Sunday, December 18, 2016

The long, slow, death of a Pebble Watch

My watch is dying. It looks ok on the outside but it’s internal organs have gone to a purchaser of body parts. The organisation that was Pebble is no more - sold to Fitbit for chump-change. Going too, are all the online services that kept the Pebble watch functioning day to day. It’ll keep working through 2017 we are told, but I have my doubts: Three times this week my usually ultra-reliable Pebble has restarted itself, once losing data. Undoubtedly symptoms of a more serious and terminal disease.

I’m sad. This was my second Pebble watch and I, like many others, thought that Pebble were one of the few companies that got the balance between form, function and price, just about right. Most observers seem to be blaming the ‘lacklustre smartwatch market’ but, that sounds like blaming someone (anyone) else for your own failure. At the end of the day, Pebble were simply underfunded, over expensed or a bit of both. No doubt the legendary optimism of engineers had a part to play; by their own admission, the Pebble Time took twice as long to develop as they originally thought. Technical product development might be exciting, but bringing a product to market is never an easy road.

So, around 2 million Pebble watches are now on life-support. Life with a Pebble watch will just get more and more difficult as 2017 rolls on. So, what do I do next for a smartwatch? Time is running out … tic, tic, tic.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The hidden world of infrared

Holy Innocents Anglican Church, Amberley
When processing infrared pictures, I'm as guilty as anyone of brushing aside the copper/blue colours captured by a properly white-balanced infrared camera. Either I take away the colours to go black and white or I rush into swapping colour channels so that I can get back to a familiar blue sky. This last month, I have been trying to do my colour infrared processing only in Lightroom, using just the tools that Lightroom provides out the box and retaining the captured colours.

Maybe I've been looking at these colours for too long, but they have grown on me - do they work for you too? Let me know.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

An uncertain living

Flying supplies north from Amberley
For the first 39 of my years, earthquakes were not a part of my experience. Then I moved to live in New Zealand. My first real experience of an earthquake was around 1990 on the 13th floor of a Wellington office building. To find a concrete building swaying from side to side like a young sapling in a gale was disconcerting, perhaps even a little frightening. But all was well and everyone evacuated the building safely.

The 2010 and 2011 quakes in Christchurch were a different kettle of fish - buildings collapsed, people died. Five years later, the effects on the city are still plainly evident in the many vacant city blocks. Now, in 2016, we have another massive quake and, while it’s centre was not near a big city, it has left devastation in its magnitude 7.5 wake.

There has been structural damage in central Wellington even though the initial quake was centred in North Canterbury. Some Wellington buildings will have to be demolished - though not on the scale of Christchurch. More significantly, transport routes in the north of the South Island have been completely cut. One estimate is that there are over 200 significant land slips blocking both road and rail links. In at least one case, the rail line and sleepers are now a buckled mess sitting on the adjacent highway.

The town of Kaikoura is completely cut off and those needing evacuation are being ferried out by air and sea. It is thought that it will be at least a week before a twisty inland route to Kaikoura can be reopened. The main road and rail links north and south of Kaikoura will take months to reopen, such is the extent of the damage. At a smaller scale, many individuals in North Canterbury and Marlborough are now homeless, and some communities are without power, water or sewerage services. The area impacted by this earthquake is huge, covering the eastern side of the country from Cheviot in the South Island north to Wellington.

And yet, this is not the overdue ‘big one’ - a rupture of the Alpine Fault which, we are told, will produce a magnitude 8+ quake when it happens. That’s life in New Zealand; our noisy neighbour is the earthquake. Other places have different risks, like tornadoes, flooding, drought, famine or war. Put in context, earthquakes are not such a high price to pay for a beautiful country, and I have the feeling that the earthquakes make this land and its people more beautiful than they would otherwise be.

