DIY – shall I compare thee to a summers day?

A summer’s day starts with a warm, empty morning waiting to be filled with nice things.  DIY starts with that dreaded ‘where the <insert preferred expletive> do I start with all this, then?’

A summer’s day has the sweet singing of birds to greet you. DIY has the clatter of dropped tools, the stubbed toe swearing and the agony of the trodden-on nail.

A summer’s day has the distant hum of a bee making it’s way between delicate flowers. DIY has the ‘BRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!’ of power tools on the verge of being out of control.

A summer’s day has the sweet fragrance of grass. DIY has the acrid smell of drill-burnt wood, brick dust and lightly oiled metal.

A summer’s day lets the sun caress your face and hair with warmth and the lightest of breezes. DIY assault your pores with cement dust, which also clings to every bodily hair and threatens to set hard if exposed to moisture.

A summer’s day brings a dew-like glow to the skin. DIY forces sweat out at high pressure, guaranteeing lasting discomfort and rock hard cement hair.

A summer’s day inspires you to write rich prose to celebrate the gloriousness of the day. DIY inspires you to chant swear words over and over and over. And over.

I’m off now to chant some more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It looks like snow, it feels like snow…

And it most certainly was snow.

Rufus and I made our way to the Cerrig Duon valley and the start of the route up to Llyn y Fan Fawr and Fan Brechieniog. I could see the snow on the tops of the mountains around while we were driving up but the roads and fields were clear. No sooner had we turned off onto the narrow lane that winds along the valley, that the snow appeared on the road, trees, bushes and everywhere snow can get. It wasn’t a problem as the temperature was still above zero and the car carried on. Then, in the distance  I spotted another car stopped in the middle of the road. I could see it was stuck on a small hill section, and I stopped behind it, allowing enough room for it to back up if necessary. I spoke to the two guys in it, who were on their way to meet up with others for a walk in the hills. They didn’t know the area and I advised them not to go on if they were getting stuck on such a  small hill. I suggested they back up to the layby where I was, which they did, and their colleagues appeared in cars behind me so I felt okay to leave them and carry on.

We parked up off road and headed down to the river. Everywhere was white. Powdery snow lay up to 6″ in depth but it wasn’t particularly cold so I wasn’t too worried about Rufus, with his short haircut. He was happy, bounding along in the snow and finding new smells all the time. We were the first to have made our way along the route so all the smells were fresh. I could see small tracks in the fresh snow which looked as if they were made by little rodents. Rufus was almost overwhelmed by the choice of aromas.

As we climbed towards the lake, so the visibility dropped as we entered a layer of mist. The temperature dropped too, and the depth of snow increased. Once again, I had that sense of being lost while still knowing where I was (in my mind). I was wary of the last time I thought I knew where I was but I had GPS tracking on and after checking to make sure it was working, we carried on.

The lake loomed as a slightly darker strip above the snow and to the right, a huge shape faded into view. Some one had made a large snowman, more akin to the giant statues on Easter Island. It was roughly human shaped and the snow that made it was criss crossed with grass. By now, Rufus was sinking up to his belly at times and although my original plan was to quickly get to the top of Fan Brecheiniog, it was looking less sensible to try and do so. The path leading up was completely hidden by snow and even though I knew where it should have been, the mist and snow were disorientating. Added to that, there was a cold wind blowing and Rufus was pretty much swimming on the snow it parts. My right knee has been playing up a little and coming down would be no fun with that and all the other hazards. So the decision to turn around was easy.

I’ve never been afraid to turn back, despite being goal driven on the mountains. I would rather get to the top of something, or reach a certain distance, as it gives me incentive and makes me feel good. But I am aware of when to turn back and the goal doesn’t get in the way of that. It’s a very useful bit of safety kit that is worth more than an extra fleece.

Rufus was happy to turn back and he bounced off back down the hill. We followed our own footprints until we left the mist. I threw snowballs for him to chase, which was well appreciated if the barking was anything to go by.  Then we headed onto the slopes of Moel Feity to get a little more exercise out of the day. I’d added 2kg to the back pack today, so I was walking with the same weight as on the Everest Base Camp trek, 7kg (about 15lbs). It felt good. Over the next few weeks I’ll add more – my aim is to be carrying about 10kg regularly, and 15kg on flat long distances.

We were both tired from the hard going through the deep snow, which seemed to hide dips and tufts of grass, so getting back to the car was welcome. Back home, Rufus fell asleep on my lap and there was much snoring and dreaming for the next 90 minutes or so.

