Painting gunk onto my sensor! Once I had a nice even coating over the sensor I let it dry for about half an hour. At that point I needed to attach a strip of paper to the Sensor-Film to allow me to pull it off the sensor at the end of the operation.

For me, this was the trickiest bit. I hadn’t had a problem doing this when practicing with the CD, but now I had the added difficulty of trying to attach the strip of paper to something at the bottom of a hole. After several attempts and a few curses I got the removal strip where I wanted it and started to wait again.

Giving it another half hour to dry I decided it was time to try and pull the Sensor-Film off. I started to pull the paper strip with a pair of tweasers… and then disaster, the strip of paper came away from the main body of the film, tearing the film in the process. Ugh!

I attached another strip of paper and settled down to wait for it dry again. This time I think I gave it a good 40 minutes before trying to pull off the film.

I was a little nervous as I could see that the film had ripped and I imagined that I was quite likely to have a portion of the film left stuck to my sensor. That isn’t really a big problem as such, if that happened I could just paint on some more Sensor-Film which would bond with the portion left over and I should then be able to pull the whole lot out together. However, it was getting late at night by now, and I was tired and I just wanted to get into bed.

Fortunately all of the film came away cleanly. It really is quite strong stuff once it has dried.

So, I now have a sparkling clean sensor on my camera, for a little while at least.

How do I rate Sensor-Film? Pretty highly! It’s an ingenious idea and it really does clean your sensor very well indeed. All the little specks of dust are trapped within the film as it dries and get removed with the film when you pull it out. I will admit that I am still a little nervous about painting gunk onto my sensor. I think the main worry there is that I might have the shutter close on me while I’m painting the stuff on, causing expensive damage to the shutter. Other than that, I have no qualms at all about using this method. And the price is very good when compared to other methods. The 30ml bottle cost me about €20 plus P&P. 30ml might not sound a lot, but this amount will last me a long time. I will continue to do the majority of my sensor cleaning using my air blower, only using Sensor-Film once in a while to give a really good clean. But even if I was using this once a week then I think the 30ml would possibly last me a couple of years.

Great cleaning method, but it does take quite a bit of time to perform (mainly in terms of waiting for the stuff to dry).

Note, I didn’t take any photos of the process, but you can find some over at the Sensor-Film web site.

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Mug Shot

three mugs.jpg

I actually won something!

I know, I’m still recovering from the shock. I think the last time I won anything was a copy of some third rate ZX Spectrum game from Crash magazine in around 1983… Oh, I guess there was that ‘Idiot of the Day’ award I won at my employer’s annual management meeting a few years back *cough*, enough said…

I won a Limited Edition, Tips From The Top Floor 200th Show mug! I bought the original TFTTF mug, and the 100th Show mug, so the 200th Show mug is in good company. The other two have become my favourite mugs, my comfy mugs, the ones I always reach for first.

And of course they get out and about a bit from time to time, which is where this contest all sprang from. It has become a little game for listeners to Tips From The Top Floor to take photos of a TFTTF mug in all kinds of places. You can see a selection here on Flickr.

My personal haul of TFTF ‘Mug Shots’ includes one taken at Leicestershire’s very own giant mug, Old John, a couple at Stonehenge, a couple at Avebury, one at Silbury Hill and a very warped one on which I used the ‘amazing circle‘ technique a couple of years back.

I’ve not had the chance to get out and about with the new one yet, but rest assured that I will be doing so. I think I could do worse than to head back to Old John on a somewhat nicer day, especially since I now have a very nice ultra wide angle lens that would make this kind of shot a doddle (huge depth of field).

Oh, and my Sensor-Film arrived today! I’ve not had a go with it yet however. I need to find a clean paint brush and a pair of (preferably plastic) tweezers before I can give my 20D’s sensor a clean with it. I’ll probably wait for the weekend now to have my first attempt at sensor cleaning using this method (it just got the usual blast with my air bulb before I shot the mugs tonight).

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Got Sensor Dust?

For quite a while now the sensor of my Canon 20D has been afflicted by at least one rather large blob of dust or some other alien matter which my usual technique of using an air blower has failed to remove. I’ve been living with it. It’s easy enough to photoshop the resulting blob out of a picture and it only tends to show up in the sky, or some other fairly uniformly coloured part of an image. A sample is shown below. This is a 100% crop of part of the sky from a photo I took yesterday. The blob is centre frame.

