Archive for October 2007

Gravatars: few takers

Posted by on October 29th 2007 in Rambling on..., Site update, Video (YouTube, Vimeo etc.)

Well, by the looks if it, out of all the readers of this blog, only two have grabbed themselves free gravatars.

"Bad form", says I.

Who would be a paper-boy these days?

Posted by on October 26th 2007 in Mags and rags, Rambling on...

The dull rumble of the trolley on the pavement...

The sound of footsteps on the garden path...

The familiar squeak as the letterbox opens...

The sharp clang as it springs back to the closed position...

The heavy thud as the local weekly free-paper hits the floor.

Thud? Free-paper? Surely not.

Yep, this one:


But it only weighs in at 75g.

The reason for the thud?

All of this crap that's stuffed inside it:


Small wonder the folks that deliver this lot to each house have shoulders like tallboys and knuckles that drag on the ground. This lot weighs in at 922g, that's 2lb 1/4oz in old money.

Predictably, all of the associated crap went directly into the recycling bin.

What a waste of effort.

Oh, and the main feature on the front page of the free-paper? It's all about the local council's recycling scheme.


Show yourself

Posted by on October 22nd 2007 in Site update

Yup, another site update... will it ever end?

Gravatars. Globally recognized avatars. Little pics, associated with your email address, that show by your name when you make a comment on a blog. I set up mine FOC via the Gravatar website. Of course, they would be no use on this blog if it wasn't gravatar-enabled, so I've installed the WP Gravatar plugin from the same site and it's all sorted.

Just a couple of points here... firstly, you don't need a blog or site to have a gravatar, so you've no excuse for not getting one... secondly, gravatars aren't only for WP blogs, they can be used at many other places, so why not enable your site now?

Seasonal variations

Posted by on October 22nd 2007 in Rambling on...

I know that Duncan got an early sighting of essential wares for the festive season, but did I miss something? Has Christmas been re-scheduled this year?


Spending the night with Orion

Posted by on October 22nd 2007 in Astrostuff, Camera kit

After some neat negotiating with Chris, I was allowed out to play with the camera on Saturday night/Sunday morning. As previously stated, it was my intent to get some pics of the Orionid meteors and to test some kit while I was at it.

I drove for some miles to find a quiet spot a good distance from sources of urban light pollution, and at about 11:00p.m. started to set up the camera on the new Velbon tripod. The sky was clear and the stars were beginning to appear brighter as the Moon disappeared over the western horizon. Already there were meteors showing - mostly faint and fast, but there were a couple of slower bright fireballs while I was setting up.

Ten minutes later and we were in business - camera acclimatised to the cold and set up to take RAWs on the "bulb" setting, triggered with the remote unit... me wrapped in winter-walking clothes and sat on a low chair... owls, foxes and farm dogs making a racket in the distance all around. I sat alone in the dark and watched the skies, clicking the remote and savouring the solitude.

I had rattled off about 50 shots when conditions changed. The temperature dropped from +6C to +1C in 20 minutes and everything became covered in condensation, as a knee-high mist formed all around. For the next couple of hours I was engaged in a losing battle to keep the camera lens clear and keep myself warm. Sitting in the low chair was a no-no, as the layer of mist was just too cold. The sky was getting clearer, but the images were getting worse.

At 3:00a.m. I gave up and headed home to dry out the kit and to warm up in front of the fire.

On Sunday afternoon I got around to having a look at the pics and wasn't surprised to find that a large number of them were unusable due to problems with lens condensation. I had managed to nab a couple of faint meteor trails on half-decent exposures, but the best trails were on bad pics which I've now binned. I managed to salvage about 25 images, of which three aren't too bad.

Apart from the problems caused by the conditions, all of the kit worked well. The remote unit never missed a beat, and the home-made remote-signal reflector worked a treat. The new tripod was a pleasure to use and a doddle to carry, being so small and light. The angled viewfinder saved me having to bend and twist into all sorts of unnatural poses, so that was another plus.

So, all in all it wasn't a complete disaster. Not many usable pics, but fun night out and a fair test of kit in adverse conditions.


Mars rises above the glow of Leicester, with a faint meteor trail above.

The view eastwards:
The Pleiades above Taurus, with Orion not yet fully risen above the trees.