Kia kaha.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Airwheel A3 'road' test

After a week of waiting and a misdirected delivery, the new Airwheel arrived on Friday. The A3 (sit down and orange) joins the S3 (stand up and blue) which we have had for eighteen months. The S3 has done over 600km around Oxford and has proved both reliable and fun to ride. It's even done duty as a video dolly. The S3 is currently available for NZ$1,795 while the A3 is fantastic value at $1,295 -  available in New Zealand from www.airwheels.co.nz

Bethany had only been on the A3 about 5 minutes when I shot this clip of her outrunning Annette on the S3. (Apologies for the video quality - Google seem to have butchered it during the upload)
video

And here is a short, hand-held video taken while riding the S3 at the "Spring into Oxford" show. At slow speed, the S3 produces a much smoother video than walking. Now all I need is a gimble setup and it will all be sweet.

video


Airwheel A3 'road' test

After a week of waiting and a misdirected delivery, the new Airwheel arrived on Friday. The A3 (sit down and orange) joins the S3 (stand up and blue) which we have had for eighteen months. The S3 has done over 600km around Oxford and has proved both reliable and fun to ride. It's even done duty as a video dolly. The S3 is currently available for NZ$1,795 while the A3 is fantastic value at $1,295 -  available in New Zealand from www.airwheels.co.nz

Bethany had only been on the A3 about 5 minutes when I shot this clip of her outrunning Annette on the S3. (Apologies for the video quality - Google seem to have butchered it during the upload)

And here is a short, hand-held video taken while riding the S3 at the "Spring into Oxford" show. At slow speed, the S3 produces a much smoother video than walking. Now all I need is a gimble setup and it will all be sweet.




Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Mountain and a Car

Another one from the infra-red department - this time a false colour IR picture. This was taken in the field behind our house and, though it is Spring here, I chose blue and orange tones to give an almost Autumn look. False colour IR can often look a bit bland but I'm quite pleased with the way this one turned out with a range of colours and tones - a change from the usual B&W IR anyway.
Mt. Oxford - false colour IR, Canon A590IS
Over two months since the last post, so I'll try to do a little better next time. But to catch up, two weeks ago was the annual "Spring into Oxford" fair, which has grown steadily over the last few years. This year there were about 250 cars on show including this lovely red BMW Isetta 300 - almost exactly the same as my first car - right down to the colour. Though, from memory, I think mine had a conventional chrome bumper running side to side.
BMW Isetta 300
How many people can you get in one of these and still drive? Well, I think it managed five - three across the bench and another two on the parcel shelf with their heads sticking through the roof - those were the days...

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Like a toy

I was 17 years old when the spirograph was first brought out as a toy, so my introduction must have been with nieces and nephews. Nevertheless, I recall it as being an enormous source of fun and, in a similar vein, I found the cycloid drawing machine to be equally fascinating. I'm pretty sure that there is something similar going on with the fractals, but I only made the connection while working on the Royal Dragon Boat:
Royal Dragon Boat
I guess it was all those repetitive swirls and curves that brought the spirograph to mind. But a fractal does have that same repetitive, mathematical, self-similar nature as a spirograph so it shouldn't be a surprise; I just wish that Apophysis was as easy to use as a spirograph used to be. Anyway, eventually, the dragon boat appeared and after a short trip to Photoshop it was soon emerging silently from a cloud-bank into the moonlight.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Four days of fractals

We have just come through the coldest weekend of winter - which isn't saying much, in what has turned out to be a quite balmy winter this year. Anyway, it was cold enough to spend most of the time indoors stoking the fire and generating some fractals. Click on each picture to view it large - there's lots of detail.
Clock Work
Clock Work is a pure fractal - generated in Apothysis and polished in Photoshop. Red shift is a fractal with some additional elements and work in Photoshop.

Red Shift
Finally, Shelob's Lair, is a fractal combined with images of the Waimakariri Gorge and a spider.  A rather dark theme and a dark picture, again best viewed large.
Shelob's Lair
Making fractals on the new PC is a world of difference from my old machine. So much faster that I find myself actually spending longer working on a single piece simply because it's not so frustratingly slow.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Breakout


The purist in me says this is neither photography nor painting and, if it can't make up its mind what to be, then it's just a bastard child trying on names it doesn't deserve. Maybe.

