Monday, December 14, 2015

The pie transporter

So, there I was today, sitting in Oxford's "Sheffield Pie Shop" and tucking into to one of their, rather tasty, apricot pies when I had one of those strange flashbacks to the mid-1960s. In the wink of an eye, I traversed 50 years of apricot pie eating to arrive at the classic apricot pie - Lyons Individual Apricot Pies.

These are the pies that started a 50-year addiction to apricot pies. These pies were so special that each one came wrapped in its own cardboard box and, despite the advertisement, cost 6d each, by the time I discovered them. The cunningly shaped corners ensured you never got one with broken pastry and the tangy filling was always discoverable on the very first bite.  There were other flavours, of course, including apple and strawberry, which sometimes substituted when the apricot pies were all sold out. But the apricot pie was the best - until they were discontinued in 1968. They were replaced by a round pie, the Harvest pie, which was only a 6/10 pie, unworthy to succeed the octagonal beauty of the original.

In case you doubt my claims on behalf of this pie, just type "Lyons individual fruit pies" into Google. This search will yield over 300,000 hits - 47 years after the last one was sold! These pies, which pre-date Google, the internet and even solid state computers are still being discussed in awe-filled terms, in 2015.

If you ever ate a Lyons apricot pie, then visit the Sheffield pie shop and be transported back in time ...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Content not to be haunted

A friend commented that, he tried to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack him at once.

It got me wondering, why do we feel the need to take (cope, handle, tackle) a day? Why does a day become an obstacle to be overcome, and several days seem like an impossible hurdle? Of course, as with my friend, health issues can make getting through each day difficult. But I wonder if sometimes our expectations about what each day should be like, are too idealistic, too demanding for our situation. Didn't the apostle Paul say that he had learned to be content whatever his condition? I wonder, when things get too much, if we are actually finding ourselves a little wanting in the 'contentment' department?

Many years ago, I made a conscious decision to try and cultivate contentment. Initially, I was concerned with possessions - I wanted to learn to be content with less; to live more simply. It wasn't easy to shift the goal-posts, it wasn't easy to detach from want, and less easy to let go of what I was already holding - even in an emotional sense. I don't think I was entirely successful, but I do now lead a simpler life.

A few years back, I got sick in a debilitatingly permanent way and, over time, another shifting of goal-posts occurred - a shifting of expectations about my senior years. I had to learn to be content within the limitations of my health. That didn't mean laying down and waiting to die, but it did mean not expecting too much of tomorrow. If the day turns out well, then I can grasp it and wring as much out of it as possible but, if it turns out to be a bad day, then I need to work with that; to go with the flow. As far as I know, this is the only way to embrace contentment in the midst of sickness and uncertainty.

Mentally planning tomorrow can upset contentment. If I plan tomorrow in anything but the most general of ways, then I set myself up for discontent should the day turn on me. Those who practise mindfulness or other meditative techniques understand the importance of the present moment, the 'now' in which we live. My diary contains plenty of future events which may or may not come to pass, but 'now' is the only reality; everything else, including all those future events, is imaginary - until and unless they become 'now'.

I like 'now'. Right now, I am being a writer. As a writer, I am feeling no more sick than the healthiest of you. Right now is good and I intend to experience every drop of its goodness while writing this and listening to Brooke Fraser. But, even if I were on my sick bed, it would still be for 'now'. Now is not tomorrow. Tomorrow is not 'now'; tomorrow is a dream; a spectre.  By living 'now' as fully as I am able, I can embrace contentment and prevent several days ganging up on me and haunting my life.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

That sinking feeling ...

... when you are first told that one of your children has had a car accident, is only slightly tempered by the fact that it is their own voice that is breaking the news. Even so, it is another reminder of how tenuous our grip on life actually is - we like to pretend that life can be 'managed', that we can sanitise it from interruption - accidental or otherwise; that in short we can be 'safe'. It's a myth. Living is risky, sometimes dangerous. Even something like a sightseeing helicopter flight over a glacier can never be totally 'safe' (one crashed earlier this week).

Anyway, we got the call and a couple of anxious hours later child walks through the door looking a bit worse for wear, but still standing, still walking. Thank God.

Annette and I drive to the crash site to secure anything that may have been left in the car, and we find an unrepairable wreck. A list of things to be thankful for quickly begins to emerge:


  • We are thankful that he was able to walk away from the mess and wasn't carried.
  • Thankful that it wasn't the cast iron power pole that brought the car to a halt.
  • Thankful that in crossing the road, he missed the oncoming traffic and that no one else was hit or hurt.
  • Thankful that falling asleep at the wheel wasn't the result of hard partying, but from working 16 of the last 24 hours as a hospital nurse. 
  • Strangely, I can't even feel mildly upset about the loss of the car; just thankful that it did its job of holding together well enough to protect the driver. It was a good car.

Life is very precious, abundant in its generality but unique in its individuality. There are no guarantees - every day is a gamble; a new hand of cards. Sometimes the only way to beat the odds is by knowing when to fold - please don't drive tired.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Counter-intuition

When I was first told that I could expect my life to be shorter than I had anticipated, my reaction was to think about how I could cram in all the things I still wanted to do with my life - before it was too late. Now, five years on, I have come to realise that this 'cram in as much as possible' attitude is quite wrong. Life is much too short to rush through it.

It's a quality versus quantity thing; yes, I can cram all this stuff in, but does that make my remaining years better? Short answer; "no". Slightly longer answer, "no, it just makes them busier". Life really is too short to rush - even without a deadline. Rushing causes us to miss so much of what is happening; we need to pause, mid-stride, to feel the moment, to enjoy the act of moving and sense the wonder of being alive. And, yes, to us 'busy doing stuff' people, that is totally counter-intuitive.

