Oct 272014
 

Saxophone BuskerI think I’m improving at the whole photography lark.  I mean clearly, I still have a very long way to go before I can consider myself ‘good’, but I’m certainly better than I was a year ago.  Ironically, a lot of the photographs I’ve taken in the last year are worse, to my eye, than those I took in previous years with the bridge camera and the little point and click.  There’s a reason for that, in fact, there’s probably two reasons.

Firstly, I’m taking photographs in situations where I wouldn’t normally take them, and I need to learn how to do that successfully.  For example, walking around a city centre trying to take pictures of people.  I never really did that with any previous camera and so the first few (hundred thousand) times the pictures turn out a bit shit.  Secondly, I’m in control of much more of the picture now – and that means I fuck it up more often.

With the bridge, it was a pretty decent camera, and I shot most (all?) of the time in what was referred to as Program AE.  That mode automatically picks an aperture and shutter speed that will correctly expose the image.  I never even looked at shutter speed and aperture on the bridge, I just let the camera pick them (and ISO, I’m not even sure it ever showed me what the ISO was on any particular shot).

Windows to the SoulThe result is that I spent more time thinking about composure and making sure I was focussed in the right place, and less time wondering if I had the ‘right’ aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.  So I’m having to train myself to think of those things, and change them when necessary, and that means sometimes I don’t and the shot is crap, or I think about them too much and miss the shot I wanted.

However, when I get everything lined up, composition, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, hand-shake, focus, the shots are better than I could have ever gotten out of the bridge or the point and click – so while some of my output is worse, when it works, it’s significantly better, and I’m really proud of some shots as actual pieces of photographic art.

Young LoveI’m also getting to grips with Lightroom and RAW post-processing, something which was super daunting at the outset, and also lead to a number of ‘it’s worse than I used to do’ moments.  Image processing, even in the bridge camera, was pretty good, so the JPG output was pretty good (low sensor size and pixel count not withstanding).  Certainly, the 600D’s JPG process is pretty excellent, and for the first few weeks of shooting in RAW and JPG, it was really hard work to make myself process the RAWs because the JPGs were so good.

The best thing I ever did was give up JPG totally, because that crutch was stopping me from learning to do the processing myself.  Now that I’m confident about getting an acceptable basic image, being able to fine tune it for artistic and aesthetic purposes is a really exciting part of the process for me.

Skateboard Love PhotoshopOne of the most frustrating issues for me early on, was low light situations.  I don’t mean ‘night time’, I mean days without bright sunshine.  You don’t realise how much compensating bridge cameras or point and clicks are doing, and how much they’re slowing the shutter speed down in order to get enough light into those shots.  So for a long time, I was shooting in low light conditions with shutter speeds which were far too slow, and getting very blurry shots even with expensive lenses.  That was very off-putting.  In combination with that, I’d been ‘pixel peeking’ images a lot.

Pixel peeking is basically blowing an image up to a size on your monitor no one would ever actually view the image at (say, 100%), and then deciding how blurry or how much noise there was based on a really exaggerated section.  In the real world, people are likely going to be looking at JPG’s, at their monitor’s native resolution which pretty much makes lots of images look better than they do at 100%.

When I was shooting in low light and using high ISO’s, I was distressed at the amount of noise in the images when looking at them blown up to 100%.  At regular sizes, they looked fine, but I couldn’t get over the 100% view.  So I avoided shooting with high ISOs, but that meant long shutter speeds, and that meant blurry shots which also looked terrible at 100%, and not as good at regular viewing sizes.

Nice Hat!It was a throw-away line in a magazine I was reading which saved me from this.  A reader had written in to a photography advice column, and asked which setting was more important, aperture or shutter speed.  The query was aimed more at an artistic point of view I think.  Anyway, the staff writer who answered the question basically said that aperture (which affects depth of field, as well as the exposure) never ruined a photo1, but a too-slow shutter speed was a definite cause of rubbish shots.  In essence, shutter speed matters more than aperture if you want ‘acceptable’ images.  They might not have the artistic aesthetic you were aiming for, but they’ll have sharp edges.