But the truth is I like it; in places the camera shows through and in others, details are brushed aside in a smear of colour. I find the net result quite compelling as though the idea of the landscape is trying to break out into its own reality.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sleeping in a silo


 Whether it's the prairies of Alberta or the 'metropolis' of Little River, silos have long been recognised as a potential place to take shelter - provided that is, no one is about to empty or fill your selected silo. There is no chance of that happening with the Little River silos - they have been kitted out specifically for the traveller. This last weekend we spent our first night in a silo.

Downstairs

Upstairs

As a fun place for a stop-over,  the silos are well worth a visit but I thought them somewhat impractical for a longer stay. Nevertheless, they were well maintained, clean and tidy, and there is a well-stocked cafe is right next door, run by the same people who also run the art gallery.

No, the silos aren't bent - all taken with a fisheye lens - quirky, just like the silos.

Monday, July 18, 2016

OldFord


OldFord, that's been my Geocaching name for as long as, and an appropriate description for this very tidy yellow Model A, found sitting in Oxford's Main Street this weekend. A busy Sunday Main Street hardly provides a great background, especially with an all-encompassing fish-eye lens but, dialing back the realism into the interpretative zone, produced something that I found quite pleasing in an illustrative, comic-booky sort of way.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Cosmic Surfer


My first fractal for a while and my first on the new PC. I recognised the Cosmic Surfer as soon as I saw her on the screen; it was just a case of drawing her out from the mathematical mist. When rendering fractals, I am used to it taking hours, sometimes many hours, so when I saw the number '8' in the 'time remaining' I thought, 'eight hours; I'll let it run over night' - only it wasn't 8 hours, it was 8 minutes - oh the joy of a processor with 4 physical and 8 virtual cores!

Last August I wrote about the ease of upgrading to Windows 10 and how, in my view, it was the sweetest Windows upgrade ever. Well, that was nothing compared to Windows 10 on a new PC. Unconstrained by legacy decisions about which storage devices things should live on, Windows 10 looks neater and tidier than it did as an upgrade. And it does what an operating system is supposed to - gets out of the way and lets you get on with actual work. In fact, working on the new PC makes me feel a bit like the Cosmic Surfer.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Shelter from the storm


A stormy day, an abandoned house and Irene, my infrared camera. I'm quite pleased with how this turned out; usually, IR photography is a sunny day activity for me, but the subject caught my eye and the false colours add an 'other worldly' look to what would otherwise have been a rather drab scene.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Phoneography

Put camera in bag ... gather up coat, wallet and phone ... leave home - without camera. 

All is not lost, I still have my phone and my phone has a camera. It's just that I don't like my phone camera. More exactly, I don't like using my phone as a camera, it's an unwieldy and decidedly sub-par photographic experience that often leaves me grinding my teeth in frustration AND it only gives me flimsy JPG files to work with. Four hours on the computer later, I have two pictures I quite like - neither of them are selfies.


The thing is, I've grown too fussy. Even my phone can beat the socks off the old film camera gear I was using twenty years ago - I wish I had been able to produce monochromes with this sort of tonal quality and sharpness back then. So it took four hours to produce two pictures; by the time I had developed and printed the pictures twenty years ago, it would have been closer to four days.

Perhaps that's the problem; it all comes too easy today - anyone with a phone can be a photographer, even me.

Samsung Galaxy Note III + Silver Effects Pro

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Autumn in Christchurch

It's been a wonderful Autumn here in the South Island. Usually, Autumn is a fairly brief affair - the leaves turn, the Nor'westers blow into town and then it's all bare trees and Winter. All over in about a fortnight. This year, the Nor'westers haven't turned up at all. The leaves have turned yet fallen only slowly; it's been going on for a month now - all very beautiful.