Last evening I dawdled on the way home from the office. There was no other traffic, the sun was shining and the beauty of the countryside that I pass through several times a week was calling for my attention. I cruised the road between the trees, enjoying the dappled sunlight, looked up at the ever-changing parade of lumpy green hills on my right and the endless vistas across the green of the Canterbury plains on my left. I rode the switchback road as though it were a fairground rollercoaster experienced in slow-motion. I thought it wonderful, I thought it beautiful, for truly it was both of those things, and I wondered at the good fortune that had brought me here and has allowed me to call this place 'home' for over twenty years.


This morning, I met an elderly, one-eyed lady. She spoke about her long-dead husband, and how she worked the farm on her own when he had gone. She told me about the kingfisher that lived up the track and the birds that come to her garden when she is hanging out her washing. She told me how she speaks to them and how she is sure that they have started to mimic her voice. "I'm probably a bit daft", she said. That's when I realised that I was speaking with someone who had learned to live in the 'in between' spaces of life. She was HAPPY in a way that many of us seek and fail to find.

These gems of happiness are found in the in-between, mid-stride, spaces. They are hidden beneath the surface, they are the things we miss when we are in a hurry. Life is much too short to rush; dawdle some, discover some of the 'happy' bits of life.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Budge up!

Annette and I were never naive enough to imagine that being a parent stopped when the fledglings left home. But, since the nest emptied a few years ago, we have become rather accustomed to 'home' being a somewhat tranquil refuge to which we can both retreat at the end of a busy day or week.

That tranquility was interrupted at the beginning of this year when our son needed a roof over his head while he finished his nursing degree. Next weekend our youngest daughter joins him as the tenancy on her flat has come to an end and a replacement is not available. And so we find ourselves having to squeeze up our 'spread-outedness' as we loose our last 'spare' room. (Please don't ask to come and stay for a while - unless the floor will do.)

No, being a parent doesn't end when they leave home and, being a parent still comes with responsibilities. So, we squeeze up and make room, not only in a physical sense but in a relational sense too; for these returning children are not the same as those that left a few years back. They return with a maturity that they didn't possess before (and some lingering immaturity that we wish they had lost). They return with new habits and traits born of their recent freedom. Their expectations are different and have a validity that often challenges our own. There is a lot of making room to be done.

So, the cars are out of the garage. The garage is now 'storage' and the oldies must remember not to walk about the house in their underwear in the mornings. So much for 'retirement' :-)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The more things change ...

Sometimes I look back and marvel at the way things have changed in my lifetime. Take mobile phones for example - they have woven themselves into the fabric of how we do life. With a short text message, we can tell others why we aren't where we were supposed to be or arrange an impromptu meet-up across the other side of town. As a result, our social arrangements have become more spontaneous and tentative in a way that would have been unimaginable half my life ago. I like it.

So, there we were having lunch when Annette says, "why don't we check out a Suzuki Splash while we are in town?". So, I pull up Trademe on the phone and sift through the list of Splashes for sale. "Here's one that looks interesting," I say, showing her the pictures of a low mileage metallic black Splash. "Let's go and look," she says, so off we trot to the car yard.

This is the point where I complete the title with "... the more they stay the same." Second-hand car salesmen. Yes, they are nearly all still 'men' and they are just the same type of men as they have always been; jovial, instantly friendly, ready to rattle off the exemplary merits of  any car you happen to be looking at, all the while assuring you that it will be perfect for your needs and the price is the keenest it's ever been. We will, of course, be lucky if the car is still on the lot after the weekend - even though I've seen it listed for at least two weeks now!

It's been quite a few years since I last danced the car-yard tango and today it just fills me with amusement at its predictability. I'm not going to play or try to trip the guy up; it's not sporting and, in any case, I quite like this young chap doing his car salesman spiel with a broad Mancunian accent in a car yard half a world away from his birthplace.

The car checks out and we return to talk about a trade. He makes a call on his mobile and, without seeing the trade, offers me a price that sounds fair. We shake (yes, they still do that) and the deal is done.

For all the changes I've seen in this wonderful, wild, world that we live in, some things really do remain the same, like second-hand car salesmen and the excitement of getting a new set of wheels.

Friday, September 11, 2015

An old monarch

It's been a week for long-lived Monarchs.  On Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning British Monarch. Also on Wednesday, only nine days into the official start of spring, I came across this beauty sunbathing amongst the blossoms.

Monarch butterflies usually live for only two to three months and it's far too early for this one to be from this year's crop.  Most likely it's an over-winterer - a late autumn butterfly that has hung out in a cluster waiting for spring. Because their metabolism slows in the cold winter months, they live for much longer than the summer butterflies, waking ready to mate and lay their eggs. It must be a good day for old Monarchs.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Irene's view

Yesterday, I showed Tillie (The Sony RX100) our mountain. Today, it was the turn of Irene, the Canon Infrared.


I liked Tillie's take on the mountain but Irene, as usual, came up with her own unique perspective on the same subject. I think it's more graphic, the mountain more present. It's a good reminder that how something appears, depends as much on how we look at it, as it does on the thing its self.

Perhaps, when life begins to look a bit flat, we need an Irene who can look at the same thing and say, "Yes, but ..."

Sunday, September 6, 2015

God, I love this place ...

Sometimes it all gets too much. As serious as the world's issues are, I just need to walk away. How many heart-wrenching refugee stories, TPPA shenanigans, Claytons flag choices and unending newsreels of human misery is too much? I don't know. What I do know is that there are times when I need to turn my back on it all and experience something else - something that doesn't need me to cry over it or give it a good smack around the head.


Fortunately, we live on this street and we have our own mountain. It isn't a big mountain - it's of the sturdy, stumpy, variety; not exactly Kilimanjaro, but it does have presence. As you drive across the plains, you can see it sticking up like a knuckle on a clenched fist; no one is going to push this mountain or its town around. Like any self-respecting mountain, it can get moody - some days it pulls the clouds tight about it and pretends it's not there. It's best just to go along with the charade when it's feeling like that.

