Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Road Trip

We made it back safe-and-sound from our short break to Death Valley and I'll post some shots from the trip over the coming days. Weather-wise, things were fine and clear through until Sunday when clouds from a storm front coming in from the Pacific made it over the (four) intervening mountain ranges to get in the way of some shoots we had planned, but that's the way it goes. (The above was taken between Death Valley and Lone Pine, heading back towards the Sierras.)

In terms of wildflowers the best display was in fact on the journey to/from the park, on 223 just east of Arvin. Full bloom looks to be a few weeks away in Death Valley but it's hard to know how good it will be this year, especially now it's cooled off for a few days and there might even be a little more rain. Regardless, the best display of flowers in the Park S found were at the south end, past Lake Manly (which is now completely dry again).

Not sure about this week or next but last weekend the park was full, if only in the sense that all the campgrounds were sold out and there seemed to be no more than a handful of RV hookups or hotel rooms to be had. Pretty much everything is open but look out for roadworks on the road to Scotty's Castle where you can be stuck for 30 to 45 minutes if you time it wrong.

The salt flats were still a bit soggy and some surface water was visible right in the middle and towards Furnace Creek. While that's good for getting some reflections into the pictures at dawn/dusk, it's not good for footwear or clothes!

More thoughts and pictures to come.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guess The Country?

Probably not the hardest of competitions you will ever see so I'll tell you the answer right off the bat: Korea. North Korea is the dark bit, South Korea is the one with all the pretty sparking electric lights. The light dot sitting towards the bottom left of North Korea looks to be the capital, Pyongyang. Doubtless, this was just the governing party burning the midnight oil on behalf of its citizens, trying to figure out how to fix the obvious mess they are in. Or maybe not.
Alas, I don't have an attribution for the photograph other than to say it was referenced by Christopher Hitchens, writing for Slate, in an interesting article about what North Korea is really up to behind all those myriad of closed doors.

The point Hitchens is making - and I have no way to objectively judge whether or not he's right, of course, but the arguments are persuasive - is that North Korea isn't anymore even pretending to be a communist state forged for the benefit of the people. It's now a fully-fledged racist, totalitarian dictatorship that uses its own people as slave labour, and in a never ending quest for military advancement in order to reunify the country and as a by product reshaping the South in its own image. (Hmm, having said that it actually does sound quite like the reality of communism, especially as practised by the likes of Stalin.)

However, I'm not sure that we should immediately fear North Korea, if only because the Dear Leader is on his last legs and I am sure wants his son to take over something other than the pile of glowing cinders that would result from them trying something stupid with a missile attack. However, it all bears watching very closely and I for one will pay a lot more attention to the next announcement of a North Korean military "exercise".

Global terrorism of course remains a potent world threat, but just because North Korea is lumped in with the old war/Cold war countries doesn't mean that they aren't still a threat worth watching very, very closely indeed. After all, something must be going on under cover of all that darkness ....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Time For An Upgrade

This is all going to become a bit photo-geeky, but I'll do it anyway. In order just to make sure everything is working, I was trying out my new toy, a Canon 1DMkIV. Camera technology (actually, sensor technology) has come a long way since I bought my last one, the trusty 20D that has been relied upon for many of the shots posted here over the past couple of years. However, time and silicon advances wait for no man and meanwhile the world has moved on, and based on what I've seen so far then seemingly a very long way.

The snapshot above, taken in natural light, indoors and in a well-shaded room, was taken at ISO 12,800. It's not perfect - noise can easily be seen, dynamic range is reduced and detail is lost - but it's pretty darned good for 7 stops over the base ISO value of 100. Add to that 16 Mpix resolution and I have to say I'm looking forward to seeing what it can produce in Death Valley next week.

Now let's be clear, on a per-pixel basis the Mk IV is about as noisy as its predecessor, the Mk III (see the shots I took in Africa for some examples), but it delivers twice as many of them, so on an adjusted basis it's twice as good, or +1 stop in old money. Confused? Don't worry about it. Just think "better" than the Mk III, and "much better" than the 20D!

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Digs

As might be expected, am in the process of transitioning from the old company into the new. It feels a little strange to be going from a 55 person outfit to one where employees are counted in the tens of thousands ....

Along with a new business address, I of course have a new workspace. And by "workspace", I mean "cubicle". And by "cubicle" I mean small, dark cubbyhole, deep in the bowels of one of the lesser campus buildings. Think "final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark", except done with acres of grey partitions instead of packing crates.

Meanwhile, we are off to Death Valley again next week, just for a few days this time. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the extensive winter rains, combined now with fast warming temperatures, will mean that the wildflowers will make a timely appearance; weekend after next would be fine! This will also mean that I will get to play with a new toy that I have yet to take out of the house. More on that later ....

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reach For The Skies

Just when I say "everything is different, now", stuff goes on as before. Off to Stockholm this evening, back at the weekend. Not sure how many times I will be doing this particular journey again so this may indeed be the valedictory tour I am about to embark upon. Still, after 5 years of travelling there at all times of the year, it's a bit of a shame to be wrapping up my tour of duty in the winter time.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, we're doing a limited amount of cosmetic remodelling around the house. The ugly, 1980s wood-dressed ceiling is coming down to reveal something much plainer. However, this isn't as easy as it sounds, as those of you who have been to our place will know. The ceilings here in the main room must be 20 feet high and so our contractor has had to be quite creative in figure out a workable solution that doesn't cost the earth (like, for example, renting scaffolding.)

Oh yes, this will be fun ....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Dawns

I am sure you have all been wondering what happened around here, at least given the complete absence of any posts showing up for almost 4 months, but then maybe not?? Actually, truth be told, most of you already know the answer: since early November the company I run has been deep in acquisition negotiations with a Fortune 100 company. I am very happy now to report that today we closed on this transaction, ending a process begun way back in May last year.

Unsurprisingly, by the end of each day I had very little time - and even less emotional energy - left to do much of anything, let alone write new blog posts. And of course, that's all compounded by the simple fact that I couldn't say anything at all to do with the deal that was consuming all those daily cycles, to the point that it felt like I was in a WWII time-warp, surrounded by posters screaming "loose lips sink ships" and other exhortations to keep quiet and shut up.

However, I can now draw breath again, pick up the keyboard and look forwards towards pastures new. In the near term, I stay with the acquirer for six months or so in a transition role before needing to figure out what to do next. S and I have a couple of short trips planned (Death Valley and San Francisco) and I'm looking forward to playing with my new toy, as reviewed here! (And no, the above shot was with taken my older camera still.)

So thanks to all for their patience, and I will now strive, albeit slowly, to get back to a more regular heartbeat of posting.