These are all from Thursday's annual walk through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, on my way to my routine hospital appointment where, for the fourth year in a row, I continue to confound the doctors by showing an apparent improvement in what is supposed to be a degenerative disease. (He, he.)

Oh, and before you ask (you were going to ask weren't you?) I am still shooting in black and white. It's just that when the post is about Autumn colours, it seems important to illustrate it in ... well ... colour.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Creating a new currency

After the aborted attempt to change our flag, I think New Zealand should consider having a new currency.

Basically, our existing currency is broken - too much of it has found its way into the hands of too few. Money is a bit like those iron filings we used to hold over a magnet when we were at school; tap the paper and the filings start to show the magnetic field. We have tapped the paper of "free market" ideology so much that most of the money has gone to the poles - we can't see a fair and equitable society anymore because there's precious little left to mark its position. 

It wasn't always like this. When I first came to New Zealand, in the 1980's, we had a more egalitarian society. I willingly sacrificed thousands of dollars a year to take my first New Zealand job, because my wife's job as a temporary secretary had been enough for the four of us to live on while I looked for work. The lower paid and the higher paid were not so far apart then. Not any longer; we threw that all away when we embraced free market ideals and less government intervention. Something important in the New Zealand make-up shrivelled and died at the end of the last century.


We need a new mechanism. Something that properly values contributions to our society other than economic contributions. Who is it that decided that a banker is worth more than a nurse, that a marketing executive is worth more than a teacher? In our present economic system, the dollar is the only measure - if you are good at making dollars, you get more dollars. But if you're good at making people well, or educating them, then that doesn't count for so much. It's the money system that says, because your rare illness requires expensive medicine and we can save one hundred people with another illness for the same money, then you can't have the treatment. The money system, left to its own devices, can't value a lot of things that are important to many New Zealanders. There are things you just can't put a price on.

Now, I do know that we will not easily get rid of the NZ$ so my proposal is to create a second currency. Perhaps we can call them 'ferns'.  The exchange rate could be fixed - one fern for one dollar - nice and simple. We raise ferns, by creating a new, voluntary, tax. The tax, based on income. would rise from (say) 1% for the low paid to something like 20% for high earners (in addition to existing taxes). Businesses would also have a fern tax, say 10%, on all earnings. As I said, the tax would be voluntary, so those who thought they couldn't afford it could take a pass. The earnings from the fern tax would be used to more fairly compensate groups in our society that we value, like health care professionals, or educators, and to assist people who can't help themselves, like the sick or disabled. 

But who on earth would pay such a voluntary tax? Well, if you are a business and you pay the fern tax then you get to advertise the fact that you are part of the fern economy. That way consumers get to know who the good guys are and who are the 'greedy bastards'; who would you rather do business with? If you're an individual you get to put special style plates on your car or stickers on your house (like those neighbourhood watch stickers; remember them?). You get to carry a special ID card to show that you're a real New Zealander with New Zealand values. As I said, voluntary, but a tax that would earn you something else that New Zealanders value - respect.

Yes, I know, it would never fly. There will never be a fern currency any more than there will be a fern flag. But it's a nice idea to play thought experiments with. Perhaps we could have a referendum, I hear they cost about $26 million each, a small price to pay to give inequality a big kick in the guts.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Completing the circle

When I first started taking photographs back in my teenage years, everything was black and white. There was colour photography of course, but not if you wanted to process at home in your own darkroom. Gradually, colour processing did become available and many of us migrated to the world of colour.

Digital, of course, is naturally a colour medium, so colour has become the default setting for the majority of today's digital photographers. But recently I have been asking myself why; what would happen if I decided to work almost entirely in black and white again? Sure, my files would still come out of the camera in colour, but that is quickly removed - the bigger challenge is to think in black and white when taking the picture.