But not today. Today, it was wearing a dusting of snow, reminding me of one of those chocolate cupcakes mother used to make. Today, it was a happy mountain, basking in the morning sun and making it clear that not everything in the world is munted*. Today, it declared a holiday and I took the day off.

*munted: a Canterbury word  originally used to describe things that got broken during the Canterbury earthquakes. Now in general use to describe anything broken.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The quantified life

I had been dabbling. When I first got the Pebble watch, I loaded up the Misfit app and had a go at measuring my activity and sleep. But, who wants to wear a watch all the time? I certainly didn't want to wear one to bed at night. And so my experiments at quantifying these things, gradually faded and died. And yet, as I get older and my health becomes more fragile, there is value to ensuring that I get enough exercise (but not too much) and that the quality and length of my sleep is as it should be. The numbers matter more today than they used to.

Enter Misfit's latest gadget - the 'Link'. The Misfit Link is a small button on a clip. It weighs next to nothing and you can clip it to your clothing or just slip it in a pocket where it sits recording your every movement. Aside from clipping it on after the morning shower, the Link is very much a set-it and forget-it device and performs well as long as you don't think of it as a pedometer. Wearing the Link on the main mass of the body gives results that compare well with something like Google Tracks (which measures trips using GPS) but don't think it will accurately record every step you take. The results on the body were, however, much better than from a wrist-based device like the Pebble.

The Link can tell you how you are doing, with a series of lights that can show progress and even the time. But, if you are wearing it discreetly on the body you won't be looking at the pretty lights very often. So, you access the Link using the Misfit app on your phone. From the app, you can set your own goals, see your daily progress and chart activity across weeks or months. All this data is also uploaded to the Misfit server where it is available on your personal dashboard. Should you be so inclined, you can share your data and compete with your friends.

Aside from measuring your activity, the Link also has other tricks - it is a button that can be programmed to take actions you define. How about programming it to trigger an 'emergency' call to your phone when you are in a difficult situation? This, and a whole heap of other actions are available through IFTTT.com (If This Then That) and you can assign different actions to a single and double press of the button.

Oh, and perhaps the best part, the Misfit Link is only US$20 and runs on a coin battery that lasts 4-6 months. Those are a couple of quantities that make the quantified life much more sensible.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A trip to the Dark Side

After praising Windows 10 for an excellent upgrade experience (still loving it btw) I have just had a very different experience with my Galaxy Note 3 which, last week, decided to give me Android Lollipop 5.0. I admit that I had been waiting for this upgrade, largely because of the new features and the look and feel of Lollipop. So, I let the phone go ahead and upgrade.

Bad move. There has been a variety of issues with Lollipop ranging from lag to overheating. The problem I encountered, however, was Bluetooth stability. When you also use a smart watch, Bluetooth is vitally important. What's the point of having notifications come to your wrist if they stop without warning? Bluetooth started dropping its connection several times per day and at least once per day would actually lose its pairing information. This had never been a problem with the previous Android Kitkat.

First, I spent a week reading the web and trying various 'solutions' including a full factory reset of the phone. Nothing improved the flaky Bluetooth. In the end, I had to resort to downloading a Kitkat ROM from the internet and flashing the phone back to Kitkat 4.4.2. A procedure that found me surfing a wave of near panic, in case I bricked the phone. Fortunately, the phone survived and I now have a robust Bluetooth installation again with calming green leaves for a wallpaper.

This problem seems to have been around ever since Lollipop was rolled out, but no one seems to know who should fix it - is it Google's Lollipop OS, Samsung's implementation of Lollipop, or an incompatibility with the Note 3 hardware. Who do I bill for my time? Grrrr...

Friday, August 7, 2015

Windows 10

I have been with Windows from the beginning - when Windows shipped with MS Word  and Excel so that those programs had something to run in. I was there through most Windows versions, up to and including Windows 7. I learned to wait until Service Pack 1 before installing a new version, I learned to skip every other version of Windows because it would be a 'dog' (I'm looking at you Windows ME, Vista and 8.0). I learned that upgrading meant hours of reinstalling apps and searching for new drivers. I learned to be very, very, careful.

So why, on earth, did I choose to upgrade to Windows 10 only one week after official release? Well, because for once I wasn't hearing howls of pain from every corner of the Internet. For some reason, even the usual Microsoft haters were strangely quiet. Then there was the fact that it was free, I didn't want to fall too far behind in my versions, and I wanted to try Windows 10 to see whether my next PC needed to be an Apple device.

The upgrade process was a breeze. Going from Windows 7 to 10 seemed like a rather large 'patch Tuesday'. The download was 3Gb and, once finished I said 'yes' to the upgrade and then went out for a walk (madness, I hear you say). When I returned an hour later, the upgrade was almost complete - just a couple of setup questions to answer and a short wait later, Windows 10 appeared:

Moving from Windows 7 to 10 is no drama; it looks a bit different (in a nice way) but everything is pretty much where I would think it should be - not just because I have known Windows 7, but because I  also know tablets and phones - It's not a mish-mash but things have moved closer together in terminology and in use, and its all good. Everything just works; programs, hardware, the lot without having to hunt around for any updates. This, without any doubt, is the sweetest Windows upgrade there has ever been and it's hard to imagine that it could be any easier.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lunch

At my time of life, having lunch with a beautiful, sassy, young lady is a thing of dreams or of very foggy memories. Yesterday, however, I had the pleasure of sitting opposite the lovely Rhylee for lunch.

Now, it's usually the job of grandfathers to tease their grandchildren but this young lady is much too smart for that - *she* does the teasing, thank you very much *and* you have to be pretty quick to get anything past her sharp little mind.