Despite this being obvious advice, it really resonated with me, and a few days later while I was out shooting some street photography in Sheffield, I used ISO’s of up to 1600 to ensure I was getting shutter speeds faster than the rule of thumb required for the focal lengths I was using.  When I got back, I was really pleased to see that most of the shots were sharp.  Sure, blowing them up to 100% showed a lot of noise, but using noise reduction in Lightroom and viewing them at regular sizes, especially as JPGs, hid all that noise, or at least reduced it to the point where it’s a part of the image, not ruining it.

That gives me the chance to get out in a much broader range of situations and take pictures and that can only be a good thing.  Obviously, there’ll be times when even ISO 1600 or 3200 won’t be enough to cope with the light at shutter speeds I’m comfortable at, so I still need to practice holding the camera and not shaking as much, but generally, I’m feeling much more confident after the last few days.

So I’m still thinking about the shots, and I’m still getting the wrong combination of settings at times, or missing the moment, or over-reaching, but I’m enjoying it and I’m learning so much.  It’s a lot of fun!

  1. clearly you could debate this, but in general, I get what he was saying []
Oct 272014
 

In 2013, I started writing a blog post about my experience going to the MCM London Comic Con 2013 in May.  However, I started it in such a way that it took far too much effort to finish, and hence it languished here in my drafts folder.  Rather then let it rot, I’m just posting it as-is, without any additional editing.  It’s all over the place, out of sync in terms of timelines, and a bizarre mix of narrative styles.  I make no apologies (except for this one).


The quality of the light outside has changed.  Gone is the pitch dark of night, replaced by an ever hopeful dawn glow.  The much promised sunrise is not far away now, and the birds are all poised, ready, waiting.  Two cats begin to stir; confident another day will begin much like all the rest.

But this is no ordinary dawn, this is will be no ordinary day, and 20 minutes before the sun rises properly the silence is shattered by an alarm clock.  Harsh, electronic, loud.  From beneath the duvet, hidden from the cold of the previous evening, a hand snakes out.  It would be easy, once the noise has stopped, to pretend it had never started.  To hide, to retreat, to leave the dawn to the cats and the birds.  So very easy.  On any other day perhaps.  On a week day, or a normal weekend, at 7:00 maybe, to wait for another 10 minutes before the alarm goes off a second time.

But not this day.  After the hand, an arm, and following the arm, a torso, and before you know it, an entire person has crawled out from beneath the duvet’s warm refuge.  Blinking in the dim, but increasingly confident dawn light, barely able to make out the digits on the alarm clock, the voice that belongs to the face, that is attached to the body, which has just emerged, croaks out, “Four thirty, time to get up.”

Silence.  A pause, a breath to speak again, but just then, a response, “okay”, voice muffled by the same duvet, another person speaks out.  Another arm, some legs and then another entire person escapes from the captivating duvet.

It’s 04:30, and our trip to Comic Con is about to begin.

I’ve never been to a comic, movie or anime convention before.  I’ve been to a board game convention, but it was a while ago, and it was quite small.  I see pictures of the San Diego Comic Con or DragonCon each year and suffer pangs of jealousy.

So I was happy to go with Greté to this years MCM London Comic Con (2013), to see what all the fuss was about, and maybe take some photo’s of people in impressive costume.  Overall, it was a mixed experience, enjoyable, but with other emotions smushed in.  Here’s how it played out!

Firstly, the actual tickets are very reasonably priced, we wanted to go only for Saturday, since we couldn’t stay over anywhere, and the only real things we had on the agenda were a chance to see Mark Meer (the voice of Commander Shepard, among other things) and for Greté to meet Emma Vieceli (illustrator of the Vampire Academy graphic novels, among other things).  However, in terms of cost, the actual event tickets are the minor part.  The travel (train) was £140 for the pair of us, despite booking around 6 weeks in advance.  Some of that is because we wanted to be able to go early, and come back any time we liked without being tied to a specific train.  Our tickets also included all travel across London.  Still, that’s a fair whack for a day out.  The other issue, and this is something you can mitigate if you plan better than I did, was food and drink.  We were in London all day, and either in the convention or in train stations, let’s say that just ‘having a bite to eat’ was a rather expensive process.

