Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun Part 2b: Changes.

I dropped Rufus off at the hairdresser looking like a shaggy black mop. I know when it’s time for him to have a haircut because he pants a lot. In fact, he sounds like a little steam engine. He’s good as gold when we go there; it must be strange for him with all the other dogs there but he’s been going there for most of his life so it’s as familiar is it can be.

Then I set off for the garage and the paperwork-fest that is exchanging cars. It was fairly straight forward. I had packed all the stuff from my car into a small back pack and with Rufus’ blankets and seat protection, it looked like I was going on a trek. The salesman was great, once again, and the process went smoothly. Sinclairs have a preparation room where your car sits waiting for you. I walked straight past it without spotting my car. After all, it’s a fairly non-descript red.

I was just about to drive off when the salesman said ‘have you got enough fuel’? When I checked, they’d brimmed the tank. A nice little touch that I hadn’t asked for and which, in days gone by, formed part of the final haggling over price. My experience of buying a car from Sinclairs has, once again, been excellent.

Of course, the A3 is worlds apart from the Freelander. I drove off hesitantly, conscious that everyone knew I was in a new (to me) car. But I quickly got the hang of the clutch and the fact that I didn’t need to use as much accelerator to get it moving. And it was nice not to see the fuel gauge needle moving as I drove. As I drove through town I found myself looking up at all the traffic around me, and even up at some of the kerbs.

I went back to pick Rufus up, now looking slick and feeling a lot cooler with his new haircut. He couldn’t fail to notice the bright redness of it, but he was more interested in having a wee after his styling, and when I opened the door there was a moment’s hesitation before he stepped in. It’s lower than the Freelander, and where before he would normally take a run and jump, now he could climb in easily.

We set off for Cefn Bryn and the second part of our walk and yes, maybe I did take the long way around to get there. But I have to learn to drive my new toy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Rufus and Dave’s fortnight of fun part 2a: Webs

We had an earlier start today as it’s due to be a busy one. Rufus and I headed down to Broadpool to sample the early morning before anyone could spoil it. An amazing sight confronted us once we’d parked up; as far as the eye could see there were masses of cobwebs shining in the morning sun. Every one had tiny dewdrops hanging from them. The thorn bushes were white with fine threads. I tried to find the best way to take photos if it and struggled.

Rufus, of course, walked through them on his quest to find the source of all the smells he could detect.

We made our way slowly around the pool. I had hoped to catch dragonflies and damselflies warming up in the sunshine but they were all well concealed. There were plenty of midges, though, early risers like us.

We didn’t stay out too long as we both had to be back. Rufus has his hair stylist appointment this morning and I wanted to give him time to dry off. And I’m picking up my new car while he’s being pampered.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 1:River

I was worried about Dave this morning. I woke him up as usual at 5.30, 5.35, 5.40 and 5.45 am and then again at 6am. He let me out in the garden but went back to bed. It’s not how it should be. He’s meant to be up at 6 and making me breakfast before disappearing off for a few hours to somewhere he calls ‘Work’. (He calls it other things as well but I don’t understand those words). But this morning he went back to bed. I didn’t know what to do so I woke him up again at 6.15, 6.30 and 6.45. He didn’t shout at me and in the end, I gave up and joined him on the bed.

He finally managed to rouse himself at 7.45! Layabout! He didn’t seem concerned that he should have been at ‘Work’. Instead, he seemed quite happy and jabbered on quite a bit. After breakfast, he asked me if I wanted to go out. Silly question, he knows the answer. We set off and very soon I realised we weren’t off to Gower. It took a lot longer to arrive at our destination and when he finally let me out (he tends to fuss a lot after he parks the car), I found we were at the River Tawe. He knows it’s one of my favourite places and since my little operations he hasn’t allowed me anywhere near water. Clearly today would be different (whether he planned it or not).

As soon as he let me off the lead, I was in the water. It felt so good to paddle and cool my paws off. The sun was warm and it was lovely to be out here again. I was happy, and I let him know I was happy by barking in my happiest voice.