I could well have met my match with this one, and she's still only three years old.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rainbow in infra-red

Most usually, when processing infra-red photographs, they are converted to black and white; basically because infra-red doesn't have any colour that we can see. In black and white, white means lots of infra-red, and black means little or none - it's a convenient representation of something we can't actually see.

However, our cameras have sensors that capture light in three channels; red, green and blue. Even values of infra-red radiation get captured in these three channels though infra-red wavelengths have very little red and no green or blue at all. So, when we process an infra-red picture, it is still made up of red, green and blue data and, if we produce a picture from these three channels of data, it is usually known as a 'false colour infra-red' - which can look quite unnatural; hence why black and white is often favoured.

However, when a rainbow appeared today, I wondered how it would show up if photographed in infra-red and the colour channels were retained. So, because every man woman and child in the world are dying to know the answer to this question, here it is:
Rainbow over Oxford - false colour infra-red photograph

Saturday, July 25, 2015

3 out of 3

Our third and last geocache on this sunny winter afternoon found us at the start of the Lees Valley Road. A smart walk uphill (goodness, I made it!) and Bethany found the little capsule hidden behind a large rock.

Fortunately, I had 'Irene' (the InfraRed Canon A590) in my pocket, as I felt that the play of light and shade on the folded hills would come out well in the IR spectrum which, I think, it did.

Canon A590 IR, 1/80 sec, f7.5, ISO 80, 60mm efl.
No, the white isn't snow; just the tussock reflecting the IR. So, with the light and the temperature both fading fast, we decided not to venture further along the road but headed home to light the fire and settle down with a warm cup of tea.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Maruia Falls

The Maruia Falls have always seemed quite impressive to me; well worth a stop on the way from Christchurch to Murchison. Fortunately, the falls cannot be seen from the highway otherwise the road would have a rather high accident rate. But a pull off into the carpark and a few lazy steps brings you to this magnificent sight.

What is even more remarkable is that these falls did not exist prior to 1929. In the Murchison earthquake of that year, a landslip diverted the course of the Maruia River so that it rejoined its self further down stream, falling over its own bank. At that time, the falls were about one metre high. However, in the succeeding years the falls eroded the base of the river until, today, they plunge a good ten metres to the river below.

We tend to think that such things happen over thousands of years but, in the case of the Maruia Falls it has all taken place in a rather short 86 year period. Great productivity, New Zealand!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Cafe 51


Cafes tend to come and go - sometimes very quickly; more like fashion statements than places to hang out, drink coffee and eat. Cafe 51 is an exception; we have been frequenting this establishment for the last 21 years. Somehow, Cafe 51 has remained Oxford’s ‘place to go’ over all this time, despite the town having at least three other good eateries (one with a rather well known name).

The Cafe 51 experience starts at the door knob - it’s a loosely fitting brass thing that seems only vaguely connected to any opening mechanism. Don’t wrestle with it; just give it a gentle enquiring turn and the heavy wooden door will open into the early 20th century - very much in keeping with the exterior.

The whole Cafe 51 experience is like that door knob - it all seems too casual, the staff too friendly, the atmosphere almost homely. Can this really be a modern cafe delivering the victuals we expect in 2015? Yes, it can; like that questionable door knob, it just works - great coffee, great food and great service. It’s why Cafe 51 has remained our favourite Oxford haunt for 21 years and why, on occasions, it can be so busy that we reluctantly have to try somewhere else.

Give it a try when you’re next in Oxford. You’ll find it at: 51 Main Street, Oxford. Or on the web at: www.cafe51.co.nz

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Soul of a Pilgrim

It is customary to have finished reading a book before writing a review. But having traversed this book line by line, cover to cover, I am sure that I have not finished reading yet - this is one of those books that needs to be ‘absorbed’ rather than simply read. Christine Valters Painter describes the pilgrimage of life as more like a spiral than a linear journey. And so it is with this book; there is something to be found within whether one might be on the first, or the twenty-first, loop in the the spiral.

The book describes eight practices to help the pilgrim on the road. Don’t worry, these are not eight ‘disciplines’ designed to break the back of those with a less than iron will - think of ‘attitudes’ that need to be nurtured and grown. We don’t need to come to this book already ‘perfected’. Rather we come as learners, ready to traverse the spiral as many times as it takes.
The sixth practice is one that I especially liked - “the practice of beginning again”. Stumbling and failure are a part of the journey, but always we begin again. However, regardless of whether we consider a part of our journey to have been a success or a failure, the nature of the spiral is that we will pass this way again. Each time we need to come again as beginners, without preconceived ideas of our competence or incompetence.
Christine’s voice is not the only one you will find in this book. There are contributions from her husband, John and from an eclectic mix of other pilgrims with a story to tell. This is not a ‘preachy’ book nor, despite the eight practices, is it a formula. Rather it is a thoughtful, and thought provoking, look at the spiritual side of a journey that we each have to make and the attitudes that might serve us well on the way.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

On being old(er)

It’s taken weeks; a few bruises and a sprain or two but eventually I ventured out into the wide, wild, world. Don’t make a fool of yourself I thought as, grasping the electric unicycle between my shins, I glided down the footpath - not quite like a ninja.

And they said I should get a mobility scooter; this’ll show ‘em. I flicked right, around the bollard, a nifty move with nary a wobble. I’m da man. Across the park dodging the soccer nets, flying like superman my inner child cries, THIS. IS. SO. COOL.

I don’t usually like being the centre of attention, but past the supermarket I’m turning heads. “What’s that?” I hear. Just the coolest dude in town, I think. “Whoa, Sick” says one lad to another as I cruise past (I think that’s good, it’s hard to tell these days).

The dip down the curb with a bad camber ends my day-dreaming glory-ride, but fortunately I land on my feet. Maybe that looked deliberate? I hope. Getting up on the wheel again takes three goes - with something approaching panic rising up inside. But then I’m off again, wobbling my way towards home.