The sun eventually rises.  The cats have been fed and are clearly confused, it’s too early for them to even beg to go out, so they put themselves back to bed, oblivious to the fact that they’ll be indoors all day.  Bags are packed and ready.  Two sets of tickets (self printed at home, two sets in case one set is lost), train tickets, portable pharmacy, cameras, extra batteries, a kindle.

The streets are empty, it’s 05:20 and no human in their right mind is out wandering this early on a Saturday morning.  The sun has risen, and the sky promises a dry and bright day.  We stop at the road before crossing, a habit, a good one, but wasted this early.  There are no cars, I wonder briefly if I am in Shaun of the Dead.  There is anticipation now, a definite sense of something about to happen.

Early entry tickets allowed you to gain entry from 9am, two hours before the general opening times.  We had to get from St Pancras to the Excel by tube.  Greté doesn’t like the tube, I hate being in a rush, and we didn’t want to get stuck in a huge queue at the event – and that meant only one thing.

05:35 train to London!

So we got up at 04:30, put on our favourite genre t-shirts (no costume for us, this year at least, because 6 weeks isn’t enough time to do anything justice), and headed south.  The train was almost empty (although there were more people on it than I thought there’d be) and we arrived on time, in London at around 07:30.  We grabbed some (expensive) breakfast, and got the tube and DLR over to the Excel.  We saw one person on the tube we hoped was in-costume (otherwise her working day must be exciting), and by the time we got onto the DLR it was clear we were going the right way.  Our carriage was shared with some anime characters and at least one superhero.

Once we arrived the Excel station, it was obvious we were going the right way as a sea of humanity, heroes, comic book characters, computer game characters, movie heroes and who-knows-what-else slowly streamed in to the Excel halls.  We followed the crowds, had our tickets scanned, and stood in a designated row of people, near the entrance.  We’d made it, in good time (~08:30), and were near the front of the queue.  A steady stream of people followed us in, and as time wore on, that became a flood.  I’m glad we made the choice to head out early.


 

Added today: We queued for a while, we finally got in.  We met up with friends.  We spent so much of the day walking around that I litterally had to go and see the doctor a week later because my little toe on the my left foot was still numb.  I took a lot of pictures, some of them were even okay ( https://www.flickr.com/photos/eightbittony/sets/72157635466091441/ ).  It was fun, but very hard work, and although I’m not sure I’d look good in *any* costume, I think if I go again, I might make the effort.

Aug 182014
 

I’m trying to avoid reading any spoilers about the whole Wheel of Time series.  My intent is to finish the books before I learn any of the significant details about how it all turns out.  This is mainly because my anger, and reason for stopping when the books were new, is that it appeared Jordan wasn’t going to answer any of the questions he himself had raised.  I now hope that Brandon has, but I want to RAFO, not see too many spoilers.

That means I have to be careful when searching the web to see if any of my new theories, spawned during my re-read, are original.  I risk finding out that they’re true or false but only based on later stuff I’ve not read.

So here’s a couple of random thoughts that may be true or disproved already.

One Man – Three Bodies

Lews Therin was a mighty man, battle leader, strong in the One Power, etc.  However, Rand doesn’t really seem to know much about battle, no reason he should, he’s quite young.  He is however very strong in the One Power.  Mat on the other hand, can’t channel, but has come into the possession of an awful lot of knowledge that makes him a great battle leader.  I’m not totally sure where Perrin fits in yet.  But perhaps this time, the Wheel has spun out three men, all ta’veren, and split the skills between them.  This seems to have confused the response from the evil guys, never knowing if they should be killing all three, or working with all three.  It’s almost as if the Light needed a way to get an edge.

One Woman – Three Bodies

If the theory of Lews Therin is true, I wonder if the Wheel has spat out Ilyena Sunhair as multiple women?  Perhaps Elayne, Min and Aviendha?

Aug 132014
 

I mentioned on twitter that I was re-reading or in some cases, reading for the first time, The Wheel of Time series.  Someone remarked they didn’t know how I had the patience.  Can’t argue with that – some parts of the series are infuriating, as I’ve already expressed.  Well there’s a really simple thing that keeps me reading.  I’ve so far, generally, avoided all spoilers about the books I’ve not read, including the ending.