Sensor dust tends to show up more when you’re using a smaller aperture. The shot above however was taken at an aperture of only f9. I don’t mind too much if it only shows up at like f16 or above as I don’t very often use smaller apertures.

Well, as it is refusing to budge using my air blower I’m going to have to take a more drastic step. I’ve just ordered a wee bottle of ‘Sensor-Film‘ after hearing it discussed and enthused over on Tips From The Top Floor.

I intend to report my experiences of using this stuff here so there will be a follow-up posting in a few days time.

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Back in the garden

flayed stone ii.jpg

Well, Leicester’s Harold Martin Botanic Gardens anyway!

Today the sun came out and it was my first chance to pop down the road to see this year’s collection of sculptures. They’ve been putting on ‘Sculpture in the Garden’ for several years now, and as the place is just a stone’s throw from home it is often one of my favourite places to wander around with my camera - not only are there the sculptures, there’s all the trees, flowers and other features that are in the gardens anyway.

The photo above is a detail from a work by Peter Randall-Page entitled ‘Flayed Stone II’. He has used a boulder of glacial erratic granite to create the piece, carving concentric coils into the surface. I really enjoyed the way the ridges created these shadows.

I’ll be returning again and again over the summer to explore the shapes and textures in all kinds of different lighting conditions and to capture as many of the sculptures as I can (or at any rate as many of them as I find interesting).

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It Lives


I can’t believe how long it has been since I last made a posting here. The first rule of blogging - make sure you update your blog regularly. Whoops!

I’ve been busy. Very busy. Very, very busy. It has been the busiest period at work that I can remember in my 20 year career to date. Lots of long stressful days. Now, everyone has that from time to time, but it has been week after week of it and still several weeks to go I think.

As I write I’ve still not had a week off from work yet this year. And it’s June… Very nearly half way through the year, so I’m going to have my whole year’s allocation of holiday time to fit into just half of the year. I guess that should mean a good second half to the year - certainly should be better than the first!

Amid all this frantic activity I have managed to pull in some fun. A couple of days spent with friends and a few visits to places I like. This has helped to keep me sane.

My walking commute has taken a bit of a hit during this busy period. I’ve been working long hours and I’m both mentally and physically exhausted. As a consequence I’ve only been managing maybe one day walking to work in a week. I am still losing my bulk though! I’ve lost a further two inches from my waist making it a grand total of six inches gone since I started walking. I feel good about that, but nervous that I might start to slip back unless I can get back to my normal three or four days walking per week. I was really hoping that by now I’d be walking it every day. Ah well.

The photo at the top of this post was taken during a visit to Bolsover Castle a couple of weeks ago. It was a dark and wet day, but I had been working like a mad thing and I just needed to get out of the house, on my own, with my camera. I had to force myself to go, but I’m so glad I did. I had such a blast and it really helped me to unwind.

I will make an effort to get back to regular postings here again, but that all depends on me having something to say more than ‘really rough day at work today’.

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The Wonders of Wigston

time creeps by

Having lived in Wigston all of my life it seems that I seldom feel like it’s worth taking any photographs there. Indeed the ‘town centre’ of Wigston is pretty unlovely. Just the usual array of modern facias on your average high street stores.

However, today I thought I’d head for a short walk around Wigston with my camera and see what I could find. I headed to one of the places where some of Old Wigston survives - All Saints Church. A wedding was underway at the time, so I couldn’t really wander inside, but I did spend quite a while in the churchyard. I was pretty pleased with the shot shown at the head of this posting. The ivy trailing all over the headstones was irresistible.

Alas, All Saint churchyard is one of those that was ‘re-landscaped’. Years ago all the headstones were moved off to the edge of the churchyard leaving just a wide green swathe of grass with some flower beds. I suppose it makes it easier to cut the grass, but I really can’t understand why this was done. It does spoil the character of the church. And All Saints is actually quite an interesting building from what I remember.

One thing that I ‘remembered’ was that local highwayman, George Davenport was buried here after his hanging. I’ll have to check up on that. I could have sworn that one of the headstones propped up by the wall was that of George Davenport, but to be honest I’ve probably not ventured into this church yard since I was about 13 or 14 years old. A lot can change in 25 years - memories not least! Whatever the circumstances, I spent quite a while scanning the headstones with no luck.

I’ve always been interested in history, and indeed probably more so in prehistory. Today, wandering around some of the older parts of my home town I felt a rekindling of interest in Local History. Is that a sure sign of having hit middle age?