Today we did 3.6 miles in 2 hours.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How to find a comet

Comet Panstarrs is visible low in the north western sky just after sunset. You’ll need a pair of binoculars at the moment as the comet is barely brighter than the sky that surrounds it. Later in the month it will be visible later in the evening but it’s getting dimmer as it heads away from us. Find where the sun set and look to the right.

Yesterday, with a clear western sky promised, I drove down to Broadpool in Gower to try and get some photos of the comet. Alas, I was beaten by the cloud, which formed a dark band just where Panstarrs was due to be. Even the sunset wasn’t spectacular. I drove home disappointed.

This evening, I went back a bit earlier but the same cloud band seemed to be there again. At least the sunset was better and I got a few photos I was pleased with. Imagine my horror, then, to see dark horizontal smudges on all the photos! I’d cleaned the sensor before leaving and the wipe had left smudges. Panic! I’ve just spent half an hour cleaning, checking, re-cleaning and rechecking. At least they weren’t scratches!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Techno-gaaaaaaargh!

All gone.

Every single mp3 file on my external hard drive has been scrambled into gigabits. 44Gb of white noise, with maybe a hint of pink thrown in. And who is to blame? Virus? One of the major computer manufacturers? Geothermal energy production?

No, it was me. My fault. I clicked on an ‘Ok’ button when I should have paused and taken a moment to reflect. My punishment? Well, this blog post for one – I expose my self to all of my follower as a fool who should have read the warning. But like a typical Activist/Aries/Bloke I just went ahead and clicked. The other punishment? Re-ripping all my CDs.

Fortunately, I’m relatively old fashioned in that I like to have a CD rather than a collection of ‘0’s and ‘1’s. So at least I know that 90% of my music collection is intact. But there are soooo many CDs!

It’s not the first time I’ve lost data. I am missing two years worth of digital image files as a result of corrupt DVDs (my back up media of choice in the 90’s). My photos are now backed up three times, on separate hard drives and the PC.

And it makes me think that all this stuff about cloud computing is only as good as your internet link and the reliability of the storage technology.

Funnily enough, I still have photographic prints on silver halide paper from 1983.

 

 

Oh, snow!

More snow today. I left for work at about 7am and finally got in to my desk at 8.20. Although the roads were bad, the standard of driving of some of the people in front and behind me was worse and was the actual cause of all the delays. I watched an articulated lorry, stuck on a hill, slide backwards then get some grip and pull forwards, only to slide back again. In doing so, it blocked the road completely. I watched people abandon cars in the middle of the road. I saw a rubbish lorry slide down a hill out of control and nearly hit a car left at the side of the road ahead of it. The guy behind me was so close I couldn’t see his headlights – I suspect he planned on using me as an extra set of brakes if he needed to stop. Drivers too timid to attempt any manoeuvre slightly off the line of the tyre tracks on the road managed to block three lanes at a major junction.

I’m not impatient when it comes to things that affect safety. But I had my own reasons for urging a little more speed this morning. I was desperate to go for a wee. By the time I was crawling along the motorway and queueing up to leave it, I was also looking for convenient bushes. On the road leading to the office, I was looking for a convenient bottle in the car. Once parked, I negotiated the steps and slippery path gently knowing that one slight bump or slip would result in an embarrassing accident. The sigh of relief as I got to the urinal lasted for several minutes, and could be heard throughout the building.

At lunchtime I went out for a stroll, as it was clear and there was snow on the trees in the nearby graveyard. It was beautiful and poignant given the location, and tranquil too.

Leaving work this evening, I was braced for the horrors of long queues of slow moving vehicles but was surprised that my chosen route home was fairly clear.

About an hour after I got home, there was another 2″ of snow on the windscreen. And I get to do it all again tomorrow!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New Year Photography

Warning: Geeky statistics appear below. If figures and boring photography stuff scares you, do not read on.

On the first of January, I posted about trying to improve my hit rate for photographs I’m pleased with and I quoted figures of less than 1% of the picture files I have I am actually pleased enough with that they would appear in a portfolio.

That got me worried, and thinking and I checked again, since that figure was so poor. If it accurately represented my photographic capability, it would mean a change of name, a move to another country and the instigation of Plan D – the anonymisation of Franticsmurf.