I like the way that black and white can bring out the drama in a picture. The colour version of the blacksmith is a nice picture but nowhere as dramatic as this black and white.


Black and white also helps emphasise shape and tonality without the distractions of colour. Both these first two photos were taken at Iron Ridge Quarry, an interesting sculpture park in the Hurunui.




Back in Oxford, the old West Oxford Hotel has now been refurbished and rebranded as  the "Rustic Country Hotel".

So, perhaps it's time to close the gate on colour for a while and explore the world of black and white once more. Guess that means I've come full circle.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My kinda church

Recently, in an online faith community I frequent, there has been much discussion on the subject of church attendance. Perhaps surprisingly for an online community, the vast majority of participants are committed church attendees, a number being actively involved in the life of their churches well beyond basic Sunday attendance. I have been like that too. But part of the discussion included this blog post in which the writer promotes the view that it's not possible to be a Christian unless you regularly go to church. Allow me to disagree.

But, before I disagree, it must be said that there are ideas about being a Christian and what church is that do support that blog writer's point of view. If by 'church' you mean an institutional church and if by 'Christian' you mean a member of an institutional church then, of course, Christianity and church attendance are inextricably entwined. But, I submit, Christianity is not an institutional thing, it's about a person, an individual we call Jesus Christ, and to be a Christian is nothing more nor less than being a follower of Jesus Christ.  'Church,' in this context is the universal fellowship of Christian believers and not the building down the road.  In this understanding, we create a serious problem if we attempt to make being Christian dependent on institutional church attendance.

Of course, none of that precludes church attendance. But it does tell us that our Christianity can't be confined to a church nor defined by our attendance at a church.  Christianity is a lived faith, not an institutionalised belief system. At its core, Christianity is a faith where our relationship with God is mediated by only one person - the Christ who makes us Christian (and not only in language terms). Where the institutional church and its professional clergy do have an important role to play, is in guiding us flock of Christians towards a spiritually mature participation in the Kingdom of God. Historical power structures may have made it otherwise in the past but here, in the twenty-first century, the institutional church must take up the role of servant-guide and foot-washer if it is to avoid a slide into irrelevance. (I loved that the Pope modeled this over Easter.)

And here's the thing; you couldn't keep me away from a church that was interested in helping me and everyone else to become better at this Christian thing. Not better Anglicans or Catholics, not better Baptists or Pentecostals, nor better Methodists or Adventists (the list goes on) - just better Christians, lovers of God and our fellow human beings. Religious dogma doesn't fix social injustice, it doesn't heal the sick nor bind up the broken hearted. I need to know how to pick up my cross and carry it as Christ said I should. Where is the church that's more interested in those things than the state of its roof, the sex of its ministers or whether the weekly tithe will cover the bills? Take me to that church.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Raise a glass to the new Google Calendar

It had largely slipped under my radar, but Google calendar for Android and iOS has matured into a very capable calendar app. Although I had been using the Google cloud to look after my calendar and to-do list for several years, I found their mobile calendar app to be lacking in features. Consequently, our family had been using 'Sunrise' to grab and share our Google data. Now, with Sunrise about to be abandoned by Microsoft, we needed an alternative and, during my searching, I looked again at Google Calendar. Has it changed or what!

The new Google Calendar has a clean and uncluttered design that some people may think looks a bit basic. The widget (shown here), for example, has no settings, it's simply a list of coloured cards - one for each calendar or reminder entry. This simplicity is carried through to the design of the main app which supports views for month, week, 3 day and day views. In addition, there is a 'schedule' view, which is basically a continuous list of event and reminder cards with day and date markers (similar to the widget). I find myself working in schedule view most of the time. A neat feature  of all the views (on a phone) is the transition from holding the phone in portrait to landscape mode - whatever view you happen to be in in portrait, it switches to a week view in landscape - a nice quick way of getting to the week view.