Well, the bald-old-coot turned a few heads today, and no doubt left some wishing that they could have such a cool ride. But, best of all, it was the most FUN you can have while wearing a helmet and padded in body armour; however old you happen to be.
video

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A first fib

The fibonacci sequence is a numerical sequence that starts 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 where each successive number is the sum of the two preceding numbers. It is closely related to the golden ratio and to Pascal’s triangle and is found over and over in nature and in fractal forms. It is often used in art and photography as a compositional guide.

However I hadn’t realised, until this last weekend, that it is also used in a poetry form where the syllables in each successive line follow the fibonacci sequence. In poetry, this is called a ‘fib’. As I listened to a fib being read, I warmed to its simplicity (similar to Haiku) and to its open ended structure. So, of course, I had to give it a go:

Your
words
careful
written things
burdened with meaning
to cross the cold of empty space
risking storms of misunderstanding to come at last
to a sheltered port, an open waiting heart, and lips that smile, saying “so true, so true”.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A paragraph of writers

Writers are not usually known for their party habits. Though it must be said that there have been writers who’s prodigious use of mind altering substances should have qualified them. No, writers are more often known for being lonely creatures that traverse the landscape of life swathed in some private angst that mere mortals wouldn’t understand. At least that’s the common mythology.
Wanding lonely as a lost jandle, along Tahunanui beach
But this weekend, several writers descended on Tahunanui near Nelson to boldly go boldly where few writers have been before. It was the “No More Excuses, Writers’ Weekend.” My lips are sealed as to what went on (what happens in Tahunanui, stays in Tahunanui) but suffice to say that a fairly substantial paragraph of writers had a fantastic time together. We laughed, and sometimes cried, made fun of ourselves and occasionally embarrassed one another. There was heaps of writing and plenty of sharing as we listened to the new born offspring of wild imaginations.

I can’t wait for the sequel.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Ryan through the pin-hole

It is always pleasing to see a photographic show on at an art gallery. So I was naturally interested when Ryan McCauley’s show “YARD” opened at Arts in Oxford this last Saturday. The show is a substantial collection of pin-hole camera images of New Zealand back yards.
Part of the "YARD" exhibition currently showing at Arts in Oxford

‘YARD’ is an exploration of the spaces of childhood memory. I think that the medium perfectly suits the subject, with it’s slightly unfocused, heavily vignetted, images a good depiction of memories as they begin to fade. Well, mine anyway.

Ryan gave a floor-talk at the opening and discussed the intent behind the series as well as the building of the cameras and method of taking the pictures.
Ryan McCauley speaking at "YARD"

A worthwhile exhibition for photographers and non-photographers alike, that is open from 23 May to 7 June at Arts in Oxford, on Oxford’s Main Street.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Feeling slider

There are lots of sliders in Lightroom and Photoshop but none of them are called the "Feeling" slider. It's a pity; a slider like that could save a lot of time.

Actually, what I am talking about could never be reduced to a single slider. But it's a convenient shorthand for what I want to bring up - editing a photo for creating a 'feeling' rather than a 'look'. It's something that has crept up on me quietly, until it finally announced its self a few months ago.

My own editing process has developed into a three step workflow. Steps one and two are both about making a photograph look as technically good as it can. The intention is to produce a well balanced photograph with appropriate ranges of tone and detail for the subject. However, the result of this part of the process can often be a picture which is a bit clinical; a good photograph but maybe lacking in soul.

Step three in my workflow is about bringing the picture to life, making it something that might warrant a second (or more) look. I used to ask myself the question, "what do I want this picture to look like?" But a few months ago I unconsciously began asking a slightly different question; "what do I want this photo to 'feel' like? The question taps into a slightly different vein - I don't want the picture to look the way I remember it looking, I want it to 'feel' the way I remember feeling. This feeling question can well take the picture in an entirely different direction.

Let me illustrate with a couple of examples: Here are two pictures at the end of step two:

In the first case it was a beautiful autumn day and the sun was making the whole scene alive with red, yellow and orange light reflecting off the leaves. This just seemed lacking in the photo which, though it probably had realistic colours, just didn't impart to the scene that feeling of being on fire. The second image was of the inside of the Reefton Museum. This was a cluttered, dingy space that could have done with a good clean. But the picture made it look far too clinical and well lit - nothing like the feeling of standing in the actual space.

I won't go into the actual techniques I used to impart feeling - everyone will have their own take on how to do it. But asking the 'feeling' question took me in a new direction and produced two pictures which I am sure are very different from what I would have produced twelve months ago:


These two pictures probably don't look exactly like the original scenes, but they sure make me feel like I am back there, and I hope they will allow others to feel what I felt when I pressed the shutter button in a way that the first two pictures don't do. How do you want your pictures to feel?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hospital and back

The walk to the hospital takes me through Christchurch's Botanic Gardens which were looking wonderful in the autumn sunshine today.
OK. I’ll make this medical missive a ‘one off’ (the health stories of those of us who are past our ‘use by’ date hardly make interesting reading). But, as matter of record, today was my annual check up at the hospital.

PKD is one continuous down-hill ride to kidney failure - at least that’s what the doctors believe. But, for the third year in a row, my kidney function has remained steady at 40% (low, but not dangerous).

“You seem to be atypical” the doctor says. “Coupled with the fact that neither of your parents have PKD, and your diagnosis was fairly late in life, I am wondering whether what you have is really PKD.”

“Well, if it’s not PKD what is it?” I ask.

“Haven’t a clue. In all other respects it looks just like PKD. Your kidneys are hugely enlarged and you even have some cysts on your liver, typical PKD. So it must be PKD. But it should be getting worse and it’s not. Anyway, it doesn’t change how we need to treat it. Controlling blood pressure is the most important thing. Let’s see how that is doing … 120/76. That’s pretty impressive for someone your age."