That means for me, many of the mysteries are still mysteries (especially as Jordan himself failed to resolve many of them before his untimely death).

Chief among those (pun intended) is what’s going on with the Aiel.  I’m in the middle of The Shadow Rising at the moment, and we get what I think is a pretty good summary of what the Aiel are about.  I love the Aiel, and discovering their origin is really interesting.  Of course, I’d already read this bit, but I’m sure there’s more.  There must be more.  I want there to be more.  So I read on, hoping that Jordan or Sanderson give us more information about the Aiel, and what they were up to.

That goes for many other things and people too, Moraine, Mat, Lan, Verin, so much back story and stuff to explain there, that I really hope there are reveals and closures in later parts of the series.

I think, what I will enjoy most, is once I’ve finished the series, finding some comprehensive online resource describing the truth about everything in Randland and burying myself in it.  There’s a rumour Jordan’s widow is planning an official encyclopaedia.  I really hope that happens.

Aug 122014
 

There are spoilers below, covering the first four Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan.

The Wheel of Time books are complex on many levels.  They’re complex in and of themselves in terms of the world and story, and they’re also complex in terms of their broader existence in the world.  They were written and released at a time when the Internet was really taking off, and many, many people talked about the books on early web pages and Usenet.  The connection to the author through those routes was something new for many people, probably including Jordan himself.

There’s been a lot written about the books, both about the issues of feminism they seem to raise (or misogyny and misandry depending on your view), and about Jordan’s ‘errors’ as a writer.  Personally, I think he needed a much stricter editor, and the books from around 4 or 5 onwards would have been a lot better.

You’ll also find people screaming about how the characters are stupid.  Especially in terms of female and male interactions, and in not sharing what they know.  Too often you might feel if they had just shared what they knew then the Shadow would have been defeated more easily.  The whole male/female thing is just infuriating, where all the characters seem to have no clue how the other gender operates.

However, I see those two things as part of the plot, or the world structure. I hope there’s some allegory in there, and some comment on how the world was broken and now the genders don’t trust each other (we’ll see if I’m right when I finally finish the series).

What irritates me far more than those, is when characters that are not stupid act in a stupid way.  I can never work out if Jordan thought his readers were stupid, if he thought his characters were stupid, if he was trying to be subtle and failing, or if he just never noticed what he was writing (and his editor didn’t speak up).

The moments in question pull me right out of the books, and make me want to punch the furniture.  During the particular sequence I’m going to describe in a moment, I killed at least one stuffed pillow on the sofa.

  • Perrin, Morraine, Lan and Loial have been traveling towards Tear, and they travel through Illian.  While there, they learn that one of the Foresaken has risen to be ruler of Illian at some stage, they’re not sure when.
  • Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne are also traveling towards Tear.  When they get there, they find the Black Ajah already ensconced.
  • In Tear, they hear of a High Lord who has risen through the ranks in weeks, despite no one ever hearing of him.
  • They learn that he is Foresaken.
  • During a discussion on one particular page, Elayne, Egwene, Moraine, Nynaeve discuss why Rand should go to war.  One of them (I can’t recall which) says something about Rand not having a choice, and who knows which other nations Foresaken have decided to take a controlling interest in.  It is obvious from the discussion that all the women realise this is something very real, very likely, and very dangerous.
  • That conversation finishes, and Moraine leaves.  On the very, next, page, there is a discussion about how Elayne’s mother, The Queen of Andor, has a new adviser no one has heard of and the Queen appears to be in love with him.
  • Not one of the girls puts two and two together.  They just totally dismiss it.  Not one of them thinks ‘hang on a stark raving minute, but we were just discussing how the Foresaken might try and control nations, and now, Andor, one of the most powerful, has a new adviser to the Queen that until a few weeks ago no one had heard of‘.

We don’t know when Mat told Elayne and the others of this new adviser.  We have to assume it was not in the presence of Moraine, since Mat avoids her like the plague.  So, we can forgive Moraine for not knowing about it here, but the three girls have absolutely no excuse.