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Photoshop Pricing

For quite a while now I’ve been looking forward to the release of Photoshop CS3. Finally, Adobe get around to supporting Intel Macs - after we’ve all been using them for a year - and how long after Apple announced the move to Intel?

At the same time I’ve been dreading the thought of how much it was going to cost.

I do have a perfectly legal Photoshop CS2 license for the Windows version of the software. Adobe very generously offer the chance to transfer that license over to Mac for just the cost of supplying the media. However, this is something I can’t do as I happen to have lost a receipt for one of my earlier Photoshop purchases. No original receipt - no license transfer. Fair enough I suppose.

So, if I want Photoshop on my Mac I’m going to need to buy the full package rather than the upgrade.

Earlier today I took a look on the Adobe online store and saw that Photoshop CS3, full edition would cost me £569.88. That’s for the boxed version. For some odd reason the download version would cost me £586.85. Humm, so I get to pay £16.97 extra for the privilege of not having a box, a CD or a manual and spending the time and bandwidth to download it?

Putting this oddity aside I went to see how much it would cost in the USA.

The US boxed edition would be $649.00.

Time for a bit of maths. The current exchange rate is 1.96735 Dollars to the Pound (taken from BBC Market Data). This would make the US price £329.89.

So, the exact same product, bought in the UK will cost me £256.96 more?

77.89% more?

Adobe, just what am I getting in return for paying 77.89% more than your US customers? Please do tell me.

Ah, I guess I should take VAT into account. VAT stands at 17.5%. Adobe’s store tells me that’s £485.00 excluding VAT.

That’s still £155.11 more than in the USA - and assuming that the US price doesn’t include any kind of sales tax. I know that for you guys over The Pond that varies state by state.

And it’s not just the UK where these rip off prices seem to be applied. Checking around the rest of Europe shows Photoshop CS3 at €899.00 before any local taxes. That’s $1,201.78 or £610.06 - yikes - even more than the UK!?!

Of course, it’s not just Adobe who are playing this game. Windows Vista will cost you about the same in Sterling as it will in Dollars.

Well, I decided that my Windows usage was going to end with XP - and it has.

Now is it time for me to say that my Photoshop usage will end with CS2?

Right now it appears so. Sure it would be lovely to be running CS3 on my Mac, and I’ve been running the beta for a little while now. Works very nicely. But I still have a Windows PC sat under the desk, gathering dust. Quite a capable Windows PC and one that I have a license to run Photoshop CS2 on.

Maybe it’s time for me to look quite seriously into The Gimp? Free vs £570?

Meanwhile, anyone who reads this and thinks that this pricing policy is nuts could do worse than head over to this online petition.

I seriously doubt anything will change. But if US software houses continue to treat European markets with this kind of disrespect then I think they’re going to be finding a lot of people looking for alternatives.

Personally I refuse point blank to pay that much more than our friends in the USA for Photoshop. Okay, I might need to go buy a Big Book to train myself up with The Gimp - but that is going to be so much more cost effective.

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Thick as a Brick

I’m just back from a rare night out this evening. Jethro Tull were playing Leicester’s De-Montfort Hall for the first time in ooh, 35 years I think. I met up with friends there and enjoyed a great evening of music as the ‘Acoustic Tull’ line-up played to what must have been a full house.

The full line up :-

  • Ian Anderson
  • Martin Barre
  • John O’Hara (keyboards)
  • David Goodier (bass)
  • James Duncan (drums)
  • Anna Phoebe (violin)

Ian seems to be ‘doing good’ for what I guess his age must be now. He seemed just as active on stage as ever and those oh so distinctive vocals rang clear and true. I was very impressed with Anna Phoebe on violin which added a different dimension to many of the well known Tull numbers which had received reworks of varying degrees for the acoustic set up.

Songs such as ‘Living in the Past’, ‘Thick as Brick’, ‘Dun Ringill’ (see the actual Dun Ringill here), ‘Aqualung’, ‘Locomotive Breath’ were interspersed with a handful of Anna Phoebe’s material and the odd Anderson and Barre solo number. It all went together very nicely.

It had been years since I last saw Tull play live. Trying very hard to remember when it was, and I think it was on the J-Tull Dot Com tour, so maybe not as very long ago as I thought. Still several years. It was a real treat to have them play Leicester - previous encounters had involved trips to Nottingham or Manchester.

Time to go get some more Tull onto my iPod!

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