Dave had his camera with him so I knew I’d be able to explore the river for myself, and play games with him by standing in front of the camera just as he knelt down by it. Sure enough, every time he went to take a photo I was able to get a reaction from him by popping up on the waterfall or in the water near by. He loves this game almost as much as I like catching stones. I did need to bark sometimes just to remind him why we were here but generally speaking Dave behaved himself and we both had a good time.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Red sports car

Selling is a game. The trick is not to let on it’s a game and, if possible, not to let on you’re selling. A good salesman will let you do the work while subtly guiding you in the right direction. In the past two weeks I’ve been visiting car dealers looking for my next car and I’ve come across several salesmen with varying degrees of skill. If I (an amateur car buyer) can see their techniques, then they aren’t working. It’s like a good film or TV programme – if you notice the camera work then the camera work isn’t good; it should never intrude on the experience.

The first salesman passed me on to the sales junior despite me having made an appointment to see him. That made me feel so important that I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to buy from that garage. I took the test drive because I wanted to see what the car was like. It was very nice, not quite my perfect car but part of the game of changing cars is the compromises you are willing to make. The junior salesman was quite good, actually (I only use the word junior to indicate he was less experienced) but he kept asking questions about how the car felt to drive, how comfortable it was etc. This is done to try and get a positive response from the customer to start the process of wanting the car. It weakens the bargaining stance later in the buying process – you have already said you like it and those positive connections have been made.

Having been driving a Freelander for two years, my response was genuine:  “It’s very different – the visibility isn’t as good”. The salesman went quite and I ended up having to make the conversation.

In the showroom, I was left to wait while they went off to get a price. Now to my mind, the original salesman should have been doing that while I was out in the car. And, of course, he was. I was left to sit and wait while they sat and waited in the office, letting me reflect and worry a little. It should have softened me up. But the waiting area was in the sun and I was cooking. The only reason I didn’t walk out was because they had my keys. When they did come over, it was junior that gave me the figures. They had added the cost of protective coating to the price (easily removed to drop the price) but it was still way over what I was prepared to pay. Part of the reason was I’d over estimated the value of my car but that garage had a strange way of pricing their vehicles too, which worked in their favour (of course). In Swansea, my car had a value. In their dealership elsewhere, it might be more or less. But rather than having a fixed value for exchange, it was based on local prices. Swansea is quite cheap for Freelanders; If you want the best prices, go to Scotland where they are around £2k more. That’s what would have happened to mine.

When I questioned the valuation, the senior salesman waded in and quoted all sorts of reasons why that was an unrealistic price. But it is a game at the end of the day, so we smiled, shook hands and I walked out, sweaty and a bit disappointed.

Fast forward to the weekend. I went to another dealer, this time one independent from  both the make I was selling and the make I was buying. To be fair, the salesman was on his own and had been busy. While he was showing me around the car he was on the phone to someone explaining how he’d made 5 sales that day, “including the Fiat 500 which we’ve finally got rid of…”. Once again, I felt special and valued. I took it for a test drive and, comparing with the the previous one (same model) it just didn’t feel as good. It might have been the high mileage, about which I had my doubts. In the office, the valuation of my car was laughable. He asked me if I’d had another offer and when I told him what the valuation from the main Landrover dealer was, he said “they’re wrong”. I laughed out loud. He then started to show me all sorts of figures from the valuation site. But he’d had his quota of sales for the day and what little effort he’d made at the beginning stopped; he didn’t even take my contact details, which any half decent salesman would have done.

Fast forward once more to yesterday. I went to the dealer I’ve been buying cars from for a while. I’d seen one I was vaguely interested in and I’d done a lot of research. I kept coming back to this one car. On a whim, I called in and spoke to one of several salesmen there. Immediately, I felt as if I mattered. The game was being played well. This was the Premiership after me experiences in the lower leagues. The guy took the time to talk me through what I wanted, and more time to go through the cars that were due in but not yet on the website. We even explored different models and the options available. The test drive was relaxed and at no time did I feel I was being ‘sold’ the car. The language was friendly but to the point, It took a couple of minutes to figure out the prices, another couple to come to a final price we were both happy with and suddenly, I had bought a new car!

When I was a kid, I always told people I wanted a red sports car. I’m still a kid at heart, and I now have a red car. It’s not a sports car in the true sense, but the trim level is ‘Sport’ and that’s good enough for me.