The reality is a little better. I’ve been sifting through all the files in preparation of a big back up. I’ve almost filled a 1Tb external hard drive and before it chugs to a halt under the weight of the data, I have to free up some space. What I’ve noticed is that every digital photo I’ve ever taken is there (with some exceptions from way back when a couple of DVD back-ups got corrupted). Until December 2000, I was only using a 1Mp Olympus camera and although there are some nice shots that I’m happy with, their resolution isn’t good enough to do anything other than display on a screen. There are 1300 of them. Until 2003 I was using film as my main medium and I carried a small digital compact as a snap shot camera. There are 2000 files of snapshots from this period. There are almost 2000 images of the band. They are almost all for record purposes.

I started using high dynamic range processing in 2008. This technique involves blending several differently exposed images of the same scene to record details in the highlights and shadows that wouldn’t normally be possible with one exposure and the limited dynamic range of the camera sensor. I usually take five photographs – 2, -1, 0, +1 and +2 stops. There are 255 tonemapped final images – around 1000 additional files varying the exposure.

I experimented with focus stacking a lot last year and that could be between 5 and 15 files per final image. That probably accounts for another 200 files. For the trek to Nepal in 2011, I shot jpg and RAW format, doubling the number of files I came home with. All my infra red photos are shot in RAW, and probably 25% of them have been converted to tif files for printing or display. Often I will shoot jpg and RAW if the subject matter is difficult or important. So I see I have 5106 RAW files.

Then there are the photos I take of Rufus and of my friend’s little boy. I set the camera to continuous shooting and fire away. I have said elsewhere that I tend not to get rid of any photos unless they are horribly out of focus or badly exposed. So these images stack up. Most are for the annual photo album I create for my friend. There are just over 9500 of these. Finally, as I carry a camera around with me everywhere, I tend to use it as a notebook and I’m always taking pictures to try out new techniques or to remind me of a location. I went out for a walk with Rufus this morning and took  38 photos. I deleted one as it was out of focus and the others, while not works of art, will be kept.

So only having 650 images that I am most proud isn’t quite as bad as it first seems. Nevertheless, I need to do better and my aim this year will be to make more time for serious photography rather than letting it take a back seat as I do at the moment. I’ll have to discuss it with Rufus.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Drip

Rufus has been staying over for the last few days and I’ve been trying to get out with him every day. But the weather has conspired to keep us in. I’ve become quite adept at looking at the sky and spotting the early signs of a break in the rain. The only problem with this is that while it may be dry at my house, the places we like to go tend to attract the rain, and it lingers in the valleys and on the hill tops.

As a consequence, we’ve been drenched on several occasions recently. That’s not so bad, as it’s only water and we can dry off. But the experience isn’t so good and the photography is certainly limited.Yesterday, be got bored and went out before it had stopped raining. We headed up to the river – I thought that if we’re going to get wet we may as well do it in water. I took my DSLR but I also had a waterproof camera with me. Good job, as during the hour or so we wandered the riverbank, it stopped raining only once – for about 15 seconds. So most of the photos below were taken in the rain. I also tried it out in the river, and it didn’t seem to leak.

Once back in the car, the rain stopped and stayed stopped. Typical! So we headed off to Dinas Rock, a place I’d promised myself I’d visit, but which I’d never got round to. The last time I was here (which was the first time I was here) was with the Prince’s Trust, when I was filming a promotional video for them and the DVLA. I ended up spending most of the day in a wetsuit, gorge walking with the group while trying to keep the camera dry. It was a tremendous experience – scary, exciting and satisfying when i delivered the footage to the guys who edited it together.

Although it was dry, it was cold and my coat was dripping wet. So we only spent half an hour in the area, which wasn’t nearly enough. I’ll be back and I expect Rufus will be with me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Get lost

Off to the hills this afternoon with my walking buddy Rufus. We headed on up to Garreg Lwyd, a gentle hill I usually use as a nice introduction back to hillwalking after a break. It’s an easy slope but the potential is there to go on and on and make a full day. I’ve mentioned before that one day I’m going to walk from there across to Fan Brecheiniog, which can be seen in the distance.

Today, it was misty and windy but not particularly cold. We set off in the clear but quickly climbed into the cloud level. There were the occasional moments of drizzle but it was mainly dry. Very soon, we were on the top of the mountain, as signified by the huge double cairn and the tiny trig point. But the path onwards to Foel Fraith was invisible in the murk. Nevertheless, we headed off in the general direction and after a sweep around in the general direction I knew the path to be in, we picked it up. Shortly afterwards, the mist cleared and we had a good walk up to the second mountain. On the top, we were once again in mist but it was dry and we sat and ate our respective snacks.