Meteor Watch – Orionids weekend

Posted by on October 19th 2007 in Astrostuff

Don't forget to watch the skies for the next few nights - this weekend is the peak of the Orionid meteor shower. I saw a few of these meteors last night, they were fast with long trails, but not particularly bright so catching them on camera might be a bit more tricky than catching the Perseids. Weather permitting, I'll give it a shot and see what the D50 can capture. It'll be a chance to try out the new gadgets (remote control, angled viewfinder and tripod) bought since the Perseid shower.
Here are a few choice links in case you want more info:

New arrival – Velbon Ultra Maxi F tripod

Posted by on October 15th 2007 in Camera kit, My reviews, Shiny new kit

I couldn't resist getting my grubby paws on one of these lightweight tripods after reading a lot of favourable reviews about them. I reckon that it's about the right size and weight to take in the pack when I'm walking and/or wildcamping.

 Here are a few pics, with explanatory notes:


Folded length 36cm, weight 958g without the bag.


Fully-extended legs and column. With the Nikon D50 attached (horizontally and landscape), the height of the lens centre-line is 154cm and the height of the view-finder is 157cm. Dropping the column to the minimum setting reduces heights by 23cm.


Legs not extended but at maximum angle, lower section of column removed. With the Nikon D50 attached (horizontally and landscape), the height of the lens centre-line is 22cm and the height of the view-finder is 25cm.


I like the pan-head swing-function - from a landscape orientation, the camera can be tipped 90 degrees either way very easily. The quick-release plate is light enough and small enough to leave on the camera all the time. The centre-column can be inverted for taking pics with the camera beneath the head assembly, useful for taking pics with the camera pointing straight downwards. The Trunnion Shaft System (TSS) is easy to use and seems fairly robust so there's no fiddly leg-locks to worry about - just twist to lock/unlock. There's no centre-brace, so it's not the most stable tripod in the world, but it handles the D50 with 70-300mm zoom well enough, and that's good enough for me.

Fishing farce

Posted by on October 13th 2007 in A bit of a rant, Fishing, Great Escapes

Way back in July, Chris gave me a voucher as a birthday present - it was for a half-day of fly-fishing tuition. She really knows how to pick the right present - I hadn't managed to get out fishing at all this year, and this was just the excuse that I needed.

Now, I've been doing this trout-fishing malarkey for quite a few years and I'm already at an intermediate level, so back at the start of September I had a chat with the tutor and we agreed what skills I needed to improve. We agreed to meet at the Pitsford Water Lodge at 09:00 this morning.

I spent a fair part of the last week sorting the tackle, making new flies, stretching the lines and getting excited about the upcoming event. I was up early this morning, packed and away in good time and I arrived at the Lodge at 08:40. There was a very light mist on the water, a gentle breeze and the sky was overcast - fair conditions for this time of year.

I enquired at the Lodge shop as to the whereabouts of the tutor, he wasn't there yet so I went for a short walk, mooched around the shop, checked out the boats etc.. 09:00 passed and no tutor arrived. 09:30 passed, still no tutor. 09:35 passed and I was getting a bit pissed-off. I checked at the Lodge to see if a boat had been booked for our tuition... no booking.

The lady at the Lodge offered me a permit and a boat for the day. The offer was very generous but I had to decline - the day had already been paid for (except the boat-supplement) so I hadn't brought enough cash to pay for it all again. Besides, by then the fun-factor had fecked-off, and I wasn't in the mood any more. Disgruntled, I got back in the car and started back home after texting the tutor to let him know the score.

Chris was livid, she's been told that she'll get a full refund but she feels like she hasn't got me a birthday pressie after all. And as for me? It's just another wasted day (the last free day I have before Winter sets in), it's made a mockery of all the preparation during the week, and 67 miles-worth of petrol have gone up in smoke.

Yes, you guessed it... I'm not very impressed either.

Blog pics now on Zoto. Zooomr sucks.

Posted by on October 12th 2007 in A bit of a rant, Photo hosting, Site update

Last week I trawled all through this blog and, as far as I can tell, I replaced all of the Zooomr-hosted pics with the Zoto-hosted versions, and then I deleted all of my pics on Zooomr.

Well, it's over a week later and I'm still waiting on somebody/anybody with clout at Zooomr to close my account. I can't do it myself because they don't provide any sort of user-accessible admin facility, which truly sucks in this age of high technology.

FFS, there's not even a batch-edit/delete facility there - I had to...























That really pissed me off. Hours were wasted. With a proper customer-friendly system the operation would have taken less than a minute. What joy.