Strange days

It’s been an odd month; a strange mix of depressing news, achievement and good news.

All this month, there has been bad news in work. A friend has passed away, another two are off with serious illnesses and relatives of colleagues are seriously ill or have passed away. It’s at times like these that you fully understand the value of supportive colleagues and friends. I remember how important it was for me when my mum was ill, and I try to be as supportive if I can.

Rufus had to go to the vet for an operation to remove two small lumps from his eyelid and head. A routine, minor operation but given the stress in work, I found myself more worried than I should have been. I needn’t have, of course, as he bounced out of the vet’s with only a slight, post op stagger (although his eyes betrayed the effects of the anaesthetic as did the fact that when he tried to circle me – his usual greeting when we’ve been apart – he kept bumping into me as the circle became an ellipse). His head was shaved and he resembles a monk at the moment.

A while back, I was asked a strange question. “Do you want to take photos of a bunch of Vikings fighting on Pen y Fan?” It’s the kind of offer you can’t really refuse.

I know some of the Vikings in question because one of them works with me. Thus a week ago I found myself driving to the car park at Pont ar Daf with two giant Scandinavian warriors, four round shields, two sets of chainmail armour, a Dane Axe, a sword and two scrams. The conversation had I been stopped by the police would have been one to retell for many years. But fortunately, we weren’t pulled over. Nor were we ambushed by Angles, Saxons or Celts. Instead, we managed to get the last parking space in the car park and met up with 5 other Vikings to make the long trek to the top of the mountain.

All of this was for Cancer Research, (the Just Giving site is here), and we had a lot of interest and support from all the people we met on the way up, at the top, and on the way down again. Thank you to everyone who donated on the day.

Today, I took Rufus for his first long walk after the op. He was walking in a straight line again, which is always an advantage, and we went along a quiet stretch of the Pembrey cycle path. In the past we’ve encountered belligerent cows on this route so i was particularly wary but all the cows I could see were in the distance. But as we got to the end of the tarmac part, there on the left on the field were around 50 cows. Almost as one, they looked at us and Rufus and I looked at them. We stayed where we were, with the bravery that only a barbed wire fence can bring out in one.

As we watched each other, four of the braver bovines approached the wire. I am guilty of anthropomorphising animals but this time they really did look like four tough guys walking menacingly towards us as their stares never left us. We stayed long enough to appear not to be concerned and, egos satisfied, we set off back tot he car.

With one eye constantly looking behind for any signs of a herd of cows charging towards us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rhossili

This morning, we went up Rhossili Down. I’ve been meaning to go back there for a while, but one thing or another has meant that I’ve been tempted to go elsewhere. This morning, nice and early, we set off with the intention of walking along the ridge above the beach. It was a windy morning but not cold, and only a thin layer of cloud to the north west spoiled the day.

I’d forgotten how steep the initial climb was (or maybe I’m just a bit more unfit than I realised) so by the time we’d got to the bit where the hang gliders launch (about half way) I was out for breath. The view from there was spectacular across the village on on to Worm’s Head, so I didn’t mind stopping for a minute or so. Rufus was happy for the opportunity to explore his surroundings. We got to the trig point and the wind was blowing quite hard. But it still wasn’t cold and it wasn’t as strong as we’d experienced in the past.

The heather was in full bloom. Mostly a uniform mauve colour, there were some patches of darker purple and some of yellow. And in the wind, the scent wasn’t overpowering. We had the ridge to ourselves and no deadlines to worry about. We took it easy. I was snapping away and Rufus was sniffing away.

Slowly we made our past the Bronze Age cairns to the remains of the old radar station, which kept watch against enemy raids during WW2. From the highest point there, there were fantastic views along the beach and down to the campsite at Llangennith. It was packed and although I like camping, the density of tents wasn’t something I’d be happy with.