On the way back, I followed the path all the way to the top of Garreg Lwyd, once again in the mist. But for some reason, I headed off towards the north rather than west. I followed what I thought was the correct way and it only goes to show that you should never trust your senses when you have no reference points. I felt I knew where I was going and it was only when the mist lifted for a moment that I noticed the workings of the limestone quarry on the north face of Garreg Lwyd on my left (it shouldn’t have been visible, and should have been to my right) that I realised something was wrong. Even then, although I turned back in the right direction, I veered once again in the mist and ended up on the summit of the quarry. Although I realised that there were sheer drops ahead, and had Rufus on the lead, it was still a shock that I hadn’t managed to correct the route deviation.

I checked the route on the phone (I was running an app to track my route) and used that to get back on track and soon after we were descending back to the car park again. Rufus was happy that he’d had a long run out. I was happy to see the car.

Rufus was less happy when he found himself having a shower when we got home, But shortly afterwards, he was flat out on my lap and he didn’t move for two hours.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

New car part 4: What have I done?

I pick up my new(ish) car tomorrow. I’m excited like a little boy. I’m sad at saying goodbye to the Audi as it’s been my favourite car so far. I’ve had a lot of good times and great adventures in that car and no matter what anyone says, these things leave an impression and lasting memories.

As if that’s not enough, I’m having work done on the house and it’s hidden behind a forest of scaffolding and planks of wood. The builders are doing an excellent job, working way into the darkness and in all weathers – last Thursday we had gale force winds and rain and they were still hard at it when I got home from work. On Monday they were here until 8.30, working by head torch and a single lamp. Alas, as the render was being chipped off the walls, my internet cable was severed and I spent three days without an internet connection.

Now I’m not addicted to the internet. I don’t always log on and there are few things I have to do on-line. But it just so happened that this week, I needed to do some manoeuvring of money from various bank accounts to be able to pay for the building work and, of course, for the car. I never really know how much I would miss being able to log on at will until I couldn’t. Of course, the builders said they would fix the cable but they’ve been busy sealing the walls so I don;t have any more damp coming in.

So tonight, I had a go myself. I managed to locate the master cable, removed the internet cable that split from the master and re split it indoors at the set top box. A few cuts to fix the connector to the cable and some squeezes from the pliers and suddenly I was on-line again!

I feel connected again!

What could have been

This blog entry should have been about a fantastic birthday present I had from Em – a flight in a Tiger Moth biplane over Gloucester. I’d booked the flight a few weeks ago and carefully, nervously watched the weather forecast as the day neared. It became clear that I’d picked the day quite well – on Tuesday and Thursday they were predicting torrential rain but Wednesday would be clear in the afternoon.

Of course, I hadn’t factored for the unexpected. It seems that with all the rain, Gloucester airport flooded! I spoke to the pilot before leaving Swansea (he sounded like an airline pilot with that clipped clear pronunciation) and  he confirmed that ‘it’s not really Tiger Moth weather’. He said the runway was flooded and no flights would be taking place that day. To say I was disappointed would be a major understatement. I can book again, so the present isn’t lost.

So we decided to head off to St Fagans instead. I like the museum of Welsh Life – as you’ve probably gathered from previous entries, I like all things historical but really enjoy being in amongst it over reading about it. So we spent the morning walking through the castle (really a stately home built on the ruins of a Norman castle and resembling in feel Dunster castle). Then we visited the 16th and 17th century cottages, collected from all over Wales and rebuilt here. The chapel was tiny and you could picture the minister in full flow, with the congregation hanging on every word.

After food, we drove back to Swansea and had a look around the Winter Wonderland – now renamed the Waterfront Wonderland or the Winter Waterland, or perhaps the Frontland Winterwater.  Anyway, all the favourites were there – the ice rink and a smaller rink for kids, the big wheel, our favourite roller-coaster. I didn’t see Santa’s grotto but that was probably a good thing after last year’s experience.

Then it was home to find a great swathe of scaffolding around the house. Not a surprise, though, as I’m having the house’s make-up replaced. You’ll probably read about that here sometime soon, if you’re unlucky.

All in all a busy day, and while not quite what I was expecting, enjoyable thanks to the company.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.