“So, it looks like PKD, but might be something else. It should be getting worse but it isn’t, and my blood pressure is the best it’s been for years. Sounds like reasonably good news to me.”

“Yes. Looks like we don’t need to see you again until next year.”

So, that was my day at the hospital. The PKD (maybe) is not getting any better but, most importantly, isn’t getting worse. What was a short fuse, seems to have stopped burning - at least for a while. That’s something to feel very thankful about. I guess my cameras will have more work to do yet.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Down the Linux Drain

I am unsure how much of my life has gone down the Linux Drain - probably it would be measured in months rather than hours or minutes. What do I mean by the Linux Drain? Well, it’s all the time spent trying to get something to work in Linux, rather than actually using Linux to be productive. Linux is like that - it usually comes broken and needs repairing before you can get to work. For this reason it has been a few years since I invested any time in Linux; life is too short.

Then along came this Chromebook which just worked right out the box. Chrome OS is built on Linux. Maybe things have improved. So I looked at resurrecting an old Netbook, which, apart from the rubbish Windows 7 Starter Operating System, was otherwise in good condition. Perhaps Chromium (the open source version of Google’s Chrome OS) could bring it back to life.

Nope. Same old, same old. Unless the Chromium OS has been tailored to the hardware (as Google and their partners do) chances are that things will be broke. In the case of the Netbook I couldn’t get past the networking (wireless and wired) not working. One day down the toilet searching the web and trying assorted solutions that yielded no positive results.

The problem is I don’t like to give up easily. Problems require solutions and that’s what I do - find solutions. So I parked Chromium as a lost cause and went looking for a lightweight Linux distribution that would work on my Netbook. Enter Peppermint 5, a distribution specifically designed for the cloud (like Chromium) and for older (read underpowered) hardware.

Peppermint 5 running on an ASUS 1015PX Netbook
I would like to tell you that Peppermint 5 worked straight out of the box. But it didn’t. What did work was all the basic hardware on the Netbook, including the network - at least that made it possible to resolve the other issues which were largely to do with partitioning the Netbook’s hard drive when it came time to do the permanent install. Getting Peppermint 5 working on the Netbook took another two days of my life. (Did I mention my persistence?)

In this instance I am very pleased with the result - a nicely working Netbook class machine that boots quickly and runs way faster than it ever did with Windows 7 Starter - new life for older hardware. But with Linux it doesn’t always end so happily - too often it ends in tears of frustration and failure. Linux is built for those who love tinkering with operating systems; not for those who simply want to get things done. It’s a shame, Linux could be so much more and so much better, than a drain.

(Article written in Gingko, and Blogger using Peppermint 5 running on an ASUS Netbook)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

ANZAC crosses

It was a grey, wet morning as people began to gather around the Charles Upham Statue to remember the ANZACs of WW1. It seemed fitting somehow; that we should stand in the wet to remember lives that were lost in the atrocity of war. A sunny day would have been far to easy. The returned servicemen were there of course, but so was every other age group including the many school children who were there to plant a cross each for the fallen.



Saturday, April 18, 2015

Enter a Chromebook

I have been a slow convert to “the cloud” and reluctant to commit my precious data to it. It’s a suspicion born of an age where shared computing resources were notoriously unreliable and data loss a constant worry. Nevertheless, I am not anti-cloud; in many cases the benefits of cloud based computing do outweigh the risks - I just prefer to be in charge of my own destiny when it comes to the really important stuff. However, when a family member’s ageing laptop came due for renewal, a Chromebook looked like a reasonable option. And, after weighing the pros and cons, we decided to give it a go.

There is nothing like trying something before buying and, in this context, running the Chrome browser on a normal (Windows/Mac/Linux) desktop and exploring the Chrome Store with its  various apps, provided a good idea of what a Chromebook experience might feel like. If you are considering a Chromebook purchase then I would certainly recommend trying this out before you buy. You will need a free Google account of course but this is a useful thing to have as it gives you access to all the Google services. You will also need an account should you ever decide to purchase a Chromebook.

The Acer Chromebook 13, running Gingko - used to write this review
If you find you can live with the range of apps provided in the Chrome store then  your Chromebook purchase will add some great extras to the computing experience:

  • Firstly, compared to a Windows or Mac computer you will get almost instant start up when you turn on your Chromebook. Ours is ready to use in under ten seconds from off or instantly from standby. More like an iOS or Android tablet experience.
  • Secondly, and depending on model, you should get excellent battery life. Ours is rated for 11 hours so, unlike a Windows laptop, the normal mode of use is likely to be on battery rather than plugged in to a power outlet. Much more convenient.

With those two differences out the way, the rest of the Chromebook experience will be very familiar to any Windows or Mac user; not exactly the same but similar enough that the learning curve is light and easy. Like a desktop or laptop, a Chromebook is a multi user device, and each user can access their own data and services attached to their Google account. If someone steals your Chromebook, they haven't got your data as well - it's all in the cloud.

Once you have mastered the Chromebook experience everything else is down to the apps that you can find in the Chrome Store. There are the staples like Google drive, Docs, Sheets etc. Free storage for 50,000 of your music tracks on Google Play Music and for your photos on Google+. After that it’s a case of ‘seek and ye shall find’ in the Chrome Store. There is plenty on offer of a general nature and more being added all the time. If you really must have all the features of Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint, even Outlook, then these are all available from Microsoft as free online versions - very usable.

Conclusion

The Chromebook experience has come a long way since it was introduced. It is now a very viable alternative for general use usually at a reasonable price. Unlike the old Netbooks, inexpensive doesn’t necessarily equate to a slow and crippled experience (not all Chromebooks are created equal however) and provided you usually have a good wifi connection to the internet you should feel as though you are on cloud nine.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Seirpinski’s Spear

It’s time for a fractal again. I’m calling this one Seirpinski’s Spear. Partly because it is based on the archetypal fractal, the "Seirpinski Triangle", and partly because I thought the final shape was very spear-like - deep, eh? ;-)

Oh, all right, I’m feeling particularly fractal today so here’s one from a few days ago: I called this one “String theory”.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Lisbon, please - 1974 should do.