These are the same three girls who have hunted Black Ajah, captured two of them, escaped from the Senchean, seen horrors beyond telling and are not, in any way, stupid.  Why then, does Robert Jordan write them in this way, with moments of complete stupidity.  Is it meant to be that way, or is it accidental?  I don’t know, but it’s seriously irritating, either make them dumb, or make them clever but at least be consistent.

This is only one example – there are plenty more, when some obvious fact or notion is overlooked by everyone involved (and all the characters suffer, not just these three), for reasons that can only be described as stupidity, when at other times the characters demonstrate a perfectly reasonable amount of intelligence.

It’s one of the things that makes the series hard for me – I could cope if Jordan ever explained the stupidity, if he made it obvious it was intentional, or if he just said it was a mistake, but unless something is revealed in the last 5 or so books that I’ve never read, it’ll continue to drive me mad when I do try and read them.

Why Jordan? Why are the characters so inconsistently stupid and blind?

Jul 092014
 

I’ve taken a lot of photographs, before and after I bought my DSLR, and I think this is probably the one that I’m most pleased with, and which seems to get the best response.

What did the Fox say?

As is often the case, right place, right time.  This little cub ran out of the cover, stood still as it saw me long enough for me to lift the camera and get off 10 shots, 1 of which was miraculously in focus.

May 272014
 

I thought I’d come along and write a witty and insightful post about what it’s been like driving for almost a year now.  But when I got here, to this blank white box I find I don’t have much to say, and what I can think of saying isn’t that funny.

My first driving lesson was on the 8th May 2013 (http://perceptionistruth.com/2013/05/fear-of-4-wheels-part-1/) and I passed my test on August 14th 2013 (http://perceptionistruth.com/2013/08/fear-of-4-wheels-part-18-the-end/).  Since passing my test it’s been okay.

I’ve done a lot of driving since then.  I did all the driving over the Christmas period (we travel a long way to see our folks), I’ve driven to work most days, and if myself and Greté are going somewhere, I drive for the most part.  I think she’s probably driven about 10 times since I passed my test if we’re both in the car (obviously, she drives when I’m not in the car).  So in that respect, it’s been very successful, after a long time being the designated and only driver, Greté is getting some time off.

As well as that, I’ve been able to nip out in the car and take photographs, or go shopping, or take stuff to the local recycling centre when in the past it would have meant both of us going, or both of us deciding not to bother, so it’s definitely ‘freeing’ in that sense.

One thing I haven’t done yet is any long trips on my own; no motorway driving on my own either, and the time is fast approaching where that will have to change.  I should imagine it’ll be pretty hairy the first few times, but I’ll get over it.

I don’t feel like life has changed dramatically since I passed my test, but a lot of things are just a bit easier, or a bit more convenient.  I’m just still pleased that I can get Greté where ever she needs to be, whenever she needs to be there.

Everquested

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Mar 282014
 

The first thing that happens, when I start (re-start) playing Everquest, is that I stop writing blog posts (for the most part).  This is probably because most of my blog posts are written while staring at the computer wondering what to do next – and that time is now filled by me staring at Everquest wondering what to do next.

Just, you know, keeping you up-to-date.

Nov 132013
 

I have a number of virtual servers, and they run Logwatch.  They mail the daily Logwatch reports to a local user which forwards them to my gmail account.

Sometimes, Google marks them as spam because sometimes they contain spammy URL’s, source domains, etc.  Recently however, they stopped arriving from one server, and following the rejection note, it appears Google has started blocking spam at source.

host gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com[2607:f8b0:400d:c02::1b]    
said: 550-5.7.1 [******] Our system has detected that    
this 550-5.7.1 message is likely unsolicited mail. To reduce the amount of    
spam sent 550-5.7.1 to Gmail, this message has been blocked. Please visit    
550-5.7.1 http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=188131    
for 550 5.7.1 more information. 7si10895397qeh.110 - gsmtp (in reply to end    
of DATA command)

Google isn’t blocking all the mail from my server, and it sends quite a bit to various destinations, so this is just because of the content of the message (which is a standard Logwatch formatted text e-mail).

I guess it was inevitable, and maybe they’ve been doing it for some time, but now you can never be sure that your mail is arriving at Google, and you’re not longer sure you’re seeing everything even if you check your spam folder.