We left the main path to head down to the Neolithic burial chambers, known as Sweyn’s Howes. There wasn’t a clear path, so we set off across the heather. After a few minutes, I checked on Rufus to find him hopping gingerly and hesitantly behind me. I hadn’t noticed that in amongst the heather were little thorny plants. They were obviously getting between Rufus’ pads and he was finding the going hard and uncomfortable. So we turned around and I picked him up to carry him to a clearer part of the hillside. He’s a heavy boy, and there was much huffing and puffing from both of us. Thankfully, I didn’t have to lift him far!

We carried on back along the ridge, passing horses and curious foals who were unconcerned by our passage. We were on much smoother ground and too quickly, we reached the path heading down to the car park. I could see three people watching and trying top photograph something and as I looked, I saw a Hen Harrier stationary in the sky. It was being mobbed by other, smaller birds but didn’t seem to be too concerned by the attention it was receiving. I watched and tried to photograph it for about 5 minutes and it only occasionally flapped its wings to move position. Most of the time, the wind blowing in from the sea was enough to allow it to remain hovering over one spot.

We got back to the car refreshed and ready for second breakfast.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Seeing things in a new light

This is an unashamedly technical post. For those of you turned off by nanometres and transmission filters, other blogs are available.

A couple of years ago  I took the plunge and invested in an infra red converted camera. Since then I’ve learnt to understand the best conditions and subject to apply infra red to, and I’ve experimented with post processing.  I had my Nikon D300 converted to record infra red images in 2013. I love the effect, particularly when post processed into black and white images. This post is about the basics and is based on a presentation I recently gave to my local camera club.

The nanometre bit

Infra red light is invisible to the naked eye and has wavelengths starting at around 590nm and stretching on to 1000nm and beyond.

 

Most digital camera sensors are so sensitive to ultra violet and infra red light that a special filter is placed in front of them to cut this light out. Converting a camera to take infra red photographs is simply a case of replacing this filter with one that blocks visible light and transmits infra red. That’s what I had done to my D300. It gets a little more complicated because there are different filters available to allow different wavelengths of light to pass through (in the same way that coloured filters allow different wavelengths of visible light through). My camera has a 720nm filter, (which blocks light of wavelength less than 720nm). Sensors to pick up heat energy are a completely different beast and are not dealt with here.

As a converted DSLR camera doesn’t need a transmission filer on the lens, you can compose and focus as normal. The image in the optical viewfinder remains bright and in visible light. To see the effect of the internal filter you will need to use live view. If you are using an unconverted camera with a transmission filter, you will need to compose and focus with the filter removed as by it’s very definition, the filter will block out visible light.

My D300 was calibrated for focusing and exposure by the company that converted it (Protech repairs). I still find that when faced with different subjects, I need to adjust the exposure from the indicated values and a degree of trial and error is sometimes required. You’ll always find me reviewing the image immediately after taking it.

Effects

The sun emits as much infra red light as it does visible light and so it is possible, with a converted camera, to use exposure times similar to normal. The classic infra red effect – white vegetation and dark skies – happens because green leaves reflect a lot of infra red light but blue skies do not. Scientists use infra red photography to spot growth and dead vegetation in the landscape. Contrast can be high in these photographs and you have to keep this in mind when taking the shot. Water also absorbs infra red.

Infra red light penetrates skin slightly and this results in a a soft, blemish free appearance in portraits. Eyes tend to appear black. The longer wavelength of infra red light is less affected by haze and pollution and so landscape photographs appear clearer and crisper.

Flare can be more of a problem as most lenses are designed to be used with visible light. The lens coatings and internal coatings that reduce reflections aren’t as effective with the longer wavelengths. Some lenses suffer from ‘hotspots’, a bright central portion which varies (and may disappear altogether) with a change in aperture. Of the collection of lenses I’ve gathered over the years, about half exhibit a hotspot with the D300.

Lenses that work with 720nm Infra red and a D300 camera:

  • Nikkor 60mm macro
  • Sigma 10-20mm D f/4-5.6
  • Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
  • Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 (manual focus)
  • Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D
  • Nikkor 70-300mm AFS f/4.5-5.6
  • Tamron 90mm macro
  • Tamron 18-270mm
  • Vivitar 19mm (manual focus)
  • Sigma 170-500mm

 

Results

below are a set of photos I took this morning. I’ve been experimenting with additional filters progressively the shorter wavelengths. This is very much a work in progress.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.