This time-travel lark can get a bit addictive. It works like this - take an old photo from the archive, digitize it, then go search on Google to see what the location looks like today.


This one is from Lisbon (1974) - Flower sellers in Rossio Square. Today the square is almost unrecognisable. Gone are the neon advertising hoardings (visible in the top corners), the overhead tram lines are no more, the buildings have been spruced up and Rossio Square is now a large modern plaza with beautiful paving. See this picture. (My picture was taken from the centre of this frame facing towards the left.)


This is the port of Lisbon. In the background is what was then known as the “Salazar Bridge”, a 2.2km suspension bridge spanning the Tejo River (modeled on San Francisco's  Golden Gate bridge). Later it was renamed as “Ponte 25 de Abril” (25 April Bridge) to commemorate the revolution that brought democracy to Portugal and found my car surrounded by soldiers demanding that the Englishman get out with his hands raised. Interesting year, 1974.

Today, the spot where the boat is sitting has been totally redeveloped and there is no space for beached boats in the modern Port of Lisbon. Nor was I was I able to find a photo taken near the same spot.

Lisbon has not only benefited from the passage of forty plus years, but also from the transition from a dictatorship to a European style democracy. It is now a thoroughly modern city chock-a-block with cars, though it still boasts a few tram routes - but nothing like the huge network it had in the mid twentieth century.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Andorran time traveler

I always have trouble locating Andorra; for some reason my brain keeps telling me that Andorra is in the Andes, whereas it is actually several thousand miles away in the Pyrenees.  Andora is a lovely place marred only by the fact that it has basically one road and, in the summer, ten million tourists - which makes for a permanent traffic jam through the capital, Andorra la Vella.

Anyway, I found this slide of Sant Joan De Caselles in Canillo. When I visited in the mid 1970s it was a rather unkempt building stuck on a hillside and calling out for a little TLC. None the less, it was a beautifully rugged example of Romanesque architecture and well worth a picture.

Fast forward forty years and have a look at this link: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/73596078. The same church now stands in its own pristine grounds alongside a modern highway with its own car-park and what looks like hotel accommodation. Absolutely wonderful - even if the stone wall in the foreground has gone and it's not as beautifully rugged as I recall.

By the way, my fading brain cells had forgotten where I had taken the picture. But, by throwing the picture into Google image search, it was easy to verify the building and its location. Google; the poor man's Tardis.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Oh carp!

There are days when, despite your best efforts to appear competent and professional with a camera in your hand, you realise that life has cast you in the role of the blundering dolt. Today was one of those days.

A few times a year, I have the privilege of being the official photographer when the Hurunui Mayor welcomes new New Zealanders into citizenship. This morning I picked up the camera bag with the DSLR and flash and left home. The ceremony was late afternoon so I had plenty of time the check over the camera settings and make sure everything was hunky-dory. No, I hadn’t left anything behind, but halfway through the morning I got an unexpected call to come quickly and take a picture of an entirely different presentation. I grabbed the camera and flash and checked the ISO and aperture as I rushed to the meeting.

Just as the all important handshake took place I pressed the shutter … and absolutely nothing happened. What? I tried again ... nothing. Oh carp! Then I realised that it was still set to trigger from the remote that I was using last time. By the time I had sorted it out, the moment had passed and those present had moved on to other business. Blundering dolt.

I was darn sure I wasn’t going to let that happen in the evening and so, as originally intended, I checked through every dial and menu item that I would need. All was good. Test shots. Yes, ready to roll.

The ceremony was proceeding well and the pictures were looking good when the flash unit failed to light. Batteries? But I was carrying a spare set in my pocket (clever me). I dropped the old ones out and quickly stuffed the new ones in - the wrong way around. Blundering dolt! But what if I was wrong, what if it wasn’t the batteries?

TIL-LIE! Yes, Tillie was there, sitting on  my hip. So I cast the DSLR aside and pulled out little Tillie to finish the shoot. I missed a few shots during the battery mess up and the camera change over. but fortunately the session wasn’t a complete disaster even if I did feel like the Blundering Dolt.

I end today wishing that, like the child in the back row, I had someone older and wiser to hold me tight and whisper that everything is going to be alright.

"Even I could do better than that." - Picture by Tillie - the Sony RX100 m3.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tillie's first book

It’s been nearly three months since Tillie, the Sony RX100m3, came into my possession. In that time my large Nikon DSLR hasn’t had a lot to do. There are specialist jobs that the Nikon comes out for (macro, fisheye and events requiring flash) but, other than that, little Tillie has been doing most of the heavy lifting. Not once have I felt disappointed in Tillie’s image quality; so much so that my last photo book project included all ‘Tillie’ shots.

Most of the pictures in the book were 11”x16” plates and the quality of the printed pictures was indistinguishable from those produced by my full-frame D600. Part of me still finds it difficult to believe that such a small camera can produce results as good as this.

While I am on the question of quality, a shout-out to Artisan State who have produced my last two books.The quality is absolutely amazing; as soon as you pick up one of their books you are surprised by the substantial heft - this is a real BOOK. from the printing to the binding, everything is absolutely perfect. Each page is printed on Fuji photographic paper and mounted on a substantial core which gives the pages a rigid, thick feel and when opened you get a wonderful two-page flat surface - ideal for panoramas.