Anyway, I've no doubt that I've missed a few blog-pic conversions, so if you find anything here that links to what were my pics or sets on Zooomr, I would appreciate it if you would please let me know.


Ennerdale wildcamp post-trip kit report

Posted by on October 11th 2007 in Camera kit, Great Escapes, My reviews, Wildcamping

OK, let's start with the tent. I took the Vango Spectre for it's first wildie and it performed well, but then again conditions were good so it wasn't tested to the max. It was easy to put up, it took about 5 minutes, which I think is acceptable. In the morning there was a small amount of condensation on the underside of the fly, it would have been much less if there had been any sort of a breeze flowing through the end-vents, but there wasn't. I still need to replace the original guy-lines with Dyneemas. Oh, and I'll just take the right amount of pegs next time (14 Tikes, instead of the bag of 30 that I lugged around).

The pack. I was going to take a 40l pack but changed my mind at the last moment, opting instead for the Lowe Alpine Warp70 which allowed me to take the full camera kit. Features that I particularly like are the Torso Fit Duo back system (which suits me better than most other systems do) and the big external flap pocket at the back, which easily stores all of the food and drink for the weekend and which is so easy to access, being almost independent of the main body of the pack. I reckon that I had about 40l of walking kit and 10l of camera kit, so there was room to spare.

Navigation. As usual, I took the trusty Silva 15TDCL compass and A4 print-offs (printed at 1:12500) of MemoryMap maps stored in the A5 Ortlieb mapcase, backed up with the Garmin Geko 201. I hardly used any of that stuff, though, as I got by just fine with the O2 Xda with the inbuilt satnav working with the MemoryMap software that I have loaded onto the 2gig micro-SD card. I always got a good satellite signal and the positioning was fairly accurate and fast, plotting the positions directly onto the map overlay instead of having to transpose the position from Geko readout to paper-map. I started the walk with the Xda fully-charged, it was down to 81% when I got back to the car. I think that the Geko might be going on eBay soon, it's good kit but the Xda does the same job and much more besides (except the Xda's not waterproof, so I have to bag it in bad weather).

Cooking. The Jetboil performed impeccably, starting first-time every time, so there were no more beard-burning flare-ups. Fuel economy was acceptable - I had three hot rehydrated meals each day (pro-rata) and regular brew-ups, using just less than a quarter of a Coleman 100 canister.

Boots. Having got bad heel-blisters from the Raichle Fusion Mid XCRs on the Brecon Beacons meet, I went back to the Scarpa SLs and they were much better than they have been before, no doubt due to the liberal amount of zinc oxide strapping wound around my heels. The boots have now shaped themselves to my feet, so things can only get better.

Sleeping. I took the Alpkit AD700 bag, expecting the nights to be cold due to the clear skies that had been forecast, but it was too warm and I ended up using it as a blanket instead of as a bag. The mat was the InsulMat Max Thermo - it's light, comfy and packs down small. I've now got used to the fact that it needs re-inflating a bit just before use (when it's first inflated, the air inside is warm, but this contracts as it cools and needs to be "topped-up" to ensure the mat's fully inflated).

Clothing. I didn't bother to take a shell-jacket and over-trousers, opting instead for the Montane Featherlite Smock and Pants (Trousers), but I didn't need to use either of them. Most of the time all that was needed on the top half was a Lowe Alpine Dri-Flo LS top, with the Rab VR Climb for those odd post-effort chills.

Camera kit. This is an area where I didn't skimp on the weight. I took the camera and a couple of lenses (18-55mm and 70-300mm), a spare battery, cleaning kit, filters and a LowePro case to stash it all in. It added a fair amount (weight and volume) to the load, but I'm prepared to sweat that bit more if it means that I get some decent pics to help me remember the trip. I now know that I need a lens-hood for the 18-55mm kit-lens, and I reckon that a tripod would have been useful for the low-light and/or long lens shots.

Taken but not used:

  • 1 pair spare socks
  • Montane Featherlite Smock and Pants (Trousers)
  • 1 Mars Bar
  • 16 Tikes (doh!)
  • Spare battery for camera
  • Garmin Geko and spare batteries
  • Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap
  • 1 spare dehydrated meal
  • First Aid kit
  • Compass

Stuff that I almost ran out of:

  • Isotonic drink powder (I had enough left to make up 0.25l)
  • Bog-roll (I was down to the last sheet! TMI?)
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