A huge improvement is the integration of 'reminders' into the calendar. Reminders are not the same as the to-do items in Google's desktop calendar and won't appear in that list. Google has obviously decided to focus on a more generic reminder system that operates across platforms, devices and other apps. For example, you can set a reminder on a note in Google Keep, or an email in Inbox on your tablet, and it will magically appear as a reminder in Google Calendar on your phone. Neat. In fact, reminders are always in your face - they appear in Calendar, Inbox, and Google Now - no more forgetting! Google promises that reminders will also be coming to the desktop app soon, and I look forward to that.

Of course, all the normal settings for repeats on both events and reminders are available and new entries are made by touching the '+' badge that floats in the bottom right of the Calendar screen. All up, it's pretty obvious how things work and the app just gets out of the way and lets you get on with organising your life; something some of the other available calendar tools could well take note of.

So, if you need an excuse to have a drink, the new Google Calendar could be it. Cheers.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Flagging the flag

It's time New Zealand had a new flag but ...

Flags are important; you don't get to change them every five minutes. So, when we do change our flag, for most of us it will be our 'forever' flag. The single flag on offer next month (above left) is nice, but is it a lasting design? Will we be looking at it in 20 years time and wondering who on earth thought that was a good idea? Will our kids find it an embarrassment? It looks to me like a flag that's trying too hard.

The process we went through to get here could have worked, but the Flag Consideration Panel didn't do a good job. Of the four options they gave us (out of the long list below) three were based on the silver fern and one had a koru design. The one koru design offered, was a bland black and white version - by no means the best of the many koru designs offered to the panel. The panel should have offered us the best four flags presented to them but they didn't. One doesn't need to be a cynic to think that the deck was being stacked in favour of a fern. Perhaps the subsequent furore, and inclusion, of the red peak flag, was tacit recognition of the Panel's bias.

Given the limited, carefully chosen choices, available in the first referendum, it was hardly a surprise that a fern came out in front, and hardly surprising it was a Karl Lockwood design (they were indeed the best of the ferns, in my opinion). At the end of the day, the main choice was between a red or black top left colour. Black won.

So here we are at a choice, to keep the current flag or adopt the black, blue and white fern. The fern is OK, but does anyone really think it's the best we can do, or even the best in the panel's long list (below)? If so, then by all means vote for it. As for me, I think we deserve better. I think we have been denied better and, if we can't have the best, then I'll be voting to stick with our existing flag. That way we might get another chance in maybe five years to choose our forever flag - one we can be truly proud of.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Is that you, Pastor?

When I got a Facebook message from our Pastor, I was a little surprised. When he said that he was in the Ukraine, I was even more surprised. When he started asking for money, the cerebral alarm bells became deafening. This is how it panned out ...

Next time I won't request verification so quickly, after giving me a totally fictitious address, the scammer blocked me before I could tell him that he needed to get on his knees and repent :-)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bringing it home

When I bring home a photograph, I bring home something that has accurately mapped the shapes, colours and light that I saw earlier - arrangements of photons, stored up and measured out with a mathematical precision that has its own corpse-like beauty.

Lying on the mortuary slab of the computer screen, the photograph looks like the scene I saw before, but it has no life - it sits there silent and still; life reduced to numbers.

It's the work of a taxidermist to bring apparent life to dead creatures: It's the work of a photographer to bring the appearance of life to the maths of dead photons.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Back inside

Today we went to visit the reopened Christchurch Art Gallery. This is one of those buildings I love as a building; the art adds an extra dimension but the building itself is somewhere I just love to be. I think it has something to do with the ribbed facade; it's like being inside the body of something alive, looking out on the rest of the world. And alive it is with people young and old scuttling about enjoying the space.


There were some interesting exhibits, including this sweet landscape made from coloured sugar (the picture shows only a small part).

And the yellow room which provides a transition space or just a place to sit if you need to recover from sensory overload.
But, as I said at the beginning, whatever the exhibition it's the building that always attracts me and, after five years of being closed for repairs, it was good to get back inside.