Pictures can't do the books justice, but last week I handed an Artisan State book to someone and they were so impressed that they were asking if they could buy it when they were still on the first page. I’m a terrible salesman and spent the next five minutes asking them if they were sure, all to no avail. Artisan State makes it that easy.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Apologies

First, apologies if you have attempted to come here over the last two weeks and found it deserted. There have been technical issues with my web host, who managed to loose the blog while 'fixing' another issue. It was several days before I realised that there was a problem and four days now attempting to fix it up. Sigh.

As well as a technical outage, there has also been a cessation of summer. After months of dry, hot, weather we have plunged into some rather cold, wet, autumn stuff which, along with the technical issues, has kept me indoors. This, is what home-alone boredom looks like for someone with a camera, itchy fingers and Photoshop:


www.phoxford.com also got a refresh today with some new pictures. Go check it out if you have a few minutes. Back soon.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Back to Versailles

I am enjoying resurrecting these old 35mm slides. Slides produced the original SoC (straight out of camera) shots. There was no opportunity to massage or post process; what the camera put onto the film was what you got. Revisiting these pictures over 40 years later and with modern post processing tools, allows a fresh interpretation unfettered by any memory of what it actually looked like on the day. The results tend to be more interpretive, perhaps a little 'painterly' - especially as these old slides lack the detail we have come to expect from modern digital cameras.

One thing I have noticed in these old photos, when comparing to today's Google street view, is that the French used to let their trees grow in a more natural way. Today these trees are all so much smaller, perfectly trimmed to a degree that makes the view more open, less natural. I wonder what the original landscapers would have to say about that.

Anyway, this one is from Versailles; "La Grand Perspective" with the "Escaliers de Latone" in the foreground.

Friday, February 20, 2015

On to the past

It’s likely to be a long job; getting a few hundred 35mm Kodachrome slides digitised. It’s not making the digital file that takes time (just a few seconds for each slide) but it’s the time spent making the file presentable afterwards. Take this 1970s image of the Sacre-Coeur in Paris for example - a few seconds to copy, but two hours to clean up. I’m pretty happy with the result but it’s shown me one thing - our equipment today produces results hugely superior to that I used in the film days.

We might worry about digital noise today, but that was nothing compared to the grain that was omnipresent on every 35mm Kodachrome slide. The DSLR I used to copy this picture was more than capable of enhancing every bit of grain on the slide - and don’t dare sharpen the image until you’ve dealt with it. Then there is the dust (and other nasties); if you thought sensor dust was a problem, then you’ll be amazed at what accumulates on a slide that is forty years old. Yes, I used a dust blower and a lens brush but there is stuff on them slides that don’t want to leave home! Fortunately, Lightroom and Photoshop have the tools required to take the image to a place that makes it look better than the original slide - provided you can supply the time.

Long hair, beards and wandering around with a guitar slung over your shoulder; yep, that was the 1970s.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chromecast - too good to be true?

I’ll admit to being a bit of a gadget fan. These days though, I tend to hold back from the ‘bleeding edge’ in favour of somewhere where the pain threshold is a bit lower. So it wasn’t until last month that I bought a Chromecast device. At under $60 it was a small outlay and, as a consequence, I did less prior research than usual (my bad).


What I wanted was a device which allowed my family to view ‘on demand’ television from the main New Zealand broadcasters on a mixture of iOS and Android devices. The broadcaster’s apps were already available for both platforms but how much better would it be if they could be viewed on the TV. Unfortunately there was a large lump of disappointment waiting down this track.

What I hadn’t understood was that Chromecast only works with specific Chromecast enabled apps. Neither of the New Zealand on-demand apps (TVNZ nor TV3) are Chromecast enabled, nor is Spark’s Lightbox. YouTube is Chromecast enabled, but my smart TV already played YouTube so I didn’t need Chromecast for that. Netflix is Chromecast enabled but this is New Zealand and NZ is not Netflix compatible (yes, I know there are ways around this). That leaves Chromecast in New Zealand with Google Play Movies and Quickflix - an Australian/NZ Netflix style service.

There are quite a number of other ‘novelty’ apps that can cast your picture gallery or a video from your mobile device, but these are simply icing on a rather insubstantial cake. What Chromecast needs to be able to do is cast anything that you can see/hear on a mobile device, and its far from being able to do this on anything but late model Android devices (4.4.4 and above) even then it is a buggy beta implementation.

So, what about this Quickflix service then? Well it sort of works - best from your desktop browser but iOS and Android apps are available. Be warned though, the iOS app only gets 1.5 stars on the App Store and the Android app only 3 stars on the Play Store. Both of the mobile apps are feature constrained and buggy. As for the service, regular media consumers will be disappointed; the $13/month basic service gets you access to a catalogue of either older or unpopular TV series and films (great for catching up with Dr Who though) while the additional pay-per-view Premium service is still not going to give you the very latest titles.

So the end result is that Chromecast in New Zealand is somewhat of a disappointment. Lots of promise but severely lacking in actual application. So, yes, Chromecast sounds too good to be true at the moment. Shame.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hokitika dreamin'

Just back from a few days in Hokitika. I had forgotten how lovely this West Coast town is; especially in the glorious sun. Plenty of places to go, things to see and great food.

The Otira Viaduct from Death's Corner. The old road (behind the ridge to the right) was a driver's nightmare and this corner was well named. Fortunately the viaduct (finished in 1999) cuts out the worst section of the road - a magnificent feat of engineering dwarfed by the landscape.
View over Lake Mahinapua from "Swimmers Beach" - a 2m wide sliver of sand in an otherwise bush edged lake :-).
Swimming from the jetty at at Lake Mahinapua.

The Carnnegie Library at Hokitika - now used as a museum.

Sunset (nearly) on Hokitika foreshore with one of the art installations.

The only camera I took on this trip was Tillie, the RX100 m3. It was very freeing not having to tote around my DSLR kit and while Tillie's reach at the long end is not enough for wild life shooting, in all other respects she was quite up to the task and produced some wonderful quality files.